Traces of Sectarian Halakha in the Rabbinic World
Vered Noam

A comparison of rabbinic and Qumranic law reveals contradictory approaches and sharp controversies between the two. At the same time, this comparison serves as a tool for reconstructing a common ancient halakhic foundation and common halakhic terms. This article deals with a third phenomenon, which seems, as yet, not to have been adequately explored. I am referring to the existence of inter-sectarian polemics within the scholarly world of the sages themselves. The halakhic views of certain tanna'im often bear a surprising resemblance to sectarian or semi-sectarian halakhah, whether in the details or in general aspects of halakhic thinking. Elsewhere I have suggested that a certain similarity existed between the approach of Bet Shammai and that of sectarian halakhah. Both appear to share an early, stringent halakhic outlook, based more on tradition and authority, either Divine or human, and less on man's exegetic creativity; both seem to adhere to the more literal meaning of Scripture, tending towards stringency and uniformity, in abstract principles as well as in everyday life. I have suggested that this resemblance may have been the factor that decided the fate of Bet Shammai's views, relegating them to the sidelines of Pharisaic discourse. Once the sectarian approach had been defeated and discarded, it was inevitable that its distant echo within the rabbinic world - namely, the opinions of tanna'im who embraced somewhat similar halakhic principles, would also be rejected. Sectarian halakhic characteristics seem to have established a greater foothold in the Pharisaic world than is apparent, and part of the battle which the sages waged against it took place "within the family," against Pharisaic fringe groups and esoteric sages. Mainstream Pharisees continuously rejected these marginal views. Nineteenth century researchers were vaguely aware of this phenomenon, and several writers in the second half of the twentieth century hinted at examples of it, but a methodical study of the phenomenon was never undertaken, and the little that had been written preceded publication of the sectarian halakhic literature. It is only since Qumranic halakhah has come to light that we are afforded new insight into the anti-sectarian nature of some of the intra-Pharisaic disputes, and can comprehend the particularly bitter nature of some of them. We shall now present several examples to illustrate the affinity between certain halakhic positions in Pharisaic circles and Qumranic views. These examples are taken from the teachings of R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, a disciple of Bet Shammai. This exceptional scholar was an adherent of ancient traditions and a proponent of the plain meaning of biblical passages. His entire life was spent in a drawn out conflict with the establishment, ending with his excommunication and the total discarding of his teachings. According to Talmudic legend, he complained, on his deathbed: "… Much Torah have I taught, yet my disciples have only drawn from me as much as a painting stick from its tube. Moreover, I have studied three hundred laws on the subject of a deep bright spot, yet no man has ever asked me about them…". The similarity between some of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus' halakhot and parallel sectarian passages may explain the hostility that he aroused and his problematic status in the tannaitic world. The halakhot we will discuss are taken from different halakhic fields - the festivals, matrimonial law, judicial law, sacrifices and ritual purity. After studyingthese examples against the background of sectarian halakhah, we will explore the affinity between some of the underlying ideologies of R. Eliezer and those of the sect. This resemblance, in halakhic details and principles alike, would indicate that the boundary separating the Pharisees from their opponents was sometimes fainter than assumed. Further delving in this direction may furnish us with a somewhat more complex portrait of Jewish society during Second Temple times and shortly thereafter.


