Pirkei Avot is a greatest hits of Jewish wisdom. Even if you think you don’t know its ethical scholarship, you probably do. The Mishnaic compilation’s most famous lines are questions that everyone asks, even if they aren’t consciously aware that Rabbi Hillel asked them a couple thousand years ago, too: If not now, when? If you aren’t for yourself, who will be for you? Even over the course of six slim chapters totaling barely 20 pages in Hebrew, Pirkei Avot is comprehensive to the point of reminding its students and admirers not to grow overly complacent, warning them off of a dependence on memory or reflex in their relationship with this classic of Jewish ethics. The work, after all, is not yours to finish—but you are not free to desist from it, either. Pirkei Avot is a book you will never really be done reading.
Illustrator Jessica Deutsch’s reimagining of Pirkei Avot invites readers to take a fresh look at one of the greatest and most familiar of Jewish texts. The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Grapic Novel of Jewish Ethics by Jessica Deutsch is a celebration of the source material’s wonders and difficulties, published in black and white. Originally from Westchester County, Deutsch attended orthodox day schools, Midreshet HaRova Beit Midrash in Jerusalem’s Old City, and The New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York. Her illustrated Pirkei Avot creation began as a series of projects at Parsons over four years ago and, as she explains in a hand-written introduction, her book came into focus partly as a result of her reading a commentary on the Pirkei Avot written by the Maharal, the 16th-century Prague rabbi and the creator of the golem. Illustrating the entire Pirkei “just seemed like it would be a really fun challenge for me,” Deutsch explained. She imagined her book could be an educational aide, too. “I liked the idea of making something that I can maybe get into schools.”