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Chapters of the Fathers

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Topic: Avot, Known as Pirkei Avot, Chapters of the Fathers

Michael Poppers from Elizabeth, NJ wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

Pirkei Avot is commonly translated "Chapters of the Fathers." When the tractate known as Avot (indeed, when all the tractates) was redacted, was it then divided into such chapters, or were the chapters - like those of the Pentateuch - divisions made sometime afterwards?

Dear Michael Poppers,

The chapters of the Mishna are original divisions by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, who compiled the Mishna (170 CE). The tractate called Avot meaning Fathers became known as "Chapters of the Fathers" because of the custom to read one chapter each week between Passover and Shavuot.

The chapter divisions in printed texts of the Pentateuch are of relatively recent origin, created by Christian monks in the 13th century. In the Torah scroll there are different divisions (called parshiot petuchot and setumot) signified by spaces between blocks of text. These divisions are the original divisions revealed to Moshe through prophecy. There is another ancient Jewish tradition called sedarim by which the Pentateuch is divided into 154 portions. This was customary when the public Torah reading took three years to complete reading the entire Torah. Today the public Torah reading is divided into 53 weekly portions and the Torah is completed once a year.

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