Matthew 15:2

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?.... Having observed, for some little time, the conduct of Christ and his disciples, they thought proper to take no notice of him as yet, but of them; and of them, not as transgressing any command of God, but of men; not being able to charge them with any breach of the law of God: and could they have done this with any show of truth, yet they might choose rather to accuse them of breaking the rules of the elders; by whom they mean, not the elders of the present sanhedrim, but Hillell and Shammai; the two heads of their famous schools, and other ancient doctors; from whom were delivered by one to another, certain rules and laws of their own devising, which had no foundation in the word of God; and of these the Scribes and Pharisees were more tenacious, than of the Scriptures; and indeed they preferred them before them: most extravagant are their praises and commendations of these unwritten traditions; thus they say {d},

"Know then, that "the words of the Scribes" are more lovely than the words of the law: for, says R. Tarphon, if a man does not read, he only transgresses an affirmative; but if he transgresses the words of the school of Hillell, he is guilty of death, because he hath broke down a hedge, and a serpent shall bite him. It is a tradition of R. Ishmael, the words of the law have in them both prohibition and permission; some of them are light, and some heavy, but "the words of the Scribes" are all of them heavy--Mynqz

yrbd Myrwmh, "weightier are the words of the elders", than the words of the prophets.''

And elsewhere {e}, this advice is given;

"My son, attend to "the words of the Scribes", more than to the words of the law; for in the words of the law, are affirmatives and negatives; but the words of the Scribes

Myrpwo yrbd le rbweh lk, "everyone that transgresses the words of the Scribes", is guilty of death.''

This is what they charge the disciples with here, and could they have had their wills, would have put them to death for it: the particular tradition, they accuse them with the breach of, follows,

for they wash not their hands when they eat bread; common bread, an ordinary meal; for, for eating of holy things, more than bare washing was required, even an immersion of them in water; but the hands were to be washed before eating common food, whether they were known to be defiled or not: "bread" is particularly mentioned, as including all sorts of food, and as distinct from fruit; for, for eating of common fruit, there was no need of washing of hands; he that washed his hands for eating fruit, was reckoned an ostentatious man {f}, who were the first authors of this tradition, it is not certain; it is said {g}, that

"Hillell and Shammai decreed Mydy twrhj le, "concerning the purification of the hands"; R. Jose ben R. Bon, in the name of R. Levi, says, so was the tradition before, but they forgot it; and these two stood up, and agreed with the minds of the former ones.''

"However, it is a certain point, that the washing of the hands, and the dipping of them, are Myrpwo yrbdm, "from the words of the Scribes" {h}.''

The breach of this rule was reckoned equal to the most flagitious crimes {i}: R. Jose says,

"whoever eats bread without washing of hands, is as if he lay with a whore: and, says R. Eleazer, whoever despiseth washing of hands, shall be rooted out of the world.''

And elsewhere it is said by them {k}, that

"he that blesseth (food) with defiled hands, is guilty of death.''

And again {l},

"whoever does not wash his hands as is fitting, although he is punished above, he shall be punished below.''

And to fright people into an observance of this tradition, they talk of Shibta, a sort of an evil spirit, that hurts such as eat without washing their hands: they say, he sits upon their hands, and upon their bread, and leaves something behind, which is very dangerous {m}; and it is recorded {n}, to the praise of R. Akiba, that he chose rather to die, than to transgress this tradition; for being in prison, and in want of water, what little he had, he washed his hands with it, instead of drinking it. Eleazar ben Chanac was excommunicated for despising the tradition concerning washing of hands; and when he died, the sanhedrim sent and put a great stone upon his coffin, to show, that he that died in his excommunication, the sanhedrim stoned his coffin {o}: but of this, See Gill "Mark 7:3".

{d} T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 3. 2.
{e} T. Bab. Erubim, fol. 21. 2. T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 4. 2.
{f} Misn. Chagiga, c. 2. sect. 5, 6. Maimon. Praefat. ad Tract. Yadaim, & Hilch. Beracot, c. 6. sect. 3.
{g} T. Hieros. Sabbat, fol. 3. 4.
{h} Maimon Hilch. Mikvaot, c. 11. sect. 1.
{i} T. Bab. Sota, fol. 4. 2.
{k} Zohar in Deut. fol. 107. 3.
{l} lb. in Gen. fol. 60. 2.
{m} Gloss. in. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 77. 2. Taanith, fol. 20. 2. & Cholin, fol. 107. 2.
{n} T. B. Erubim, fol. 2l. 2.
{o} T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 19. l.