Both form and content support and encourage the observance and the study of rabbinic Torah traditions. On the one hand, the chain of transmission offers a meta-legal, historical justification for the host of extra-biblical Torah traditions practised by the rabbinic community. Avot does not ground the halakhah on internal, legal considerations, but rather derives rabbinic authority from a creative historical reconstruction of the history of the Torah traditions. On the other hand, the contents of Avot offer an alternative justification for the observance and study of Torah that focuses on the theological realm. The theological message of Avot offers a vision of a God who, having granted the Torah on Mt. Sinai, cherishes and rewards the observance and study of the Torah of the rabbis. Thus the theological content posits the acceptance of the chain of transmissions’s claim and then, like the chain, supports the extra-biblical rabbinic traditions with a non-legal argument. While the form establishes the meta-legal foundations for rabbinic authority, the content articulates the theological ramifications of submission to rabbinic rule.

Amram Tropper, Wisdom, Politics, and Historiography: Tractate Avot in the Context of the Graeco-Roman Near East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 50.

Leave a Reply