Both sectarian and tannaitic law exhibit a stringent approach to the ritual impurity of liquids. Fragment 4Q284a 1-4 prohibits the harvesting of " "?????- figs, ""?????? - pomegranates, and possibly even olives by [one] who has not been brought into the covenant, who is not considered ritually clean and " "????? ???? ????? ?????- [who] may not touch the communal liquids, as they will become defiled if their juice comes out when he presses them - "????? ???? ??????." Joseph Baumgarten has already noted the connection between these fragments and the bitter and dramatic dispute attributed by the Babylonian Talmud to Hillel and Shammai with regard to the laws concerning "harvesting grapes for the winepress." Baumgarten states that, unlike tannaitic halakhah, the halakhah appearing in the Qumran fragments does not make the fruits' susceptibility to impurity conditional on the desire of the owner. However, there is a further interesting parallel between this fragment and an internal Pharisaic dispute that has not as yet been explored. According to sectarian law, even fig and pomegranate juices make the fruits susceptible to uncleanness. Tannaitic law, however, stresses that fruit juices are not included in those liquids that cause susceptibility: Scripture states: ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?) All food therein which may be eaten, that on which water cometh, shall be unclean; and all drink in every such vessel that may be drunk shall be unclean (Lev. 11:34). The Tannaitic midrash elaborates: ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?) If [Scripture speaks of] "all drink," might one think [that susceptibility to uncleanness is imparted also by mulberry juice or fruit juice or juice of a pomegranate and all other sorts of fruit? Scripture says, "Water" [mentioned previously in the same verse]. Just as water is distinctive that it has no name in particular, so I include dew, wine, oil, blood, honey and milk, which have no names in particular, and I exclude mulberry juice and juice of pomegranates and of all other sorts of fruit, which do have a name in particular (Sifra, Shmini 8.1). This is an almost outright polemic against sectarian halakhah, which bases itself on the very same words of the Scriptures: "??? ???? ??? ????" - "and all drink that may be drunk" to include any kind of liquid. Thus, the Temple Scroll repeatedly states: ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?) And any foodstuffs, upon which wa[t]er is poured, shall be unclean; any liquid shall be unclean. And earthen vessels shall be unclean… all the liquid which is in them. Fragment 4Q274 3ii referred to previously (lines 11-12), based on the completions of the editor, also states: […???]????? [???? ] […any] liquid be[comes unclean] As we have seen, in contrast to this sectarian approach, the Pharisaic halakhah stresses that only water and six liquids that have an independent definition, such as oil, wine, honey and so on, make food susceptible to uncleanness. Indeed, in the previously-mentioned dispute, Hillel and Shammai differed, according to the talmudic report, only with regard to the liquids exuded by olives and grapes, namely oil and wine, but not with regard to liquids from other fruits, in accordance with the Pharisaic halakhic principle. Nevertheless, in this case, there is still an echo of the sectarian approach within the tannaitic world. It is no coincidence that the divergent view is that of none other than R. Eliezer, who disagrees with the halakhah that limits susceptibility to defilement to seven liquids, explaining the verse "and all drink that may be drunk" according to its literal meaning: ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?)

Date honey, cider, winter-grape vinegar and all other fruit juices … R. Eliezer declares them subject to uncleanness under the law regarding liquids. R. Yehoshua stated: The sages did not take count of seven liquids like those that count up spices! But they said: Seven liquids are capable of acquiring uncleanness; all other liquids are clean (m. Terumot, 11.2).

This Mishna demonstrates a certain resentment that R. Eliezer aroused in his opponent, R. Yehoshua, an eminent representative of the Hillelic mainstream. Both R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua allude to the biblical words "?? ?????" - "all drink." R. Eliezer adheres to the plain meaning of the words ("??? ????" - under the law regarding liquids), just as the Sect did, ruling that anything that can be called a liquid can cause susceptibility. In response, R. Yehoshua also uses the Scriptural words "all drink/liquid" saying: "???? ?? ?????? ??????" - "all other liquids are clean," to reject that very same interpretation.


Fragment 4Q270 4, which deals with the sotah, the woman suspected of infidelity (Num. 5:11-31), begins with the following lines: ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?) [ ] a man bring a woman to have her tried by the curse [ ] who sees, if he sees [his neighbor's] wife The case of the sotah in the Bible is a mystical, extra-judicial procedure motivated by a husband's "spirit of jealousy" (Numbers 5:14). The woman's guilt is determined in the Tabernacle and not in the courts, by magical rather than judicial means. However, tannaitic law imposed judicial elements on the procedure, and made it mandatory that it entail objective proof and the involvement of a court, judges and witnesses. The procedure was restricted, inter alia, to cases in which the husband warned his wife in front of two witnesses that she should not be alone with a certain man, and she was subsequently seen alone with him by two witnesses. In spite of its fragmentation, the Qumranic text appears to be referring to the "?????" -the sotah's being alone with a strange man. Qumranic law requires a person "who sees" the liaison. Thus, characteristically, some halakhic development of scriptural law did take place in sectarian law. The magical ritual of inquiry demanded that the woman had been seen alone with a strange man, and the spirit of jealousy that overtook the husband was not sufficient. On the other hand, there is no full judicial development, as in tannaitic halakhah. There is no requirement of the customary rules of evidence, i.e. two witnesses. All that was necessary was that someone "see" the woman alone with another man. This is exactly the opinion of R. Eliezer, as brought in the Mishna: 3?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?)

