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PIRKE ABOTH

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 642 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PIRKE ABOTH. The penultimate tract of the fourth part of the Mishnah is the booklet of proverbs in five chapters called Massecheth Aboth (tractatus patrum), better known with a sixth chapter as Pirke Aboth (capitula patrum). For Pirke Aboth in English see The Authorized Daily Prayer Book of the united Hebrew congregations of the British Empire, with a new translation by the Rev. S. Singer. The six chapters are there appointed to be read one on each Sabbath afternoon between Passover and New Year. Formerly they were read, in places at least, on the six Sabbaths between Passover and Pentecost only. The subsections of the chapters are hereinafter numbered as in the Authorized Prayer Book. Chapters i., ii.—The Mosaic succession has first to be established. Moses (i., 1-3) having received the Torah from Sinai, it was handed down to Joshua, the Elders (Josh. xxiv. 31), the Prophets and the men of the Great Synagogue, from one of the last of whom, Simon Justus, it was received by Antigonus of Socho. Next are named (i. 4-15), without any title, as links in the chain of tradition, five pairs of teachers, the last Hillel and Shammai, elsewhere in the Mishnah called mundi patres (Surenh. iv. 324). Rabban Jochanan ben Zacchai (ii. 9) " received from Hillel and Shammai." Sayings of Jochanan and his five disciples follow, and chap. ii. ends with words of their somewhat younger contemporary, Rabbi Tarphon (Tputtxwv), to the effect Ars longa vita brevis. These sections (i. i-15, ii. 9-21) contain the " Kern der Sammlung " (Strack). After the sayings of Shammai (i. 15) come interpolated sayings (i. 16-ii. 8) of Rabban Gamaliel I., Rabban Simeon, " Rabbi," i.e. R. Jehudah ha-Nasi (cent. A.D. 1-2), the traditional redactor of the Mishnah, Rabban Gamaliel II. and Hillel, which break the sequence. Chapters iii., iv.—Maxims of numerous authorities, mostly Mishnah teachers and called Rabbis (Matt. xxii. 7 seq.; J. F. p. 27), not in exact chronological order. Chapters v., vi.—Chap. v. which is sui generis, is presumably of later date than what precedes. Naming no teacher until the end, it combines historical, legendary and didactic elements. It touches upon the miraculous and its place in nature (v. 9). In form it is a series of numbered groups of things, from the ten creative Sayings to the triads of qualities which differentiate the disciples of Balaam and Abraham. R. Jacob ben Shimshon's commentary makes Aboth end with the saying of Jehudah ben Tema (v. 23), " Be bold as a leopard, and swift as an eagle, and fleet as a hart, and strong as a lion, to do the will of thy Father wi o is in heaven." Chapter vi., on acquisitio legis, is thought to have been added for use on the last of the six sabbaths above-mentioned (Strack, J. F. Ap. p. 61). In some manuscripts there are seven chapters. Pirke Aboth serves as a primer to the student of rabbinic Judaism. For the most part in simple Hebrew, it has a few sayings in Aramaic (i. 13-ii., 7, V. 25, 26) and some adopted Greek words, as paraclete (iv. 13; Philo). He who would be pious should fulfil the dicta of Aboth (Baba Kam. 3oa). It gives favourite aphorisms of leading Jewish teachers who flourished in or before the earliest Christian centuries, and supplies material for some interesting illustrations of the New Testament. Too heterogeneous to be represented by a few extracts, the collection II must be read through to be appreciated. Among the sayings of Hillel we miss the best known one, What is hateful to thee do not, &c. (J. F. p. 142), with which we may now compare Ecclus. xxxi. 15 Heb., " Know (?) thy neighbour is as thyself, and consider what thou hatest." Of the precept, " Make a fence to the Torah " (i.i; cf. iii. 17) it may be said that "every-thing is therein." As a doctrine of development and as an ethical principle it is reflected in Clement of Alexandria's view of philosophy as a 4payµos of the vineyard (Strom. i. 20), and Polycarp's saying, " He that has love is far from all sin." The use of Aboth in the synagogue stamps it as authoritative, and, with its intrinsic excellence, has led to its being " the most popular of all rabbinical writings." For midrashic comments upon it see the Aboth of Rabbi Nathan (ed. S. Schechter, Vienna, 1887), or the rendering of it (new ed., New York, 1900) in M. L. Rodkinson's translation of the Babylonian Talmud into English. (See also APOCRYPHAL LITERATURE, § Old Testament, II. d.)
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