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A Contemporary Translation of Pirke Avot, Chapter One

Pirke Avot Chapter 1 - Translation by Rabbi Shai Gluskin consulting the dictionary of Marcus Jastrow and the translations of Soncino, Artscroll, and Joseph Hertz.

1. Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: be patient in judgment, raise up many students, and make a fence round the torah.

2. Simeon the Righteous was one of the last of the men of the Great Assembly. He used to say: the world is based upon three things: Torah, worship, and the practice of loving acts.

3. Antigonus of Socho received the tradition from Simeon the Righteous. He used to say: Be not like servants who attend their master in the expectation of receiving a reward. Rather be like servants who attend to their master without the expectation of receiving a reward; and let the fear of heaven be upon you.

4. Yosi ben Yoezer of Zeredah, and Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the tradition from them. Yosi ben Yoezer used to say: let your house be a meeting place for the wise. Sit amidst the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.

5. Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem used to say: let your house be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household, engage not in too much conversation with women. They said this with regard to one's own wife, how much more so with regard to another man's wife. From this the Sages said: as long as a man engages in too much conversation with women he causes evil to himself because he diverts himself from the words of the Torah so that his end will be that he will inherit Gehinnom. [A low valley amid the hills of Jerusalem associated with evil acts.]

6. Joshua ben Perahiah and Nittai the Arbelite received the tradition from them. Joshua ben Perahiah used to say: provide yourself a teacher and acquire yourself a friend. Judge everyone favorably.

7. Nittai the Arbelite used to say: keep at a distance from an evil neighbor, do not tie yourself to the wicked. Don't despair from reward/retribution [others, "Don't lose faith in Divine retribution].

8. Judah ben Tabbai and Simeon ben Shetah received the tradition from them. Judah b. Tabbai said: [While acting as a judge] do not play the part of an advocate. While they [the parties in a lawsuit] are standing before you, regard them if they are both guilty. When they leave your presence, regard them both as guiltless, for they have accepted the judgment.

9. Simeon ben Shetah used to say: be thorough in the interrogation of witnesses, and be careful in your words lest they learn to lie [from you].

10. Shemaiah and Avtalion received the tradition from them. Shemaiah used to say: love work, hate power, and do not testify before the ruling authority.

11. Avtalion used to say: Sages, be careful with your words, for you may receive the penalty of exile and be banished to a a place of evil waters. The students who follow you there may drink and die and the purpose of heaven will be desecrated.

12. Hillel and Shammai received the tradition from them. Hillel used to say: be students of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. Love people and bring them close to Torah.

13. He [Hillel] used to say: the one who seeks fame loses his reputation; one who does not add [to his knowledge] causes it to diminish. The one who does not study deserves death; whoever exploits the crown of Torah fades away.

14. He [Hillel] used to say: if I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am [only] for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

15. Shammai used to say: study Torah on a fixed schedule; speak little; do much; and receive all people in good spirit.

16. Rabban Gamaliel used to say: provide yourself a teacher and avoid doubt. Do not give excess tithes by estimating.

17. Simeon, his son used to say: all my days I grew up among the Sages and I have found nothing better for a person than silence. Seeking is not the most important thing, but rather doing; whoever indulges in too many words brings about sin.

18. Rabban Simeon, son of Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: on justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said, "Render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace." (Zechariah 8:16)

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