As we saw, some of the rabbis paid so much attention to the rules and traditions created to assist in the keeping of the law of Moses that they failed to distinguish between the two. After a while, the words of the rabbis gained canonical status; people thought they were as binding as Scripture. In all probability, when the rabbis originally wrote their commentaries, they had no intention of adding to the pages of Scripture. However, their devoted disciples probably saw it as their duty to share these unique interpretations with the general populace.
One is hard pressed to find a biblical text that commands,
Thou shalt wash thy hands before thou eatest. However, this injunction would not have surprised the scribes and Pharisees as they confronted Jesus, for they made it clear that the disciples were not in violation of Mosaic law but the
tradition of the elders. The intensity with which they asked the question makes it seem that, for the Pharisees, this was a serious religious violation.
Health professionals and parents would probably like to provide a hygienic or psychological rationale for the Pharisees’ apparent obsessive compulsion with hand-washing. However, scholars believe that the issue was really about ceremonial uncleanliness. Apparently, the Pharisees were concerned that as people went about their daily business they would touch items that had been defiled. Consequently, if they ate without washing, they would contaminate themselves ceremonially by touching the food.
Given the fact that they levied their charge against Jesus’ disciples, we might conclude that Jesus Himself was not in violation of the well-known tradition (Mark 7:3). Nonetheless, He was well aware that the Pharisees were majoring in minors.
Read Isaiah 29:13. What crucial biblical principles are revealed here? Why are they so important for us to remember?