When a husband gives expression to his jealousy or suspicion of his wife's fidelity by warning her of unbecoming conduct, R. Eliezer says, He must so warn her before two witnesses, and he must cause her to drink even on the evidence of one witness [as to the secret liaison] or on his own evidence. R. Yehoshua says, he must so warn her before two witnesses and make her drink on the testimony of two witnesses [as to the secret liaison]. (m. Sotah 1. 1) R. Eliezer as well does not require two witnesses who saw the woman alone with a strange man. One witness suffices for him, even if it is only the evidence of the husband himself. This approach is closer to the plain meaning of the text, which mentions the "spirit of jealousy" that overtakes the husband, without need for objective proof, such as that furnished by other witnesses. This opinion of R. Eliezer's is an individual opinion that was rejected outright. The passage from the Mishna in Sotah 6.3 below presents the opinion of R. Yehoshua as an anonymous, self-evident halakhah :?????????????

Surely, the deduction should have been thus! Seeing that the first evidence [that she had a secret liaison] which does not prohibit her for all time can not be upheld by less than two witnesses, should not the inference therefore be that the latter testimony [i.e. that she had committed adultery] which renders her forbidden for ever can not be sustained by fewer than two witnesses! But there is intimation [in Scripture - Num. 5] by saying, And there be not witness against her - whatever testimony there be against her. From this to the preceding evidence is a deduction from minor to major: Now, if the latter evidence which makes her forbidden for all time can be sustained by one witness, should not the inference be that the former testimony which does not render her forbidden for ever can also be upheld by one witness? But [Scripture - ibid. 19] intimates by saying, Because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, and in another verse it says, At the mouth of two witnesses … shall a matter be established; just as there it must be at the mouth of two witnesses, so here too, it must be at the mouth of two witnesses. The Mishna begins with the obvious assumption that the "first evidence," namely the secret liaison, cannot be upheld with less than two witnesses, as stated by R. Yehoshua. Further on, the Mishna brings the opinion of R. Eliezer ("should not the inference be that the former testimony … can also be upheld by one witness?") as an incorrect argument, without mentioning his name, and immediately rejects this opinion. Might there be a connection between the rejection of this ruling and the resemblance it bears to sectarian halakhah?


The Temple Scroll 63: 10-15 paraphrases the laws of Deuteronomy 21:10-14 regarding the beautiful captive woman. Scripture instructs the captive: "????? ?? ???? ????? ?? ?????? ?????? ?? ???? ???? ?????..." (??' ??-??) - "and she shall shave her head and pare her nails; and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her…" Yigael Yadin notes, however, that in the scroll, (as well as in the Septuagint) it is the husband to be who must perform all of these tasks. ...?????? ?? ????? ?????? ?? ?????{?}? ???????? ?? ????? ???? ?????... (lines 12-13) …and you shall shave her head and pare h{e}r nails and you shall put off her captive's garb… Yadin comments that this difference also proves that according to the author of the scroll "????? ?? ??????" meant cutting her nails and not growing them. In this context, Yadin cites the dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva: R. Eliezer said: "She shall cut them". R. Akiva said: "She shall let them grow". R. Eliezer said: "An act was mentioned in respect of the head, and an act was mentioned in respect of the nails; as the former signifies removal, so does the latter also signify removal. R Akiva said: "An act was mentioned in respect of the head, and an act was mentioned in respect of the nails; just as the act mentioned in respect of the head is for unsightliness, so the act mentioned in respect of the nails is for unsightliness. (Sifre, Deut. 212; b. Yevamot 48a) Lawrence Schiffman states that this dispute is only one of several controversies over the issue of the captive woman, each representing two different tannaitic approaches to the matter. R. Akiva's approach, which is clearly a sharp departure from the plain meaning of the verses, lends a sense of censure to the neutral biblical description of marriage to the captive. It regards the rituals described in Scripture "as an attempt to make the captive woman repugnant to the husband to be." The other approach, that of R. Eliezer, views that very same procedure as "designed to cleanse and purify." Here, too, R. Eliezer and sectarian halakhah share the same attitude, both adhering to the more literal sense of Scripture. And here, again, R. Eliezer's interpretation was eventually rejected by rabbinic halakhah.

