«Pirkei Avot - Overview Doesn’t mean “Ethics of the Fathers” but “Chapters of the Fathers” Avot also means “Basic Principles” or ...»
Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers Class 1
Pirkei Avot - Overview
Doesn’t mean “Ethics of the Fathers” but “Chapters of the Fathers”
Avot also means “Basic Principles” or “Fundamental Ideas” of Jewish life
6 Chapters: 1st 5 are original Mishnaic tractate; 6th = later Beraisas
Not just wise aphorisms and sage advice (like “a stitch in time saves nine” or “early to bed
and early to rise…” or “a penny saved is a penny earned”), but a body laws, customs, and lifestyle of Jewish people regarding family, education, interpersonal relationships, faith, commercial behavior, history, and all other aspects of life It’s the reflections of our sages’ vision of balance in life and behavior; a distillation of their life lessons It’s advice on proper and holy behavior Talmud says “one who wishes to be a pious [righteous] person should study carefully the words of Avot” It's about how to become a better person. It's about how to live our lives on the daily basis.
It's about improving our best characteristics. Also about how to live a holistic life.
Integrates those laws which are between man and God with our other laws that are between man and man.
These are oral laws which God himself taught to Moses as wisdom on how to live a good life. Was given to Moses at Mount Sinai.
It represents the wisdom of about 60 sages on how to achieve ethical and moral perfection.
It provides little snippets from the sages what they view as the most important ways to improve your ethics.
Started around 300 BCE It was completed round the year 180 to 200. It includes thoughts from the rabbis over a period of about 500 years Lays out Jewish vs. Greek/Hellenistic culture/morality/values/lifestyle o Jews facing challenges on the Sabbath, circumcision, sexual morality o Greeks accepted Paganism, sexual promiscuity, violence, abuse of slaves and women All of these teachings come from G-d; they’re non-negotiable Why was it chosen to study this book of ethical perfection during the timeframe between Passover and Shavuot? Can you name another major piece of writing over 2000 years old, that is this relevant today as it was then?
What is the book called Ethics of the Fathers, rather than ethics of the Torah, or ethics of the sages?
The Mishnah allowed us to have the portable homeland Ethics of the fathers is found in section of Mishnah that deals with damages. This is one of the six divisions of the Mishnah Lunch & Learn with Neil Perlman mytbs.org April 28, 2016 1 The orders and tractates of the Mishnah and Talmuds showing the number of chapters in each tractate, the tractate’s sequence within the two Talmuds and the presence or absence of gemara commentary.
The Men of the Great Assembly -- in Hebrew, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah -- was an unusual group of Jewish personalities who assumed the reigns of Jewish leadership between 410 BCE and 310 BCE. This time period follows the destruction of the First Temple, and includes the early decades of the Second Temple, up until the invasion of the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great.
Realizing that the Jewish people were growing weaker spiritually, a group of wise leaders came together -- expanding the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court, from 70 to 120 members -- with a special aim of strengthening Judaism. Initially gathered together by Ezra, they defined Judaism in this tumultuous time when prophecy and kingship were all but gone from the Jewish people.
(Today's Israeli Parliament, which is called "the Knesset," also has 120 members in imitation of the Great Assembly although the Knesset of today serves an entirely different function of the Great Assembly of 2,500 years ago.) Among them we count the last of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, as well as the sages Mordechai, (of the Purim story), Yehoshua, (the High Priest), Nechemia (the chief architect of rebuilding of Jerusalem), Shimon HaTzaddik (also a High Priest).
Keep in mind that at this time the Talmud has not yet been compiled. Knowing how to live a Jewish life depends on knowing the commandments of the Torah and their interpretations and applications which have been passed down orally -- in short, knowing what is known as the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, both of which date back to Moses' teachings at Sinai.
It is impossible to understand the Written Torah without its Oral complement. For example, when the Written Torah states: "And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart... and you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house and upon your gateways," it is the Oral Torah that explains which "words" the Written Torah is referring to, and that these words should be penned on a small scroll and affixed to the door frame. Without the Oral Torah we wouldn't know about the mezuzah and countless other ways of day-to-day Judaism.
ACCURATE TRANSMISSIONThe destruction of the first Temple and ensuing exile were incredibly traumatic experiences for the Jewish people: The Temple and its daily service were gone as was Lunch & Learn with Neil Perlman mytbs.org April 28, 2016 Pg 1 Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers Class 1 the monarchy. The Jews found themselves in an alien land with none of the normative institutions fundamental to Judaism. (Ironically, the Jewish world is still in the same situation. The difference is that after 2,500 years the exile is so comfortable that what is really an abnormal situation is now accepted as totally normal) As the Jewish people struggle with the aftermath of exile, accurate transmission of this oral tradition becomes essential. And here is where the Men of the Great Assembly make the greatest contribution.(1) As we see in history, to the extent that the Jews stop living according to Jewish law and tradition (i.e. that which makes them Jewish), to that extent they assimilate and disappear. Therefore, the contributions of these men can be said to account to a large measure for Jewish survival.
The Mishna pays them great homage:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and conveyed to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly... Shimon HaTzaddik was one of the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used to say, "The world stands on three things: on the Torah; on the service of God, and upon acts of lovingkindness..." (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:1)
THE CONTENTS OF THE BIBLEIn addition to insuring the accurate transmission of the Oral Torah, the Men of the Great Assembly decide which of the multitude of Jewish holy writings should be in the Bible.
The Jewish people have produced hundreds of thousands of prophets (both men and women). Which of their writings should be preserved for future generations and which had limited applicability?
