In Jesus' time the Pharisees were the dominant religious influence in Judaism. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus tells us that they had great "power over the multitude" and were generally supposed to "excel others" as authoritative interpreters of the Jewish law (The Works of Josephus: New Updated Edition).
The Pharisees stressed strict religious observance. They encouraged daily worship in local synagogues. They insisted that every Jew should participate daily and fully in the observance of religious laws governing diet, purification, and observance of the Sabbath.
Because they felt that worship extended beyond the temple in Jerusalem, and was centered in the day-to-day life of the people, the Pharisees were the major Jewish religious group to survive after the temple was destroyed in a.d. 70 during the disastrous Jewish revolt against Roman authority. Their work in the next two centuries helped to establish the foundations of what has since been called rabbinic Judaism and thus profoundly shaped the Jewish religious tradition extending down into our time. From the Gospels, however, we get a different and harsher view of the Pharisees. Indeed, they are often denounced by Jesus as representatives of spiritual hypocrisy, insisting on strict religious observance but substituting "the tradition of men" for "the commandment of God."