Fragment 4Q271.3 prohibits marriage to a maiden or a widow who were suspected of improper sexual behavior. [??? ?????(?) ???]?? ??? ???? ????? ???? ???? ??? ???? "Let no man bring [a woman into the ho]ly [convenant?] who has had sexual experience, whether she had such [experience in the home] of her father or as a widow who had intercourse after she was widowed. And any [woman upon whom there is a] bad [na]me in her maidenhood in her father's home, let no man take her, except [upon examination] by trustworthy [women] of repute, selected by command of the Supervisor over [the Many]." Aharon Shemesh interprets this fragment as constituting a prohibition and not simply the offering of good advice. In his opinion, the prohibition derives from the laws of marital relationships addressed to the Priests in Lev. 21:7, "They shall not take a woman that is a harlot." The sect broadened the scope of this prohibition, as they did in other cases as well, to include all of Israel. They apparently included in the definition of a "harlot" who was prohibited from marriage, any woman who had performed"???? ????" - "an act of that matter" - in other words, who had engaged in sexual relations outside the matrimonial context. Shemesh suggests that this definition is common to both the sect and to R. Eliezer, as can be learned from Sifra (Emor 1.7): ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?)

"They shall not take a woman that is a harlot." R. Yehudah says, "This refers to a barren woman." Sages say, "harlot" refers to a woman who has converted or a freed bondwoman, or a woman who has had sexual relations licentiously." R. Eliezer says, "Even a case in which an unencumbered man has had sexual relations with an unencumbered woman not for the sake of bringing about a marital relationship, [the upshot is that the woman falls into the category of harlot]." If Shemesh's assumption is correct, this is a further example of ancient, stringent approaches to matrimonial law that were shared by both sectarian halakhah and R. Eliezer.


After dealing with examples taken from the laws of ritual purity and matrimony, we will now turn to rulings concerning the festivals. In the Sabbath code of the Damascus Document we read: ??? ??? ?? ????? ???? Let no man deliver (the young of) an animal on the Sabbath day. And if it falls into a pit or a ditch, let him not raise it on the Sabbath. The same prohibition appears in rabbinic literature. R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua debated a similar matter, namely the lifting of an animal from a pit on a festival. ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?)

If an animal and its young (which may not both be slaughtered in one day [see Lev. 22:28]) have fallen into a pit (on a festival), R. Eliezer says: One lifts out the first on condition of slaughtering it, and one must actually slaughter it. The second he feeds where he is, in order that it may not die. R. Yehoshua says: One lifts out the first in order to slaughter it, but does not slaughter it, and uses legal evasion [in not slaughtering the first] and raises the second [ostensibly in order] to slaughter it; if he does not want to slaughter one of them - he is not bound to (t. Beitza 3.2).

Although lifting an animal from a pit on the Sabbath or on a festival is forbidden, one may lift an animal from a pit on a festival if it is fit for slaughter, and on condition that one intends to eat it on the same day, since preparing food on a festival is permitted. In the case described above, two animals fell into a pit, only one of which may be eaten on that day. R. Yehoshua employs legal evasion in order to save both animals. He permits each animal to be lifted out, pretending that only that one is intended for slaughter, and eventually leaving one of them alive. However, R. Eliezer adheres to the original, plain halakhah and permits only one animal to be lifted from the pit, to be slaughtered and eaten afterwards. There is no exact parallel to this halakhah in sectarian writings. Nevertheless, we see that the sect placed particular emphasis on this marginal prohibition of lifting an animal from a pit on the Sabbath and on festivals, a prohibition that receives no mention in Scripture. R. Eliezer as well was inclined to be stringent with regard to the details of this prohibition, which was of interest primarily to the sect, as noted already by Gilat. In this case as well, the general characteristics of R. Eliezer's rulings, such as simplicity, non-elaboration of Scripture and stringency, are reminiscent of sectarian halakhah.


