Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (Aramaic: פרקי דרבי אליעזר) is a aggadic-midrashic work on Genesis, part of Exodus, and a few sentences of Numbers, ascribed to R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, and composed shortly after 833 CE. It is quoted immediately before the end of the 12th century under the following titles:
- Pirke Rabbi Eliezer ha-Gadol (Maimonides, Moreh, ii., xxvi.)
- Pirke Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (Seder Rav Amram, ed. Warsaw, 1865, p. 32a)
- Baraita de-Rabbi Eliezer (Aruk, s.v. קרקם; Rashi on Gen. xvii. 3; gloss to Rashi on Meg. 22b; David Kimchi, Shorashim, s.v. עור)
- Haggadah de-Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (Rabbeinu Tam, in Tosefot Ket. 99a).
The Pirke appears, according to Zunz, to be incomplete, and to be merely a fragment of a larger work. S. Sachs, on the other hand, thinks that it was compiled from two previous works by the same author, the relation of the two productions to each other being that of text and commentary, the text giving merely the story of the Bible, which was interrupted by the commentary in the form of the Aggadah, and the commentary being intended for reading during the ten days of penitence. Meir ha-Levi Horwitz thinks that the author developed those Bible stories which bore relation to the entire nation, dealing lightly with those that concerned only individuals.
Jost was the first to point out that in the 30th chapter, in which at the end the author distinctly alludes to the three stages of the Muslim conquest, that of Arabia (משא בערב), of Spain (איי הים), and of Rome (830 C.E.; כרך גדול רומי), the names of Fatima and Ayesha occur beside that of Ishmael, leading to the conclusion that the book originated in a time when Islam was predominant in Asia Minor. As in ch. xxxvi. two brothers reigning simultaneously are mentioned, after whose reign the Messiah shall come, the work might be ascribed to the beginning of the 9th century, for about that time the two sons of Harun al-Rashid, El-Amin and El-Mamun, were ruling over the Islamic realm. If a statement in ch. xxviii. did not point to an even earlier date, approximately the same date might be inferred from the enumeration of the four powerful kingdoms and the substitution of Ishmael for one of the four which are enumerated in the Talmud and the Mekilta.
The author seems to have been a Palestinian rabbi; this appears not only from the fact that some of the customs to which he refers (in ch. xiii. and xx.) are known only as Palestinian customs, but also from the fact that nearly all the authorities he quotes are Palestinian, the exceptions being Rav Mesharshia and Rav Shemaiah. In no case can this work be ascribed to R. Eliezer (80-118 C.E.), since he was a tanna, while in the book itself the Pirḳe Abot is quoted. Late Talmudic authorities belonging to the 3rd century C.E., like Shemaiah (ch. xxiii.), Ze'era (ch. xxi., xxix.), and Shila (ch. xlii., xliv.), are also quoted.
The following customs and halachot of the Jews are referred to in the Pirḳe de-Rabbi Eliezer:
- Recitation of Ps. xcii. during the Friday evening services (ch. xix.; comp. Shab. 118a).
- The blessing "Bore me'ore ha-esh" (Praised be the Creator of the fire) recited during the Habdalah (ch. xx.; comp. Pes. 59a).
- Contemplation of the finger-nails during this blessing (ch. xx.).
- After the Habdalah, pouring of the wine upon the table, extinguishing the candle in it, dipping the hands in it, and rubbing the eyes (ch. xx.).
- The prohibition against women doing fancy-work on the day of the New Moon (ch. xlv.).
- The blessing of "ṭal" (Tefillat Tal) on the first day of the Passover (xxxii.).
- The sounding of the shofar after the morning services in all the synagogues on the New Moon of the month of Elul (ch. xlvi.).
- The regulation that during the recitation of the Kol Nidre on the Day of Atonement two prominent members of the community shall stand beside the cantor (xliv.), and that on Thursday all worshipers must stand while reciting prayers (ch. xlvi.).
- The addition of Deut. xi. 20 to the daily reading of the Shema (ch. xxiii.).
- The banquet after the circumcision (ch. xxix.; comp. Midr. Teh., ed. Buber, p. 234b).
- The chair of Elijah during the circumcision (ch. xxix.).
- The covering of the prepuce with earth (ch. xxix.).
- The performance of the marriage ceremony under a canopy (ch. xii.).
- The standing of the hazzan beside the bridal couple (ch. xli.).
