Publisher:  Varda Books
Published:  2004
Language:  English
Pages:   641

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About the Book

The first of two known to us aggadic collections of midrashim the primary purpose of which is not homiletic, but ethical (the other one Tanna Debbe Eliahu is available in similarly excellent English translation from as well).

Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, or P.R.E., contains midrashim on Genesis, part of Exodus, and a few sentences of Numbers. Ascribed to R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, (late 1st-early 2nd century CE, Israel), the most important student of Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai and head of the Academy in Lod, it was composed probably in Italy shortly after 833. The author seems to have been from Eretz Israel: customs to which he refers are known to have existed only there.

In the printed texts there are fifty-four chapters, whereas in the MS. used by Friedlander there are only fifty-three chapters, due to the fact that the last two are combined into one.  Friedlander's translation is based on hitherto unpublished manuscripts, with variant readings provided in the extensive footnotes. The translator's 45-page Introduction is an exhaustive study of the relationship of P.R.E. to the Talmud, Midrashim, Targumim, Apocryphal Literature and the Liturgy, and of its influence on Jewish and Christian literature.

Besides lessons in ethical behavior, the book contains a good deal of extraneous matters, such as chapters on astronomy, Jewish calendar, kabbalistic traditions, and other things. The author's aim is to show the great ethical value of many bibilical episodes, reveal their beauty and meaning in daily life. The book abounds with legends and stories, and although composed late, the tradition it draws upon is quite old.

The book is composed possibly of three parts. The object of one of these parts is to describe in detail the “ten descents” from heaven to earth, which God is said in Holy Scripture to have made in the past. Another section incorporated in our present work professed to give a detailed account of Rabbinic mysticism, more particularly the ancient mysteries of the Creation (Ma‘aseh Bereshith), the Divine Chariot (Ma‘aseh Merkabah), as well as the secret of the Calendar (Sod Ha-‘Ibbur) and the secret of the Redemption (Sod Ge'ullah).

The book is written in excellent taanitic Hebrew in style, which borders at times on poetry; especially when it deals with the days of Moshiach, to which subject many passages are devoted.

In Varda Books' edition P.R.E. has been completely reset anew and fully hyper linked. All customary Vardabookstm features have been added as well as live reference links to JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Scholar PDF edition); clicking on any reference to Tanakh produces relevant biblical passage in a separate window, original Hebrew and English translation side-by-side. (P.R.E. must be placed in the same folder as Tanakh).


Chapters I-II, attempts to justify books attribution to R Eliezer
Chapters III–XI deal with the work of the Creation
Chapters XII–XX refer to Adam and Eve
Chapters XXI and XXII give the story of Cain, Abel, and the other descendants of Adam and Eve
Chapters XXIII and XXIV contain the history of Noah and his sons and the narrative of the Flood
Chapter XXV sets forth the sin and doom of Sodom
Chapters XXVI–XXXI cover the life story of Abraham, including the story of the ‘Akedah (or the binding of Isaac)
Chapters XXXII and XXXIII deal with the life of Isaac
Chapter XXXIV is devoted to an account of the resurrection of the dead
Chapters XXXV–XXXVII present the story of Jacob's life
Chapters XXXVIII and XXXIX refer to Joseph
Chapter XL discusses the signs given by God to Moses
Chapter XLI is concerned with the revelation on Sinai
Chapters XLII and XLIII (which are evidently out of place) contain the narrative of the Exodus (which should precede the story of the revelation on Sinai)
Chapter XLIV unfolds the history of Amalek
Chapters XLV–XLVII set forth the story of the Golden Calf
Chapter XLVIII resumes the subject of the Exodus
Chapters XLIX and L give the story of Haman and Mordecai
Chapter LI is eschatological
Chapter LII describes the wonders of old
Chapter LIII reverts to the history of Israel in the wilderness, e.g. the “Brazen” Serpent and Miriam

The second half of the book contains fragment of the Midrash on the Shemoneh ‘Esreh.