The Men of the Great Assembly make this decision and give us what is known as the Hebrew Bible today -- or the Tanach. (Tanach is a Hebrew acronym which stands for Torah, Prophets, Writings.) This is what the Christians call the "Old Testament" but traditionally Jews never call it that. "Testament" is derived from the Latin word testari meaning "to be a witness." The Hebrew Bible was named the Old Testament by the Christians because of their belief that God cancelled the covenant he made with the Jews and made a new covenant, "New Testament," with the followers of Jesus. As Jews deny that God would ever "change His mind" after promising the Jews they would be His "eternal nation", they find that term insulting.
Lunch & Learn with Neil Perlman mytbs.org April 28, 2016 Pg 2 Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers Class 1 The Hebrew Bible consists of the five books of the Torah, eight books of the prophets (the last of which consists of twelve short books) and 11 books of various writings, which include the Psalms (largely attributed to King David), the writings of King Solomon (Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), the books of Job, Ruth, Esther and Daniel etc.
PRAYER The last thing that the Men of the Great Assembly do is formalize prayer. They actually begin a process which is not finished until the 2nd century CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple, but they lay down the key principles and basic structure of formalized prayer.(2) During the First Temple period, there was no need for formalized Jewish prayer liturgy, because God's presence was more manifest. It was much easier for the individual to have a close, intense, personal relationship with God. Additionally, a great deal of what is now the object of prayer was formally accomplished through the offering of sacrifices and the Temple service. Of course, when the Second Temple was rebuilt, sacrifices resumed, but most of the Jews had not returned to the land of Israel and therefore had no access to this medium of connecting to God via the Temple. In addition, as mentioned previously, even with the Temple rebuilt, the connection during the Second temple period was much weaker.
Therefore, the times of the formalized prayer are designed to correspond to times when things were done in the Temple: the morning prayer is designed to correspond to the Shacharit Service in the Temple; the afternoon prayer corresponds to the Mincha Service; a the evening prayer, Ma'ariv, corresponds to the nightly duties (as there were no sacrifices as night).
The centerpiece of each selection of prayers (repeated three times a day) is the Shmonei Esrai, "The Eighteen Blessings." Each "blessing" is stated in the plural, to underscore the interdependency of the Jewish people, and each blessing is rooted in Torah and Kabbalah.
The mystical depth of this prayer -- a masterpiece of writing by the Great Assembly -- is astounding. For example, the blessing for healing is composed of 27 words, corresponding to the 27 words in the verse in the Torah (Exodus 15:26) where God promises to be the Healer of the Jewish people. It is said (Nefesh HaChaim 2:13) that the text of the Shmonei Esrai is so spiritually powerful that even when recited without intention, feeling or understanding, its words have a great impact on the world.
Lunch & Learn with Neil Perlman mytbs.org April 28, 2016 Pg 3 Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers Class 1 Through Divine inspiration and sheer genius the Men of the Great Assembly were able to create out of the ashes of a physically destroyed nation, a spiritually thriving people.
Their work defined and anchored Jewish religious and national identity and created focus, unity and uniformity for the Jewish people, no matter where in the world they might be scattered.
The last surviving member of the Great Assembly was Shimon HaTzaddik. Under him, according to the ancient historian Josephus (Contra Apion 1:197), the Jews of Israel prospered and Jewish population in the land reached 350,000.
It helped the Jews physically (if not spiritually) that the Persians were such benevolent dictators. But the picture was about the change with the growing power of the Greek Empire looming on the horizon.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) - Chapter 1 Translation
1. Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, and Yehoshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples and make a fence for the Torah.
2. Shimon the Righteous was from the remnants of the Great Assembly. He would say, "On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the service and on acts of lovingkindness."
3. Antigonos, man of Sokho, received from Shimon the Righteous. He would say, "Do not be as servants who are serving the master in order to receive a reward, rather be as servants who are serving the master not in order to receive a reward; and may the fear of Heaven be upon you."
4. Yose ben Yoezer, man of Tsreida, and Yose ben Yochanan, man of Jerusalem, received from him. Yose ben Yoezer says, "May your house be a meeting house for Sages; become dirty [sit] in the dust of their feet and drink in their words thirstily."
5. Yose ben Yochanan, man of Jerusalem, says, "May your home be open wide, treat the poor as members of your household; and do not converse excessively with a woman." They so stated even about his wife; all the more so with the wife of his friend. From this, the sages said, "Any time that a man converses excessively with a woman, he causes evil to himself and neglects the words of Torah; and, in his end, he inherits Gehinom."
6. Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nitai of Arbel received from them. Yehoshua ben Perachia says, "Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every person as meritorious."
7. Nitai of Arbel says: "Distance [yourself] from a bad neighbor, do not befriend an evildoer; and do not despair of retribution."
8. Yehuda ben Tabai and Shimon ben Shetach received from them. Yehuda ben Tabai says, [When serving as a judge,] "Do not act like a lawyer; and when the litigants are before you, they should be considered like evildoers [guilty] in your eyes; and when they are excused from before you, they should be meritorious [innocent] in your eyes - when they have accepted the judgment."
9. Shimon ben Shatach says, "Examine the witnesses thoroughly, but be careful with your words, lest they learn from them to lie."
10. Shemayah and Avtalyon received from them. Shemayah says, "Love work, hate lordliness; and do not become [overly] familiar with the government."
11. Avtalyon says, "Sages, be careful with your words, lest you incur the penalty of exile and are banished to the place of evil waters [heresy], and the students who follow after you will drink, and thus the name of Heaven will be profaned."
12. Hillel and Shammai received from them. Hillel says, "Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to Torah."
13. He would say, "He who seeks a name [renown], loses his name [renown]. And one who does not increase [Torah learning] decreases it. And one who refuses to teach [Torah] deserves to die. And one who exploits the crown [of Torah] fades away."