“Pirkei Avot: A Social Justice Commentary” by Shmuly Yanklowitz— Practical Jewish Wisdom

Yanklowitz, Shmuly. “Pirkei Avot: A Social Justice Commentary”, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2018.

Practical Jewish Wisdom 

Amos Lassen

“Pirkei Avot” is the early and original text of Jewish practical wisdom. Commonly translated as “Wisdom of our Fathers”, “Pirkei Avot” is the first recorded manifesto of social justice in Western civilization.  Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz explores the text through a lens of contemporary social justice and moral philosophy and as he does he engages both classical commentators and modern thinkers.

In his commentary, he includes what other rabbis and commentators say from back in time up to the present. We also hear from historical and political figures contemporary feminists. Rabbi Shmuly is one of the leading voices who calls us to pursue justice. His commentary on “Pirkei Avot” is  grounded  in the centuries old teachings of our rabbis yet are inspirational to the contemporary generation.

“Pirkei Avot” is the Talmud’s premier collection of the great ethical and spiritual teachings of the Rabbis over a period of hundreds of years. Using intensive excellent research and his personal commitment to justice, Rabbi Shmuly assures us that “Pirkei Avot” remains

Judaism’s preeminent text on how to be a good person.” Is that not our purpose on earth. We are so very lucky to have this commentary that brings together ancient and contemporary thought that is spiritual and sensitive.

I have two other editions of “Pirkei Avot” in my personal library but this is so very different because so much is taken into the commentary. Yes, there is wisdom and there are ethics but there are also psychological insights together with humane and inspiring thoughts. This edition is focused on helping us become better people even as we repair a broken world. We do not often get a great read that is also socially relevant and practical. It is both insightful and inclusive and while it may give us something new it does provide new ways for looking at old texts.

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