The Pirkei Avoth, the “Chapters of the Fathers,” are one of the Mishnaic tractates or writings recited on Shabbat and other religious holidays that occupy an important position in the Jewish liturgical tradition from at least the 10th century onwards. The Pirkei Avoth concern the ethics that outline the order of transmission of the Torah, both written and oral, from Moses to the Rabbis of the Mishnah, thereby establishing that the sages of the Mishnah and all rabbinic figures who preceded them are the true heirs of the Jewish tradition which began at Mount Sinai.

This rabbinic liturgical text has been reproduced many times from the late 15th century onwards when Hebrew printing was first introduced in the Mediterranean. It has since received considerable scholarly attention and commentary especially since the 17th century when the tractate was accompanied by illustrations.

A well-known example are the early 17th century Candia Illuminated Pirkei Avoth which were first published in Heraklion and which reflect the community’s then-prevailing anxieties over its religious and social identity, its relative laxity over religious observance, its small size and its assimilation of foreign Jews from elsewhere.

All Photos: © Israel Museum

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