A surface read of Pirkei Avot and Hilchot De'ot would suggest that their contents appears to be primarily advice as to how one should proceed over and above the minimal halachik requirements. Nonetheless, these two respective works are codified among primarily halachik series, the Mishna and Mishna Torah respectively.

Do the instructions provided in these two volumes (and other volumes that fit my aforementioned criteria) contain halachik weight for anyone or everyone? Are they codes to teach us how to behave should we wish to go beyond the letter of the law? Are they simply there to enrich our lives?

  • really similar judaism.stackexchange.com/q/22487/759
    – Double AA
    May 7, 2014 at 21:26
  • Regarding Pirkei Avot, I believe that Masechet Baba Kama (would appreciate if someone can insert location) states that someoen who wishes to be a "chassid" should follow the precepts in Pirkei Avot. In the Mishnah, the term "chassid" (which is used often in Pirkei Avot) refers to someone who goes above BEYOND general halachic requirements. I would, thus infer that Pirkei Avot are not halacha, per se, but recomendations on behavior and suggestions on becoming a "hassid", even without payot and a bekishe.
    – DanF
    May 7, 2014 at 21:31

3 Answers 3


The first Mishna in Pirkei Avot deals with the chain of Mesorah, how the Torah was passed down from generation to generation, starting with Moshe at Sinai. Rav Ovadiah MiBartenura asks what's the relevance of this Mishnah to the rest of the tractate, which seemingly deals with ethics? He answers that this Mishnah was given as an introduction to let us know that even these seemingly 'ethical' commandments were also given at Sinai, and as such must be treated just like any other commandment given at Sinai.

That being said, your question is asking if these volumes 'contain halachik weight'. The short answer is yes, just like any other part of the Mishnah or Mishnah Torah. However, just like we don't conclusively rule Halachah directly from a Mishnah, we also don't conclusively rule 'ethical Halachah' directly from Pirkei Avot.


Rambam Hilchos De'os is halachikally binding except where the Rambam specifically states that it is limited to a Talmid Chacham (e.g. chapter 5). Hilchos De'os contains the specification of no less than 11 Biblical mitzvos including the prohibitions against revenge and lashon hara and these commandments are certainly obligatory.

The portions that deal with treating others properly like greeting others pleasantly (sever panim yafos) are included in the mitzvah of emulating Hashem and are also binding. See 1:5 where this is explicitly stated by Rambam.

Similarly, Pirkei Avos, in general, applies to everyone; note that the Ein Mishpat (found in Vilna Shas end of Maseches Avodah Zara) has numerous footnotes citing the passages in Rambam and Shulachan Aruch that are based on the referenced mishna. In addition, in many Halachic contexts Tosfos on the Gemara (e.g. Rosh Hashana 4a s.v. Beshvil) raises questions from Avos (but also see Tosfos Yom Tov ibid and rambam end of hilchos teshuvah) who clearly maintain that this is not required but is certainly optimal). (Of course, some mishnayos in Avos were intended for Talmidei Chachamim e.g. 1:1 Shimon Hatazdik etc) Some mishnayos are intended as not required advice (). One has to see how the Poskim (e.g. Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc) understood those comments to determine if they are binding or simply advice.(e.g. Avos 1:5 "al tarbeh sichhah" and Rambam Hulchos De'os 5:4)

Your question is similar to the one raised by the Chofetz Chaim in his introduction to that sefer where he asks whether Rabenu Yonah's Shaarei Teshuva is halachically binding. Chofetz Chaim clearly understands that Rambam in Hilchos De'os is binding as he quotes from it extensively throughout his sefer. As a matter of fact, the issur for lashon hara is found in Hilchos De'os!

  • 1
    I think it's clear that the OP was referring to the parts of Deot which are not obviously binding.
    – Double AA
    May 8, 2014 at 19:50
  • 1
    @DoubleAA the OP needs to be specific...by the fact the rambam only limits himself to talidei chachamiim in a few places its clear that everything else applies to everyone. I'm not sure which portions wouldn't be binding or why that should be the case.
    – Yoni
    May 8, 2014 at 19:55
  • @DoubleAA - I was, but this answer is the first to conclusively prove that we do accept some of avot as legally binding. As such I have accepted this answer.
    – Yehuda
    May 8, 2014 at 20:47
  • @Yehuda Which portions of Deos / Avos did you have in mind? I can look into it...
    – Yoni
    May 9, 2014 at 4:15
  • @Yoni - I'd intended things like: greet everyone with a pleasant face, say little and do much, judge everybody favorably, do not separate from the community, etc.
    – Yehuda
    May 9, 2014 at 17:07

the torah is written in a universal form so that every Jew is able to fulfill it.

Nevertheless, G-d's intent is that those who can do more should strive to. This is known as the urge of the understanding.

The prescriptions in Pirkei Avot are in this category.

Most people are not able to fulfill all the words of pirkei avot, so it is not to be looked as 100% halachically binding. Nevertheless everyone at his level of understanding must try to fulfill whatever he can.

This is explained in the Chovos Halevavos, Gate 3 ch.3:

Third, the intellectual urge cannot include equally all who are under the obligation of service, because some human beings are of limited intelligence, while some are superior in understanding. But the urge of the Torah applies equally to all who have reached the status subjecting them to this service, even though they vary in their understanding of it, as we have noted at the close of the first treatise of this book.

It sometimes also happens that an individual falls short in some duties and exceeds in others. The intellectual stimulus varies in different individuals in accordance with their capacity of recognition. But the urge of the Torah is not subject to variation. Its form is the same for the child, the youth, one advanced in years and the old man, the wise and the foolish, even though the resulting practice varies in different classes of individuals. And so Scripture says in regard to the all encompassing character of the instruction of the Torah for all the people, "Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and the stranger that is within your gate, (that they may hear and that they may learn and fear the L-ord your G-d . . .)" (Devarim 31:12). Further, it is said, ". . . you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing." (Devarim 31:11).

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