- The pronouncing of the blessing upon the bride by the hazzan (ch. xii.).
- The regulations providing that no woman may go out with uncovered head (ch. xiv.; comp. Ket. 72a); that the groom may not go out alone on the bridal night (ch. xvi.; comp. Berachot 54b); that mourners must be comforted in the chapel (ch. xvii.); that the dead may be buried only in "takrikin" (ch. xxxiii.; comp. M. Ḳ. 27a, b); that a person sneezing shall say, "I trust in Thy help, O Lord," while any one hearing him shall say, "Your health!" (ch. lii.)—sickness having been unknown before the time of the patriarch Jacob, whose soul escaped through his nose when he sneezed.
The following chapters close with benedictions from the Shemoneh Esreh:
- ch. xxvii.: "Praised be Thou, O Lord, the shield of Abraham"
- ch. xxxi.: "Praised be Thou, O Lord, who revivest the dead"
- ch. xxxv.: "Praised be Thou, O Lord, Holy God"
- ch. xl.: "Praised be Thou, O Lord, who dost pardon knowingly"
- ch. xliii.: "Praised be Thou, O Lord, who demandest penitence."
Chapters xvii., xxx., xxxi., xlvi., li., lii., liv. also remind one of the Amidah.
The author dwells longest on the description of the second day of Creation, in which the "Ma'aseh Merkabah" (Ezek. i.) is described in various forms, and although this passage recalls Donolo and the Alphabet of R. Akiba, it is evidently much older, since it does not mention the "Hekalot." This description is connected with that of the creation of the seven planets and the twelve signs of the zodiac, the reference to the "maḥzors" and the "teḳufot," and the discussion of the intercalation. In the series of years (3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19 in the cycle of 19) in which the intercalation takes place the author substitutes the fifth year for the sixth. His cycle of the moon, furthermore, covers 21 years, at the end of which period the moon again occupies the same position in the week as at the beginning, but this can happen only once in 689,472 years, according to the common computation.
On the connection of the Pirḳe de-Rabbi Eliezer with the Baraita of Samuel, see S. Sachs in Monatsschrift i. 277. Manuscripts of the Pirḳe are found at Parma (No. 541), in the Vatican (No. 303; dated 1509), and in the Halberstam library. The following editions are known: Constantinople, 1518; Venice, 1548; Sabbionetta, 1568; Amsterdam, 1712; Wilna, 1837; Lemberg, 1864. A commentary upon it, by David Luria, is included in the Wilna edition, and another, by Abraham Broydé, in the Lemberg edition.
Complete contents of the collection
The work is divided into 54 chapters, which may be divided into seven groups, as follows:
- Ch. i., ii.: Introduction to the entire work, dealing with the youth of R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, his thirst for knowledge, and his settlement at Jerusalem.
- Ch. iii.-xi. (corresponding to Gen. i.-ii.): The six days of the Creation.
- On the first day occurred the creation of four kinds of angels and of the 47 clouds.
- The second day: the creation of heaven, other angels, the fire in mankind (impulse), and the fire of Gehenna.
- The third day: the division of the waters, fruit-trees, herbs, and grass.
- The fourth day: creation of the lights; astronomy and the determination of the intercalation.
- The leap-year reckoning is imparted to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- The fifth day: birds and fishes; enumeration of the kinds which may be eaten. Also, the story of Jonah, which is said to belong to the fifth day.
- The sixth day: God's conference with the Torah in regard to the way in which man should be created. Since God is the first king of the world, all the great rulers are enumerated in order to refer to God as the first one.
- Ch. xii.-xxiii. (= Gen. ii.-viii., xxiv., xxix., 1.): The time from Adam to Noah.
- The placing of man in the Garden of Eden and the creation of Eve.
- Description of the three evil qualities which shorten the life of man—envy, lust, and ambition.
- Identification of the serpent with Samael.
- Announcement of the ten appearances of God upon earth ("eser yeridot").
- First appearance of God in the Garden of Eden, and the punishment of the first pair.
- The two ways, the good and the evil, are pointed out to Adam, who enters upon his penitence. (The story is interrupted here, to be continued in ch. xx.)
- Detailed discussion of the three pillars of the world—the Torah, the Abodah, and the Gemilut Hasadim (see Avot 1:2).
- God's kindness toward Adam, that of the Hananites toward Jacob, and the consideration to be shown to those in mourning.
