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Pirke Avot
Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life

By William Berkson Ph.D. (author)


Translation with Menachem Fisch

The great Jewish ethical tradition through a contemporary lens

Read a new review of this book in Spirituality & Practice

It’s very good. I like Pirkei Avot a lot, but it’s never been better than it is in this commentary by Berkson.”--The Reform Shuckle

I have collected scores of commentaries on Pirke Avot over the years, and I find this to be one of the best – for its broad outlook, its combination of Jewish and secular thought, and for its inspiring application to modern life.”--Jewish Media Review

Besides the accessible translation, Berkson makes three contributions: he focuses on the authors’ intent; places the author’s teaching in an historical perspective; and compares the ancient though with contemporary psychology, religious attitudes, and ethical notions.”--The Jewish Eye

In Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life, William Berkson provides a fresh, insightful, and exciting approach to this central and compelling classical Jewish ethical text. He, with the assistance of Menachem Fisch, provides a clear and comprehensible translation of the tractate, and his historical commentary draws insightfully on the sources of Jewish tradition for its explication of its sayings. Most significantly, Berkson brings the ideas found in Avot into conversation with a wide variety of philosophical, psychological, and religious perspectives so that the reader can drink deeply from the wellsprings of wisdom that Avot offers for contemporary persons – Jews and non-Jews alike. This book is a most important contribution to Jewish conversation in our time! "-- Rabbi David Ellenson, President Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religon

"Out of a passionate conviction that Pirke Avot is not merely an honored ancient text but one that has much to teach us still, William Berkson has fashioned a unique and deeply thoughtful book. Moving smoothly between ancient, medieval and modern thinkers from Jewish and other traditions, and incorporating the insights of psychology as well, he shows how Avot can serve as a profound springboard for leading an ethical life in today’s complex and conflicted world. An illuminating guide to the issues raised in text and in life." -- Everett Fox, Allen M. Glick Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies, Clark University

"There is great wisdom gracing the pages of this warmly toned and highly readable work. Being both a psychologist and a religious gentile, this book speaks to me on many levels—all of them containing meaning and joy. William Berkson has accomplished something remarkable here in blending the right amount of history, respect for humanity, psychological insight, and discussion of modern concerns..." -- Scott M. Stanley, author of The Power of Commitment, University of Denver

"Berkson makes a case for recovering Avot as a framework on which Jewish thought and ethics can be elaborated. For those outside the Jewish community, he helps to introduce a core rabbinic text as a classic of religious insight and humanistic guidance. ... Berkson invites continuing reflection and discussion in the challenging process of grounding modern life in the wisdom of the ages." -- The Rev. Peter A. Pettit, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding Associate Professor, Religion Studies Muhlenberg College

In this new edition of the well-known Jewish classic, Berkson helps us see that Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) is more than just a fundamental religious text; it is also a compelling, contemporary ethical guide.

Berkson looks at the individual sayings, or mishnayot, through the interpretations of the great Jewish commentators and also within the broader context of Western thought—through views found in the Bible, the ancient Greeks, the Enlightenment, Buddhism, Confucianism, and American culture today.

The book’s most important and innovative feature is its exploration of the relationship between the beliefs of the ancient Sages and modern psychology, particularly the key to good relationships: ethical conduct. The result is a book that goes far beyond the plain meaning of the sayings to explore their ethical, psychological, and religious significance for us today.

Included are an extensive index and the full text of Pirke Avot in English and Hebrew on facing pages.

About William Berkson Ph.D.

William Berkson completed his PhD in history and philosophy of science under Sir Karl Popper at the London School of Economics. He is author of Fields of Force: The Development of a Worldview from Faraday to Einstein and Learning from Error: Karl Popper’s Psychology of Learning. Since 1994 he has been the director of the Jewish Institute for Youth and Family, www.mentsh.com.

Berkson's speech topics include "Avot and the Future of Judaism," ''How the Sages of the Talmud Invented Judaism,'' ''The Jewish Sages vs. Modern Psychology,'' Einstein vs. Heschel on God,'' ''The Great Mitzvah Muddle,'' ''Was There an Exodus and Does it Matter?'' ''Liberal Jews and the Marriage Movement,'' and ''Judaism vs. Mysticism.'' He is available to speak at conferences and at Scholar-in-Residence programs, among other events. His talks are geared to both young adults and adults.

Willing to Travel, Honorarium Negotiable.