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Pirkei Avot on the Best seller List

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Today I heard a talk given by Rabbi Zvi Berger about religion in Israel. One thing that he pointed out which I found very interesting is that Avigdor Shinan’s commentary on Pirkei Avot is the number one non-fiction best seller in Israel and has been on the best seller list for sixteen weeks.

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5 Responses to “Pirkei Avot on the Best seller List”

  1. 1
    Theophrastus:

    I am not familiar with this commentary. Before I order a copy of it, may I ask, do you have a sense of what is special about it — why it is different from zillions of other Pirkei Avos commentaries?

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I haven’t seen it, but it has sold over 20,000 copies which in Israel is a very large amount.

  3. 3
    tk:

    putting that in contrast with “traditional” seforim a good sales run is something over 1000 and that includes the states and europe

  4. 4
    Theophrastus:

    Yes, 20,000 sales in Israel is roughly proportional to 800,000 to a million sales in the US (depending on how one jiggles the numbers — considering only Jewish Israelis or also Arab and other Israelis.)

    Here is what I found looking at Avi Chai’s web site:

    The alienation of secular Israelis from Jewish culture and study continues to preoccupy the Foundation. A healthy Jewish society depends on all of its communities to engage in the development of its cultural life. Tragically, a significant part of secular Israel has relegated Judaism to the religious. AVI CHAI aspires to encourage Jewish study and literacy among secular Israeli Jews so that they can become active and knowledgeable partners in the shaping of Jewish life in Israel. The Foundation continues to focus on three primary areas of support: (1) encouraging Jewish study programs for secular adults, primarily in informal frameworks; (2) promoting Jewish culture in the media, especially television; and (3) enhancing Jewish studies in the state (non-religious) school system. . . .

    Pirkei Avot
    Publication of a new commentary of the classic Jewish text, relevant to contemporary Israelis. Encouraged by the surprising popularity of the AVI CHAI Siddur, the Foundation has engaged the Siddur’s editor, Professor Avigdor Shinan, to develop an accessible, stimulating, and attractive version of one of the most important works in Jewish literature. For centuries, Ethics of our Fathers, with its insightful aphorisms, has helped shape Jewish views of an exemplary way of life. For most contemporary Israelis, however, the text’s rich allusions and interpretive potential are inaccessible. Pirkei Avot-An Israeli Commentary is intended to encourage Israeli Jews to adopt Avot as a basic household text. The publication is to include a contemporary commentary, supplemented by a wealth of background information and perspectives, including: biographical information on the sages cited; illustrations, such as manuscripts, maps, works of arts, and comics; discussion of traditional commentaries; excerpts from literary works, primarily modern Hebrew literature; references to similar sayings found in Jewish or world literature; citations of scholarly research of interest; and folk art, humorous passages, slang, and other light touches. The multiple perspectives are intended to engage the interest of diverse readers and enhance the text’s significance in Israeli cultural discourse. Publication of AVI CHAI’s Pirkei Avot is expected during the first half of 2009.

    I have to say that this commentary sounds quite interesting. However, I don’t think I will buy it — I doubt I know enough modern Hebrew literature or contemporary Israeli culture to be able to catch many of the pop references.

    TK, are sales figures that grim? For example, Wikipedia claims (with no citation) that 2 million copies of the Steinsaltz Talmud have been sold — or roughly 50,000 per volume.

  5. 5
    Theophrastus:

    OK, I just found Shai Secunda’s comments (why couldn’t he have posted a link here?):

    The commentary has received accolades beyond the shopping habits of the Israel public. In addition, a few weeks ago Beit Avi Chai held a reception in honor of the book. The new Avot’s novelty lies in the byline: A New Israeli Commentary. Shinan’s explanation is not only learned and accurate, but somehow is able to make Avot immediately relevant to modern (including secular) Israel society without cheapening the depth of the learning experience. It is not entirely clear whether this commentary can be easily adapted for the different pastures of the hutz la’aretz. Having just returned from a jaunt to a bookstore in Modiin and spotting a new critical edition of the medieval Karaite, Yefet’s commentary (on Hoshea) lying next to an Orly Castel-Bloom novel, the Israeli readership terrain seems more and more different to me all the time.

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