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I looked around the site for this question, and couldn't find it, so apologies if it's a dupe.

Many communities we have the Minhag to say or learn Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoon from Pesach to Rosh Hashana (i.e. the summer months) (see here and here, for example).

Why specifically Avos, and why specifically this time of year? Is it just because it is a good thing to learn, and Shabbos afternoon is longer?

PLEASE GIVE SOURCED ANSWERS ONLY. THANKS.

  • freebie answer in this article, I'm currently too lazy to write it out. – רבות מחשבות Apr 19 '18 at 22:24
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    Last line is unnecessary. It's an untold site rule. – ezra Apr 19 '18 at 22:31
  • @ezra lol. Another bunch of freebie answers hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=46449&st=&pgnum=233 and chabad.org.il/Questions/…. Try to leave some for others so we get a few good answers. – רבות מחשבות Apr 19 '18 at 22:32
  • I also think that this may be a dupe. It sounds like a bit too "common" of a question. Sometimes a Google search puts up a M.Y. question. Have you tried that? Small exception to the cycle for this year and next in Israel. See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/9848/5275 – DanF Apr 19 '18 at 22:52
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    @ezra I don't think that's entirely true. While sources certainly do add value to an answer, it is possible to have an answer without sources. I think the distinction is whether the answer is an assertion or not. For a halachic question, an answer is asserting the halacha. As such, without a source it is not very useful. But if a question was just asking to explain something then you can explain it without a source. For instance, this answer does not contain any sources: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/90105/13438 However, I think that it is a perfectly valid answer (I wrote it). – Alex Apr 19 '18 at 23:24
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O.C. 292:2 says that we should not engage in midrash (one explanation to this is Torah that requires lengthy analysis) between Mincha & Ma'ariv on Shabbat afternoon. Rama adds that during the summer (and not only between Pesach & Shavu'ot) it has become custom to learn Pirkei Avot.

With that intro, I'm condensing some ideas from this article.

The concern of O.C. is that people won't have enough time to study as well as have Seudah Shlishit if they are involved in lengthy analysis. This explains why during the winter Shir Hama'alot is recited, when there isn't much time, but during the summer, when the days are longer, there is a bit more time to learn Pirkei Avot.

As for addressing O.C.'s general concern as well as why specifically Avot:

The Chafetz Chaim notes (in his Sha’ar HaTziyyun commentary) that the study of Pirkei Avot differs from in-depth study, which we avoid even in the summer months because it may interfere with the seudah shelishit. He says that Pirkei Avot is just an utterance, an amirah – something we recite as opposed to something we analyze. He also says (in his Mishnah Berurah commentary) that since many people come to shul on Shabbat afternoon and engage in idle conversation, it is beneficial for people to listen to words of reproof that will cause them to refrain from such idle conversations.

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One explanation is that it was a response to Islamic historical accounts of transmission of tradition. As Alexander Guttman writes in "Tractate Abot: Its Place in Rabbinic Literature" (p. 190-191) with my emphasis:

For the Jew living in the Islamic environment, there was no better way of defending the Torah and its traditional interpretation than by presenting a Hadith of their own. Of course, it had to be given a prominent place in Jewish literature, and no more suitable location could be desired than in the Mishna. The non-legal character of Abot, as well as its suitability for widespread study and reading by laymen (as well as scholars), might have been the reason for selecting this tractate.

To make the defense more effective, the tractate was included in the liturgy. This took place in geonic times. L. Zunz reports on good authority that the reading of Abot was customary in Arabic countries at least as early as the 9th Century and became an established practice in the 11th Century. Sar Shalom relates that the reading of Abot on Sabbath after Minha was a customary practice in Baghdad or Sura. Both Amram and Saadia include in their respective Siddurim the practice of reading Abot after Minha-service on Sabbath. Thus we see that the reading of Abot originated in the geonic period in an Islamic environment. Since, as we have shown, the Hadiths i.e., the historical stratum were most probably added to Abot in geonic times, there can be little doubt as to the true reason for its inclusion as a part of the regular service. Other explanations given in various literatures are conjectures or aggadot, i.e., weak attempts to explain an extraordinary addition to the service.

A somewhat similar explanation is that reading Pirkei Avos on Shabbos afternoon is a statement of anti-Karaism. In "The Development of a Waiting Period Between Meat and Dairy: 9th – 14th Centuries" (p. 4) Steven H. Adams writes as follows, with my emphasis:

Even many minhagim extant today were arguably initiated as a response to the Karaite movement. For example, many historians agree that the recital of the 3rd chapter from Mishnat Shabbat, “Bamme Madlikin,” on Friday evenings following the prayer service was introduced during the time of the geonim with the intent of reinforcing the rabbinic stance on having fire prepared before Shabbat, in opposition to the Karaite view that no fire may be present in one’s home on Shabbat. Similar arguments have been made for the origins of the custom of reading Pirkei Avot, the introduction of which traces rabbinic teachings to Sinai, on Shabbat afternoons.

The footnote to the last sentence states:

Wieder, Jewish Liturgy, p. 350; compare Alexander Guttman, “Tractate Abot: Its Place in Rabbinic Literature,” JQR 41 (1950), pp. 190-193, who argues that the rabbinic chain of tradition in Avot was a late stratum added under the influence of hadıth scholarship. His arguments do not preclude the existence of anti-Karaite intentions behind Amram b. Sheshna and Saadya’s inclusion of this portion of Avot in their liturgies.

As for why, according to these reasons, the custom would be specifically on Shabbos afternoon and during a specific time of year, I would guess that those details are incidental to the actual reason. That is to say that it is probably simply something like Shabbos afternoons in the summer months are a particularly convenient time to read Pirkei Avos. As Rambam wrote in Guide for the Perplexed 3:26 about details of mitzvos:

Those who trouble themselves to find a cause for any of these detailed rules, are in my eyes void of sense: they do not remove any difficulties, but rather increase them. Those who believe that these detailed rules originate in a certain cause, are as far from the truth as those who assume that the whole law is useless. You must know that Divine Wisdom demanded it--or, if you prefer, say that circumstances made it necessary--that there should be parts [of His work] which have no certain object: and as regards the Law, it appears to be impossible that it should not include some matter of this kind. (Friedlander translation)

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One reason is that Pirke Avos serve as preparation for the receiving of the Tora, which occurs on Shavuos. Vaycra Rabbah 5:3 says, “Derech Ertez (proper comportment and ethical behavior) comes before the Torah.”

Therefore, the minhag to say and study Avos, which is devoted to good manners, refinement of our lives and the acquisition of a good character, ought to precede the receiving of the Torah. (From the introduction of Midrash Shemuel, Pirke Avos).

  • This doesn't address why it goes until Rosh Hashana, which was my question. – רבות מחשבות Aug 3 '18 at 18:28

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