Derekh Eretz Zutta
Derekh Eretz Zutta (Hebrew: מסכת דרך ארץ זוטא) is a non-canonical tractate of the Babylonian Talmud. The name is misleading in more than one respect; the word "zuṭa" (small) would seem to indicate that it is a shorter version of the treatise "Derek Ereẓ Rabbah," which is not the case, the two having little in common. "Derek Ereẓ," moreover, is a very unsuitable name for a collection of ethical teachings such as form the substance of the treatise. Even Rashi, however (Ber. 4a), knows the treatise under this name, calling it "Masseket Derek Ereẓ," while the Tosafists likewise call it "Hilkot Derek Ereẓ" (Bek. 44b). The designation "zuṭa" is probably of later origin.
In the Talmud editions the treatise consists of nine sections ("peraḳim"), to which the Section on Peace ("Pereḳ ha-Shalom") is added as a supplement. The Halakot Gedolot (ed. A. Hildesheimer, pp. 644–652) gives another version; here the same material is in two parts—(1) "Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa," corresponding to sections v.-viii., and (2) "Derek Ereẓ Rabbah," containing sections i.-iv. and ix. There are two manuscript copies with this division in the Bodleian (Nos. 120 and 380 in A. Neubauer's catalogue), as well as a genizah fragment (Jew. Quart. Rev. x. 660); but in the latter the first four sections are under the title "Yir'at Ḥeṭ." The Karaite Ḳirḳisani (10th century) cites a passage from the fourth section under that title (Jew. Quart. Rev. vii. 698). A third version is that in the Maḥzor Vitry (ed. Horwitz, pp. 721–723), where the first part of the eighth and the whole of the ninth section are given under the title "Hilkot Darkan shel Talmide Ḥakamim." It is noteworthy that in the Talmud editions sections iv.-viii. are marked as having been taken from the Maḥzor Vitry. It should also be mentioned that the Siddur Rab Amram (Amram ben Sheshna) gives only the first and fourth sections, which is probably because the second and third were not included in the ritual.
Summary of Contents
Apart from this external evidence, a closer examination shows that the work consists of three different collections: (1) i.-iv., (2) v.-viii., (3) ix., though it has a certain unity in that it consists almost exclusively of exhortations to self-examination and meekness and of rules of conduct, and urges temperance, resignation, gentleness, patience, respect for age, readiness to forgive, and, finally, the moral and social duties of a "disciple of the wise" (talmid ḥakam). It is written in the form of separate, short maxims arranged as in the Abot, but differing in that they are anonymous. The compiler attempted to arrange the maxims according to external characteristics, the order followed being determined by the initial word, and by the number of maxims. Several precepts which begin with the same word are put together even when they are not at all related in subject-matter (compare The Wisdom of Ben Sira, ed. S. Schechter, vi. 1-20, where twenty sayings begin with אל); especially are they thus combined into groups of four, five, or seven maxims, numbers which serve to aid in memorizing the passages. How far the compiler was able to carry out his principle can not be judged from the text in its present condition; and to ascertain the original form of the treatise it is necessary critically to reconstruct the text. The following analysis of contents is based on such a reconstruction.
The first section begins with introductory remarks on the duties and proper conduct of a "disciple of the wise"; then follow seven sentences, each a precept in four parts, which, however, are often confused in the text as it now exists. The order is:
- אל – which sentence is to be read according to Ab. R. N., ed. S. Schechter, xxvi. 83
- אל (the following saying, beginning with אם, belongs to No. 3, while the next אל sentence is the fourth part of No. 4)
- העבר (the two missing parts to be supplied from Abot ii. 4)
- אהוב and its opposite הרחק
- אל – originally four sentences as shown by the Vatican MSS. in Goldberg and Coronel's version and as confirmed by the parallels in Ab. R. N., ed. S. Schechter, xxvi. 82, xxxiii. 36; the concluding הרחק sentence belongs to No. 6. The three haggadic utterances which form the conclusion of the first section are a later addition.
The second section begins like the first, emphasizing particularly the duties of the "disciple of the wise." After a series of admonitions concerning only the student, there follow, to the end of the section, maxims of a general nature for people in the most varied walks of life. These are also arranged in seven sentences, each beginning with the word הוי, which word also comes before למוד להיות גומל בטובה (compare Ab. R. N. xli.). Then follow seven beginning with אל, and seven with אם.