The Temple Scroll, describing the order of the Day of Atonement, states: ...?????? ?? ???? ????? ????? ?? ???? ?????... …and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness to Azaze'l by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all the iniquities of for {all} the children of Israel, and they shall be forgiven Then he shall offer the bull and the [ra]m and the [male lambs, according to] their ord[inance,] on the altar of burnt offering…

After the High Priest had fulfilled the rituals involving "his bullock" (Lev. 16:6) and the goat of the people (Lev. 16:15), had confessed over the head of the live goat, and sent it away to the wilderness, as described in Lev. 16, he is ordered, according to the Scroll, to sacrifice the additional offerings of the day, namely the bull, the ram and the seven lambs. In the Mishna there is a difference of opinion between R. Eliezer and R. Akiva as to the order of these sacrifices: … ????? ?? [???? ?????, ???? ????? ????? ?????? ?????] They brought him (the high priest, after sending the live goat and reading the portion of the Torah) golden garments; he put them on, washed his hands and feet, went out and offered his ram and the ram of the people and then the seven unblemished yearling lambs - this is the teaching of R. Eliezer. R. Akiva says: They were offered together with the continual morning sacrifice; the bullock for the burnt offering and the he-goat which is offered outside were sacrificed together with the continual evening sacrifice. (m. Yoma 7.3) The exact meaning of R. Eliezer's and R. Akiva's words in this Mishna is rather vague, as demonstrated by the different alternative interpretations brought by the Babylonian Talmud there. Other tannaitic sources cited in this Babylonian sugya, in the Tosefta and in the Jerusalem Talmud, represent different traditions as to the opinion of R. Eliezer, which seem to contradict that of the Mishna cited above. We will not elaborate on this complicated matter here, but will confine ourselves to one such baraita - the halakhah brought in the Babylonian Talmud in the name of the "School of Shmuel": ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?)

It was taught in the School of Shmuel that R. Eliezer said: He [the High Priest] went out and offered his own ram and that of the people, the fat portions of the sin offering; but the bullock for the burnt offering and the seven lambs and the he-goat which was offered outside - all these together with the continual evening sacrifice (b. Yoma 70a).

Abraham Goldberg argues that in spite of first appearances, this baraita does not contradict the Mishna, but instead interprets it. He maintains that the baraita is based on an ancient Babylonian tradition. According to this tradition, R. Eliezer's opinion derived from the plain order of the verses in Lev. 16: 21-25, i.e. that the High Priest should sacrifice his own and the people's burnt offerings immediately after sending the scapegoat away, and afterwards the fat portions of the sin-offering. This tradition perceived the entire Mishna cited above as being R. Eliezer's view, including the last sentence, "the bullock for the burnt offering and the he-goat which was offered outside - all these together with the continual evening sacrifice," and understood R. Akiva's opposing view as a short parenthetical clause, which included only the words: "R. Akiva says: They were offered together with the continual morning sacrifice." According to this interpretation, R. Eliezer's position, which was eventually rejected by rabbinic halakhah, is the same as that of the scroll - the entire musaf, all of the additional sacrifices of the day, should be sacrificed with the evening continual sacrifice, at twilight, only after all the special rituals of the Day of Atonement are completed. Indeed, other sources interpret R. Eliezer otherwise, and the same opinion brought in his name in the baraita of the School of Shmuel is brought in the name of "hakhamim" - "other sages" in the Jerusalem Talmud. Nevertheless, we know that Babylonian traditions tend to preserve ancient Eretz Israel halakhic approaches in general, and original rulings of R. Eliezer in particular, which later on were rejected there. Thus, it may well be that the Babylonian tradition taught in the School of Shmuel, which is closer to the literal meaning of Scripture, is really the original intention of R. Eliezer. If so, it is yet another case of an identical ruling by the sect, as reflected in the Temple Scroll, and by R. Eliezer.


