ABOT DE-RABBI NATHAN ():
By: Moses Mielziner
A work which in the form now extant contains a mixture of Mishnah and Midrash, and may be designated as a homiletical exposition of the Mishnaic treatise Pirḳe Abot, having for its foundation an older recension of the treatise. Touching its original form, its age, and its dependence on earlier or later recensions of the Mishnah, there are many opinions, all of which are ably discussed in Schechter's introduction. There are two recensions of this work, one of which is usually printed with the Babylonian Talmud in the appendix to the ninth volume, containing also the so-called Minor Treatises, and another which, until recently, existed in manuscript only. In 1887 Solomon Schechter published the two recensions in parallel columns, contributing to the edition a critical introduction and valuable notes. In order to distinguish the two recensions, the one which is printed with the Talmud may be called A; and the other, B. The former is divided into forty-one chapters, and the latter into forty-eight. Schechter has proved that recension B is cited only by Spanish authors. Rashi knows of recension A only.
In contents the two recensions differ from each other considerably, although the method is the same in both. The separate sentences of the Mishnah Abot are generally taken as texts, which are either briefly explained—the ethical lessons contained therein being supported by reference to Biblical passages—or fully illustrated by narratives and legends. Sometimes long digressions are made by introducing subjects which are connected only loosely with the text. This method may be illustrated by the following example: Commenting on the sentence of Simon the Just, in Pirḳe Abot, i. 2, which designates charity as one of the three pillars on which the world rests, the Abot de-Rabbi Nathan (recension A) reads as follows:
"How [does the world rest] on charity? Behold, the prophet (Hosea, vi. 6) said in the name of the Lord, 'I desired charity [mercy], and not sacrifice.' The world was created only by charity [mercy], as is said (Ps. lxxxix. 3), 'Mercy shall be built up for ever' (or, as the rabbis translate this passage, 'The world is built on mercy'). Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, accompanied by R. Joshua, once passed Jerusalem [after its fall]. While looking upon the city and the ruins of the Temple, R. Joshua exclaimed, 'Wo unto us, that the holy place is destroyed which atoned for our sins!' R. Johanan replied, 'My son, do not grieve on this account, for we have another atonement for our sins; it is charity, as is said, I desired charity, and not sacrifice" (ch. iv.).
The chapters of the two recensions of Abot de-Rabbi Nathan correspond with those of the Mishnah Abot as follows: Chaps. i. to xi. of recension A and chaps. i. to xxiii. of recension B correspond with chap. i. 1-11 in Pirḳe Abot; chaps. xii. to xix. of A and chaps. xxiv. to xxix. of B correspond with chap. i. 12-18 and the whole of chap. ii. in Pirḳe Abot; chaps. xx. to xxx. of A and chaps. xxx. to xxxv. of B correspond with chaps. iii. and iv. in Pirḳe Abot; chaps. xxxi. to xli. of A and chaps. xxxvi. to xlviii. of B correspond with chap. v. in Pirḳe Abot.
Rabbi Nathan, whose name appears in the title of the work under treatment, can not possibly have been its only author, since he flourished about the middle of the second century, or a generation prior to the author of the Mishnah. Besides, several authorities are quoted who flourished a long time after R. Nathan; for instance, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. The designation "De-Rabbi Nathan" may perhaps be explained by the circumstance that R. Nathan is one of the first authorities mentioned in the opening chapter of the work. Perhaps the school of the tannaite R. Nathan originated the work. It is also called Tosefta to Abot (see Horowitz, "Uralte Toseftas," i. 6, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1889; Brüll's "Jahrbücher," ix. 139 et seq.). The two recensions of the work in their present shape evidently have different authors; but who they were can not be ascertained. Probably they belonged to the period of the Geonim, between the eighth and ninth centuries.
- Zunz, G. V., 1st ed., pp. 108 et seq.;
- S. Taussig, Neweh Shalom, Munich, 1872, in which pamphlet a part of Abot de-Rabbi Nathan, recension B, was for the first time published, according to a manuscript of the Munich Library;
- S. Schechter, Abot de-Rabbi Nathan, Vienna, 1887;
- Monatsschrift, 1887, pp. 374-383;
- Steinschneider, Hebr. Bibl. xii. 75 et seq.
- A Latin translation of Abot de-Rabbi Nathan was published by Franz Tayler, London, 1654: Tractatus de Patribus Rabbi Nathan Auctore, in Linguam Latinam Translatus. An English version is given by M. L. Rodkinsonin his translation of the Babylonian Talmud, i. 9, New York, 1900. Schechter gives the commentaries to Abot de-Rabbi Nathan in his edition, xxvii. et seq. Emendations were made by Benjamin Motal in his collectanea, called Tummat Yesharim, Venice, 1622. Commentaries have been written by Eliezer Lipman of Zamosc, Zolkiev, 1723;
- by Elijah ben Abraham, and notes by Elijah Wilna, Wilna, 1833;
- by Abraham Witmand, Ahabat Ḥesed, Amsterdam, 1777;
- by Joshua Falk, Binyan Yehoshu'a, Dyhernfurth, 1788.
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 2034;
- Benjacob, Oẓar ha-Sefarim, p. 654.