In the third section the regular arrangement can be recognized beginning with the maxim אם רפית. There are three sentences each with אם and הוי; and as many with תחלת and אם. The following sentences probably belong to section four, and concern only the conduct of the student. The paragraph beginning with the words אל תאמר איש, which, as is to be seen from the Siddur Rab Amram, consists of four parts, concludes the fourth section, which is the end of the "Yir'at ḤeṬ."
From the fourth section to the eighth is a collection of maxims arranged on the same plan. The eighth section contains eight maxims beginning with כל, but the initial and concluding maxims are not relevant to the proper matter of section. The ninth section is a well-ordered collection of twenty-eight maxims arranged in four paragraphs; seven of these maxims begin with אהוב, seven with הוי, and fourteen with אם.
Date of Composition
The date of composition can only be conjectured. It is almost certain that sections v.-viii. are the work of one editor, who lived after the completion of the Babylonian Talmud. One needs only to compare the maxim לעולם (v. 2) with Sanh. 23a and Mek. Mishpaṭim 20 to see that the compiler had the Talmud before him. The next maxim is a combination of Er. 65b and Ab. R. N., ed. כל המתנבל S. Schechter, xxxii. 68. Ab. R. N. viii., (ed. Schechter, xxii. 46), Midr. Mishle ix. 9. Pesiḳ. viii., כל זמן (ed. S. Buber, 44b), and probably Derek Ereẓ Rabbah were also used.
As already mentioned, the Spanish version of the Halakot Gedolot, probably made about 1000, adopted these four sections as a complete treatise; hence one would not be far wrong in setting the 9th century as the date of composition. The first four sections date from a much earlier period. From their contents they may even have been an independent collection already in existence at the time of the Tannaim. At any rate this collection contains much that is old, even if it can not be proved that the Megillat Ḥasidim, which is cited in Abot de-Rabbi Natan (ed. Schechter, xxvi. 52), is identical with the treatise under discussion.
The ninth section, originally, perhaps, a small collection of maxims, is more modern than the first and older than the second part of the treatise. The conclusion of the ninth chapter, which treats of peace, caused the insertion in the Talmud of a Section on Peace ("Pereḳ ha-Shalom"), in which various sayings concerning peace, taken from different Midrashim, especially from the Midrash to Num. vi. 26, are placed together. This tenth (supplementary) section is comparatively a very late product, and is not found in Maḥzor Vitry, in Halakot Gedolot, nor in the MSS.
Importance of the Treatise
The Abot excepted, this treatise is the only collection of precepts from the period of the Talmud and the Midrashim, and is therefore of great importance in any estimate of the earliest ethical views of the old rabbis. Zunz appropriately characterizes the treatise: "The Derek Ereẓ, Zuṭa, which is meant to be a mirror for scholars, is full of high moral teachings and pithy worldly wisdom which philosophers of to-day could study to advantage." The treatise deals mainly with man's relation to man, and is moral rather than religious in nature. A few quotations from it will illustrate its character:
- "If others speak evil of thee let the greatest thing seem unimportant in thy eyes; but if thou hast spoken evil of others, let the least word seem important."
- "If thou hast done much good let it seem little in thy eyes, and say: 'Not of mine own have I done this, but of that good which has come to me through others'; but let a small kindness done to thee appear great."
The treatise was much read, and the fact that it went through so many hands partly accounts for the chaotic condition of the text. Scholars of the 18th century did much, by means of their glosses and commentaries, toward making possible an understanding of the text, but a critical edition is still needed (as of 1906).
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Azulai, Kikkar la-Aden, Leghorn, 1801;
- W. Bacher, in Jew. Quart. Rev. vii. 697-698;
- Harburger, Massechet Derech Erez Sutta, German transl., Bayreuth, 1839;
- Elijah of Wilna, critical glosses in the ed. of Sklow, 1804 (reprinted several times);
- Lüpshütz, Regel Yesharah, Dyhernfurth, 1776;
- Naumburg, Naḥelat Ya'aḳob, Fürth, 1793;
- Krauss, in Rev. Et. Juives, xxxvi.-xxxvii.;
- idem, Talmudi 'Eletszabólyok, Hungarian transl., Budapest, 1896;
- Tawrogi, Derech Erez Sutta, nach Handschriften und Seltenen Ausgaben, Königsberg, 1885.
- Full Hebrew text
- Jewish Encyclopedia article for Derekh Eretz Zutta, by Solomon Schechter and Louis Ginzberg.
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