A famous halakhah found in MMT would appear, according to the editors' interpretation, to prohibit the acceptance of offerings from gentiles. Long before this scroll came to light, Yisrael Knoll postulated, on the basis of later aggadic midrashim and Karaite literature, the existence of a halakhic tradition from Temple times that prohibited the receiving of sacrifices from gentiles. This tradition is contrary to accepted tannaitic halakhah. In commenting on this hypothesis, Gilat demonstrates that this divergent approach had already surfaced in tannaitic literature. In the Mishna in Parah we read: "R. Eliezer says: [The red heifer] may not be purchased from gentiles, and the sages declare it permissible." Concerning this Mishna, a baraita brought in the Babylonian Talmud adds: "Thus R. Eliezer applied this disqualification to all other kinds of sacrifices." Here too, we have the stringent, dissenting, individual opinion of R. Eliezer. Later sages of the Talmud tried to guess "What would his [i.e. R. Eliezer's] colleagues answer him in refutation of his opinion?" This indicates that, here too, all of R. Eliezer's "colleagues" disagreed with him. The common opinion of the "colleagues" is also represented in an anonymous halakhah that indeed permitted the acceptance of sacrifices from gentiles: "All individual and communal sacrifices may come from the Land of Israel and from outside the Land of Israel, even from gentiles." In this case as well, R. Eliezer's opinion was relegated to the sidelines of tannaitic literature until it all but disappeared. If the interpretation of the above MMT passage is correct, then this ruling demonstrates yet another similarity between R. Eliezer and sectarian halakhah.


We will conclude with an example taken from judicial law. According to the baraita in the Babylonian Talmud, R. Eliezer interpreted the words "an eye for an eye" (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20) "literally" ["???"]. There are no vestiges of any rulings concerning this pentateuchal verse in Qumranic writings. However, it should be noted that Scholium O of Megillat Ta'anit attributes the literal interpretation of "an eye for an eye" to a dissenting sect. ?????? ??? ??? ?????. (???? ???? ? ?) On the fourth of Tamus was the Book of Decrees removed: …The Book of Decrees - The Boethusians would say: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If one had knocked his fellow's tooth, his own tooth should be knocked. If one had blinded his fellow's eye, his own eye should be blinded, and they [i. e. the aggressor and the victim] will be equal… The Rabbis said to them: Has it not been said already [in Scripture]: "and the Law and the commandment, which I have written down, that thou mayest teach them (Ex. 24: 12), and it is further written: "Therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths" (Deut. 31:19)? [That is to say]: "teach it" - that is the Written Law. "Put it in their mouths" - these are the halakhot [the Oral Law]. The research offers contradictory hypotheses regarding the time and credibility of the Scholium in general and the reliability of this commentary in particular. However, my research on this issue indicates that ancient authentic traditions were indeed preserved in both versions of the Scholium to Megillat Ta'anit, and there is evidence as to the reliability of this tradition in particular. This source may thus serve as a further indication of the similarity between R. Eliezer's halakhic approach and that of the sect.

