Pirke Aboth i.e. capita patrum (פֶּרֶק, a chapter), or sayings of the fathers, is the name of a tract of the Mishna (q.v.), and consists of five chapters of chronologically regulated gnomes from the teachers of Israel who flourished within 4501 years. They were in all ages highly esteemed for their moral character, but in modern times, when a greater interest in Jewish history awoke, they also experienced greater attention on account of their historical 'value. The Pirke Aboth was especially used by Frankel for solving some historical problems, and several after him found in them sources for chronological suggestions. A very ingenious speculation about 'the first chapter of the Pirke Aboth is brought forward by rabbi Bloch. He asserts that its sentences and rules of life were pronounced on the occasion of the solemn dispensing of the Semicha, "the ordination and authorization to the office of rabbi and judge," given to the disciples as rules of life in office. With such sentence the teacher discharged his disciple, who was prepared to enter an independent calling. The first chapter gives us the chain of tradition, how the law was delivered from generation to generation. When the men of the great synagogue said, "Be deliberate in judgment. train up many disciples, and make a fence for the law," they could not have intended for every man and for every opportunity, but just for such disciples to whom they dispensed Semicha. When Judah ibn-Tabia taught (ver. 8), "Consider not thyself like a chief-justice, and when parties are before thee in judgment, consider both as guilty; but when they are departed from thee, consider them both as innocent, if they acquiesced in the sentence;" or if Abtalyon impressed the sages to be cautious of their words (ver. 11), etc., it appears clearly that they merely addressed persons who have charge of judgments and of the chair. Verse 13, which is taught in the name of Hillel, expresses genuine Shamaic rigor, and only the suppositions that these precepts are directed to disciples will somewhat explain their rigidness. Especially verse 3 gains clearness, which reports the sentence of Antigonos of Socho: "Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving reward, but be like servants who serve without the condition to receive reward, and let the fear of heaven be upon you." According to the common conception, the last sentence could not be brought into close connection with the foregoing. Clearly Antigonos intended to say something else than what his expounders impute to him. By פרס he decidedly understood earthly reward, and addressed his disciples to exercise their offices as teacher and judge not with a view to reward. but for the office' sake, and "The fear of heaven be upon you" completes the advice. The chapters following contain rules of life for "every man" (שיבור לו האדם).
When the extemporaneous discourses were suspended in the synagogue by the reading of the Haggadah (q.v.), etc., it became the custom to read in the Sabbath afternoon service a chapter of the Aboth (Zunz, Gottesdienstl. Vortradqe der Juden, p. 424), and this still continues the practice in many countries (Bodenschatz, Kirchl. Ver. fussung der Juden, 2, 151 sq.). The Spanish Jews read the Aboth only on the six Sabbaths between Passover and Pentecost. The Prayer-books have the Aboth always as an appendix. A separate critical edition, with German translation, was prepared by rabbi Caro, under the title Minchath Schabbath (Krotoshin, 1847). SEE TALMUD. (J.H.W.)