It was an era of great political upheaval internally, with an ongoing struggle for supremacy amongst different groups of Jews. The Jewish factions crystallized into four sects:

  1. The Pharisees were the led by the rabbis and Sanhedrin (rabbinical supreme court). The word "Pharisees" comes from the Hebrew word perushim, "separatists." There are various views as to the etymology of this word. One explanation is that they separated themselves from the follies and pleasure of the world. Another is that they were careful to maintain ritual purity, and separated themselves from those who did not strictly observe these laws.
  2. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah and the leadership of the rabbis. Many of them were rich priests and they took control of the priesthood, sometimes buying their way into the office of High Priest. Those who wanted to befriend the Romans were mostly Sadducees.
  3. The Zealots were passionate nationalists who broke away from the Pharisees because they wanted to fight the Romans at all costs, while the Pharisees hesitated. (Although the Pharisees too wanted to be free of Roman rule, they thought it wiser to pursue peace. They feared the Roman reprisals to a no-holds-barred revolt would destroy the nation.)
  4. The Sicarii were against any form of government altogether. "Sicarii" literally means "dagger-men." They resorted to stealth and terrorism to achieve their objectives. They would carry small daggers under their cloaks and stab their enemies – Romans or Roman sympathizers, often wealthy Jews and elites associated with the priesthood – and then blend into the crowd. (In contrast, the Zealots aimed their violence against Romans.)

While the First Temple was destroyed due to idol worship, illicit relationships and murder, our Sages attribute the destruction of the Second Temple to the baseless hatred that prevailed among the Jews. If the Jews had been united, they would have merited G‑d's protection. They would have withstood the Romans. It was the factionalism among Jews that ultimately brought about the destruction of the Second Temple.