After studying examples of halakhic specifics, we will now broaden the scope of our perspective to include more general characteristics of R. Eliezer's halakhic approach. Can we find any traceable resemblance between the underlying Weltanschauung of R. Eliezer and that of the Qumranites? In addition to the common characteristics noted in the above comparisons, such as stringency, simplicity and adherence to the plain meaning of Scripture, other interesting similarities may be observed as well. Daniel Schwartz, in an attempt to define the general nature of sectarian (and Sadducean) law, argues that the sect and the Sadducees "seem to have been mainly realists, while rabbis were mainly nominalists." Schwartz defines the "realism" with which he characterizes sectarian law to mean "law must conform to nature." In other words, halakhah is meant to reflect an objective, absolute, a priori truth about reality, rather than to reflect human consensus. It would appear that a very similar analysis might be applied to R. Eliezer's approach as well. Gilat maintains, based on R. Eliezer's position on measurements, that in R. Eliezer's opinion, "one becomes liable to penalty on the Sabbath for the most minute quantity, the only condition being that this must be a natural and independent unit (e.g. one stitch, but not half stitch). The sages, however, insist on a definitely fixed norm, i. e. two units: one who removes two hairs, weaves two threads, writes two characters and so on…" (my emphasis, V.N.). According to Gilat, R. Eliezer is concerned with "defining measurements in accordance with the specific characteristics of the act or object, rather than by applying a single inflexible standard to numerous cases." The difference between these two attitudes, that of R. Eliezer and that of mainstream sages, is an impressive example of the realism vs. nominalism parameter described by Schwartz above. One of the most famous stories that reflect the crisis in the relationship between R. Eliezer and the rabbinic establishment is the story of his excommunication. The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds present two different versions of this event. The origin and development of this magnificent story, as well as its possible Babylonian work-up, are not within the scope of the present discussion. However, a dominant motif in the versions appearing in both Talmuds is R. Eliezer's attempt to obtain Heavenly confirmation of his halakhic view, by inducing supernatural events. The carob-tree was torn, the stream of water flowed backwards, the walls of the schoolhouse inclined to fall, and even an echo from heaven declared explicitly: "???? ??????? ???" - "The law follows Eliezer, my son." Nevertheless, the sages insisted: "?? ????? ???" - "It is not in heaven" (Deut. 30:12). That is to say: Halakhah is a product of human activity, and it is determined by a human process, not by supernatural events. This aggadah appears to preserve historical reality cloaked in legend. It is an outstanding illustration of the same difference in approach described above. Whereas the majority of the sages viewed halakhah as the product of a human legal process, disregarding even Divine Truth revealed by miracles, R. Eliezer ignored the legal procedure and searched for clues to absolute truth in nature itself. This legend reflects another dominant motif in R. Eliezer's outlook. The Pharisaic world makes a very clear distinction between the Written Law, given by Heaven, and the Oral Law, which is subordinate to human discourse. Our story implies that R. Eliezer's perception of the sources of authority of Oral Law differed from that of the majority of the sages. In R. Eliezer's opinion, Oral Law still derived directly from a Divine source, and may be determined by revelation. This very issue appears to be one of the most significant differences between the sect and the Pharisees. Whereas the tannaitic literature clearly differentiates between the written Torah and the oral Torah, forbidding the writing of the latter and the reciting of the former, sectarian halakhah does not refrain from weaving its own exegeses and additions into the scriptures, as in the case of the Temple Scroll, or at the very least, from presenting their exegeses as the creations of Divinely inspired persons. "The Covenanters perceived themselves as standing within the framework of the biblical period… the Qumran Covenanters did not subscribe to the idea that the biblical era had been terminated…" I am not suggesting that R. Eliezer's views were identical to the extreme ideas of the sect in this respect. However, his attitude to the origins and authority of the Oral Law appears to be much closer to the sectarian approach than to the mainstream-Pharisaic concept. This may explain the harshness with which R. Eliezer was treated, and the fact that, according to both Talmuds, all his "purities," i.e. the foods and dishes he ever defined as pure, were burnt (!) in front of him. Even if the sages considered R. Eliezer wrong in the single halakhic case described in the above story, why should his other purities have been disqualified? This episode is reminiscent of a very similar reaction of the sages, this time in a sectarian context: The Tosefta reports that on one occasion the ashes of the rare and expensive red heifer, which were prepared in perfect cleanness, were thrown away only because they were prepared in accordance with the stringent demands of sectarian halakhah. The total disqualification of R. Eliezer may have been a similar form of countermeasure against a semi-sectarian worldview which, this time, threatened from within.

In summary, researchers have tended to emphasize the differences that exist between Qumranic sectarian law and dissenting, seemingly monolithic Pharisaic approaches. However, the Pharisaic approaches, for the most part, reflect majority opinions that crystallized and were formulated in the later tannaitic period. A search for fringe opinions and polemical disputes among the early tanna'im, prior to the crystallization of accepted halakhic axioms, may reveal the existence of semi-sectarian ideas within rabbinic circles. Furthermore, disputes that took place within the rabbinic world often run parallel to those that took place between the rabbis and adversaries from without. Thus, sectarian halakhah can shed new light on internal rabbinic conflicts and their unexpected bitterness. Qumranic halakhah may therefore serve as a tool with which to reconstruct the development of Pharisaic law.