The Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of the Jewish Nation. Its authority extended over the entire Jewish world, from east to west. The Mishnah states, in Makkot I, 10 that the authority of the Sanhedrin is supreme in all lands, in the Land of Israel as well as in all the lands of the Jewish diaspora. It seems clear, then, as we know from this text and many others too numerous to list, that the Jewish legal system was universal and bound all Jewish communities together.
The Conflict: Sadducees versus Pharisees
These two contending groups were struggling for control of the Jewish People during a critical period in history. Who were the Sadducees and what was their claim to authority? The historian Josephus describes the major religious differences among the Jewish People. The following description of the beliefs of the Sadducees is given by Josephus.
According to Josephus, the Sadducees are opposed to the doctrines of the Pharisees. They believe that God is not concerned with human actions. The Sadducees deny the immortality of the soul and the possibility of reward and punishment in the afterlife. This is the doctrine of the Sadducees: The soul dies with the body. They observe only those laws that are written in the Torah. The doctrine of the Sadducees does not attract a large following. They have few followers, and most of these are people in the highest positions; one could say their following is among the aristocracy. While the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the wealthy classes and show no concern for the masses of the people, most of whom are poor, the Pharisees are concerned with the welfare of the common people and the people follow their teachings.
The Pharisees have transmitted to the people a great many laws and observances which they in turn received from their forefathers. Many of these laws are not written in the Torah of Moses. It is for that reason that the Sadducees reject them. On the contrary, say the Sadducees, only those laws are obligatory, which are written in the Torah. We are not to observe those laws which the Pharisees claim are legitimate traditions which have come down from our predecessors. It is concerning these matters that great disputes and differences have arisen between them.