About the Course

Traditionally studied each week between Passover and Shavuot, the Mishnaic tractate Avot may be the most beloved work of rabbinic literature; but its purpose and teachings are also often misunderstood. In this audio course, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik provides learned insight into the unique lives and worldviews of the rabbinic sages found in Avot. He thereby shows how to understand Avot as what it really is: an intellectual history of Jewish minds that were often in debate, and who offered solutions to challenges in a post-Temple world that was in many ways like our own.

Course Resources

6 Engrossing Episodes

In six hour-long episodes, Rabbi Soloveichik guides you through the big themes and the major personalities of Avot's rabbis, whose debates forever shaped the Judaism that Jews still observe today.

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In this opening episode, Rabbi Soloveichik introduces Tractate Avot, “the most beloved and most misunderstood book…in all of rabbinic literature.” Learn how the first chapter of this work embodies the history of Jewish theology and law from the end of the period of the prophets until today.

Rabbi Soloveichik unravels the significance of the most famous Talmudic rabbi, Hillel, who summarized the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot and many of whose rulings still govern the lives of observant Jews today.

Avot includes the words of generations of renowned sages. But there are surprising omissions as well. In this lecture, Rabbi Soloveichik explores the “mystery of the missing Gamliel,” the grandfather of the author of the Mishnah, thereby throwing new light on the meaning of the entire work.

Great historical figures often cannot imagine the world without them. Rabbi Judah the Prince, one of the greatest leaders of Jewish history, presents a stark exception to the rule. Rabbi Soloveichik tells his story and examines the relationship between authority and mortality, greatness and humility.

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai may be said to have single-handedly saved Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple. In this episode, Rabbi Soloveichik recounts and interprets this visionary realist’s place in Avot and in Jewish history.

The incredible story of the “Oven of Akhnai,” so rich in drama and meaning, sheds light on a jarring feature of Avot: Rabbi Eliezer’s critical comment against the sages. In the final episode, Rabbi Soloveichik connects the dots, bringing together the themes of the previous lectures and highlighting Judaism’s “symposium of the generations.”

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