In last month's segment, five thousand people were abundantly fed with just a few loaves and fishes out in the open air. If we set aside the magnitude of the demonstration for a moment, we can see that this event is also the first in a series of stories related to food and eating—resulting in further controversy and incomprehension.
7:1-23 Hailing from Jerusalem, the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes came to Jesus. When they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled—unwashed—hands, they found fault. For them, washing was a way of purifying themselves. Since they lived their lives in the presence of God, they wanted to be pure. The Pharisees and all the Jews did not eat unless they gave their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders, a tradition that had started with the priests but eventually included everyone. Other traditions included washing of cups, pitchers and kettles, thereby preventing the possibility of contaminating food on the way to their mouths.New International Version. The King James Version reads: "For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables."
The Pharisees and scribes said, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? It's not a trivial question. The Pharisees were expressing a genuine concern for the Jewish way of life. In their rigidity, they were worried about any laxity in matters of religious purity. It was what distinguished them from secular society. In their view, if Jesus and his disciples talked the talk, they should also walk the walk.