“The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics”, a new book by Jessica Tamar Deutsch, is, like its author, a precious combination of Torah wisdom and aesthetics. Part Bible study and mostly art, it is a visual presentation of the “Ethics of the Fathers”, a section of the Mishna (oral law) that has guided the Jewish People with homiletic wisdom for centuries.
For those unfamiliar with the Jewish classic, Ethics of the Fathers is a section of the Talmud (oral law) which traces a lineage of teachings from Moses down through the generations dealing with ethical and moral principles. A concise collection of Jewish wisdom easily understood by children, it is also compelling for adults.
Deutsch’s version of the Jewish classic, currently on pre-order, contains more than 120 pages of black-and-white illustrations that can be used as a coloring book or a centerpiece. A child will pick it up to gaze at the pictures, an adult may be fascinated by the parables written in English inside the art, and a scholar can turn to the back of the book where the original Hebrew text is handwritten in 20 pages of elegant script. Even seasoned readers who have studied the text many times before will find the illustrations a beautiful mnemonic device to understand and remember the teachings.
The artist grew up in Westchester in an Orthodox Jewish family, continuing her Jewish education in a women’s institution in Jerusalem. Deutsch returned home from the Holy land to hone her artist’s skills at The Parsons School of Design in New York, where she began working on the book.