Joe Rosenstein

Reflections on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers):

Not Just What My Rebbe Taught Me

What is Pirkei Avot?

Pirkei Avot is a collection of about 100 teachings by sages between 300 bce and 200 ce. Many of the teachings deal with ethical behavior, so the collection became known (in English) as Ethics of the Fathers. These teachings became the foundation for subsequent ethical movements in Judaism and for subsequent more systematic treatments of Jewish ethics. Many familiar aphorisms appear in Pirkei Avot, and Pirkei Avot is well known to observant Jews because of the 1000-year old custom of studying the six chapters in Pirkei Avot each year on the six Sabbaths between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Tabernacles).

Watch an Interview of the author on Abigail Pogrebin’s “In the Spotlight” program on the Jewish Broadcasting Service (jbstv.org) in July 2022.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2_I1OapnHU

Features of this book on Pirkei Avot

There are literally hundreds of books dealing with Pirkei Avot.  As do other books, this book provides commentary on each of the teachings in Pirkei Avot.  However, it presents the teachings in Pirkei Avot from a broader perspective, in the following ways:  

  • It compares and contrasts different teachings that deal with the same topic.
  • It provides separate chapters dealing with themes that are significant in Pirkei Avot, chapters on (a) the oral Torah, (b) olam haba (life after death), (c) rewards in Pirkei Avot, (d) the study of Torah, (e) balancing the study of Torah with work and with good deeds, (f) honor and humility, and (g) the ethics in Ethics of the Fathers.  
  • It transforms the ethical teachings in Pirkei Avot, which appear in general and often ambiguous terms, into imperative statements, as directions for how we should behave.   The 69 principles that result are then organized in chapter (g) above.
  • It was written during the Covid epidemic and relates the teachings of Pirkei Avot to what was happening in the world around us, including the political turmoil, and serves in a sense as the author’s memoir of that period.
  •  It relates the teachings of Pirkei Avot to contemporary events.
  • It also relates the teachings of Pirkei Avot to events that took place in ancient times, and that are not mentioned in Pirkei Avot itself.
  • It boldly challenges, when appropriate, the assumptions of the ancient teachers and the subsequent commentators, pointing out when teachings are faulty and when commentators miss the points that the teachers are making.
  • It features jousting with Maimonides, who wrote extensive discussions of Pirkei Avot in the 12th century.
  • It is written in an informal style, to appeal to beginners as well as to scholars.
Pirkei-Avot Cover

Reflections on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers): Not Just What My Rebbe Taught Me is a soft-bound book with 424 pages (each 8.5” x 11”).

The price of one copy of this book is $40, including shipping and handling.  If you purchase 6 or more copies of this book, sent to the same address within the United States, you will receive a refund of 15%.

If you would like to order a copy within the United States, please click below. 

If you are in Canada and would like to purchase a copy click below.

Canada

If you are in Europe or Israel and would like to purchase a copy click below. For prices to other sites, contact the author

Europe & Israel

Pirkei Avot Course: Would you like to read and discuss the book with others, including the author?  If so, registration is now open for the second six-week course, which will take place on consecutive Monday evenings (8-10 EDT or EST) beginning October 24, 2022. There will be a fee of $75 per participant.  The course will be limited to 15 participants, each of whom will be encouraged to read one sixth of the book in preparation for each class,  If there is interest, a third course will begin on Thursday January 12, 2003 and a fourth course (between Pesach and Shavuot) will begin on Wednesday April 19, 2003.

Speaking Engagements:   Joe Rosenstein conducted a virtual book tour at a dozen sites in the months following the publication of his book.  He is now available to speak and respond to questions (remotely!) about Pirkei Avot and his book about Pirkei Avot.  A list of speaking engagements (including those in the virtual book tour) can be found here

View a recording of the May 3 event on YouTube – https://youtu.be/mOkm4vsHm1A