What are some Sabbath observance rules that the Pharisees made?

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The Mishnah

Concerning Sabbath observance, the Mishnah lists 39 primary kinds of labor that were not allowed on the Sabbath day (Shabbath 7. 2, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, pp. 348, 349). The first 11 of these were steps leading to the production and preparation of bread: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.

The next 12 apply to similar steps in the preparation of clothing, from the shearing of sheep to the actual sewing of garments. These are followed by 7 steps in preparing the carcass of a deer for use as food or for leather. The remaining items listed have to do with writing, building, kindling and extinguishing of fires. And also they deal with the transportation of articles from one place to another.

Other rules

In addition to these major regulations, there were countless other provisions concerning the observance of the Sabbath. Most commonly known is the so-called “sabbath day’s journey” of 2,000 cu.— somewhat less than 2/3 mi.

It was also counted as Sabbath breaking to look in a mirror fixed to the wall (Shabbath 149a, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, p. 759). And also looking even to light a candle. Sadly, these same regulations permitted an egg laid on the Sabbath to be sold to a Gentile. And allowed for a Gentile to be hired to light a candle or a fire.

Man-made traditions

The Pharisees were continually employing the letter of man-made laws to destroy the spirit of the law of God. The Sabbath, was designed by God to give man an opportunity to know his Maker. It allowed for time to reflect upon His love, mercy and bountiful blessings. But instead of it reflecting the character of God. The Sabbath became a reflection of the cruel character of Pharisees and scribes.

The Lord teaches that regarding Sabbath rules, whatever draws us closer to Him, helps us to understand His will, and leads to the happiness and well-being of others—this would be true Sabbath observance (Isa. 58:13; Mark 2:27, 28).

Many regarded these traditions more important than the laws of Moses and the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees legalistically taught that salvation was to be obtained through observance of these rules. A pious Jew’s life tended to become one endless effort to avoid ceremonial uncleanness. This system of righteousness by works was in complete opposition with righteousness by faith.

Jesus upheld the law

During His ministry, Jesus was in conflict with the Jewish leaders over the validity of their man-made laws and traditions (Mark 7:2, 3, 8). Jesus kept the law of Moses and the Ten Commandments in every way.  And He taught His followers to do the same. He confirmed the binding nature of the moral law. For He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18; John 15:10; etc.). And He also recognized also the validity of the ritual law of Moses as applicable to Jews (Matthew 23:3).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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