- The literary quarrel between the Shammaites and the Hillelites as to whether heaven or earth was created first.
- The ten things which were created on Friday evening.
- Exegesis of Psalm viii., which Adam sang in the Garden of Eden.
- Discussion of the Habdalah blessing of the Sabbath evening and the completion of Adam's penitence.
- Cain and Abel; Cain's penitence.
- Birth of Seth; the sinful generation.
- Story of Noah.
- Ch. xxiv.-xxv. (= Gen. ix., x., xi., xviii., xix.): The sinful generation.
- Ch. xxvi.-xxxix. (= Gen. xl., l.): From Abraham to the death of Jacob.
- The ten temptations of Abraham.
- Lot's imprisonment and Abraham's pursuit of the kings.
- God's covenant with Abraham.
- The circumcision, and the appearance of the angels.
- Identification of Hagar with Keturah, and the story of Ishmael.
- The sacrifice of Isaac.
- Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau.
- Proofs given by Elijah, Elisha, and Shallum ben Tikvah that the dead are resurrected through the liberality of the living.
- Those that will be found worthy to be resurrected.
- From the sale of the birthright to the time when Jacob left Beer-sheba.
- From Jacob at the well to his flight from Laban's house.
- Repetition of the three preceding chapters.
- Story of Dinah and of the sale of Joseph.
- God's fourth appearance—in the vision of Jacob while on his way to Egypt.
- Joseph and Potiphar.
- Joseph in prison; interpretation of the dream; the sale of the grain.
- Jacob's blessing and death.
- Ch. xl.-xlvi. (= Ex. ii.-iv., xiv.-xx., xxxii.-xxxiv.): From the appearance of Moses to the time when God revealed Himself to him in the cleft of the rock.
- Fifth appearance of God—to Moses, from the burning bush.
- The miracles performed by Moses before Pharaoh.
- God's sixth appearance—on Sinai.
- Pharaoh's persecution.
- The value of penitence; Pharaoh is not destroyed, but becomes King of Nineveh.
- Amalek's pursuit in the desert; Saul and Amalek; Amalek and Sennacherib.
- The golden calf; Moses' descent from the mountain; his prayer because of Israel's sin.
- Moses on Sinai; his descent, and the destruction of the golden calf.
- Seventh appearance of God—to Moses.
- Ch. xlvii.-liv. (= Ex. xv.; Num. ii., v., xi.-xiii., xxv., xxvi.; in these chapters the sequence thus far observed is broken): The sin committed at Baal-peor.
- The courage of Phinehas.
- The priestly office conferred upon him for life as a recompense.
- Computation of the time Israel spent in servitude down to the exodus from Egypt.
- Continuation of the story of Amalek.
- The passing over to Nebuchadnezzar and Haman.
- Story of Esther.
- Holiness of the months and of Israel.
- Enumeration of the seven miracles:
- Moses is slandered by Aaron and Miriam.
- Absalom and his death.
- God's eighth appearance—in punishment of Miriam.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Zunz, G. V. pp. 283 et seq.;
- Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, p. 35, note 2, Leipsic, 1858;
- Senior Sachs, in Kerem Ḥemed, viii. 34;
- Ueber das Gegenseitige Verhältniss, etc., in Monatsschrift, i. 277;
- Teḥiyah, Berlin, 1850, p. 14, note 5; p. 20, note 2;
- H. Kahana, in Ha-Maggid, viii. 6;
- S. Friedmann, in Rahmer's Jüd. Lit.-Blatt. viii. 30-31, 34, 37;
- Moritz Steinschneider, in Ha-Yonah, i. 17, Berlin, 1851;
- Raphael Kirchheim, in Introductio in Librum Talmudicum de Samaritanis, p. 25. Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1851;
- Meïr ha-Levi Horwitz, Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer, in Ha-Maggid, xxiii., Nos. 8-30;
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, i. 321-344, Warsaw, 1886;
- Israel Luria, in Kokebe Yiẓḥaḳ, xxv. 82;
- Israel Lévi, in R. E. J. xviii. 83;
- Michael Creizenach, in Jost's Annalen, ii. 140;
- Heinrich Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 1859, p. 112, note 5;
- Bacher, Ag. Tan. i. 122-123, Strasburg, 1903.
- Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer Electronic Text Editing Project (digital images of original codices)
- Full text of Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (full text of 1874 Warsaw edition in PDF files; site in Hebrew)