One of the earliest rabbinic texts describes the objectives of a Torah teacher in the following way: “The sages said three things… ‘Be very careful in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.’” (Mishnah, Avot 1:1) The first two instructions are easily understood. But what are these “fences around Torah” that ought to be built? 

Like a physical fence, a fence built around the Torah is a protective enclosure around God’s commandment; an extra layer of rules. In theory, one would first have to break the “fence” and only then fall into a transgression of the actual commandment of God.

We read in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Yeshua quotes the original commandment (“Do not commit adultery!”), follows it by the introductory phrase – “but I say to you” and stating the appropriate fence (“Don’t lust in your heart!”). The logic is simple: if one would not lust in thought, surely one would not sin with one’s body.

Of course, Jesus was sometimes highly critical of Pharisaic fences, concerned that they sabotaged the deeper meaning of the Torah that Jesus rose to defend (Mark 7:14-23). Yet when asking whether Jesus also built “fences” around the Torah, we must respond in the affirmative – He absolutely did.

If we read the Bible without understanding it’s essential Jewishness, then we’re really only getting part of the story.

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50 COMMENTS

  1. I would have to disagree with this one, at least with the example sited. Yeshua was not building a fence on adultery. The omwn must be married if it is adultery. Therefore, He was merely reminding the people that coveting your neighbor's wife is a sin also.
    • Patrick, greetings. It is very hard to imagine Jesus successfully doing here what Pharisees tried to do unsuccessfully, but I think it is both/and here and not either/or.

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    • I believe it is one thing for Yeshua to add clarifying statements regarding Torah or rather instruction because He is God, He and the Father are one. The Pharisees adding other restrictions around Torah were man made and legalistic, not Spirit and Truth as when Messiah would clarify His instruction for Kingdom living.

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  2. Of course I have no proof, but I think “fences around the Torah” can be seen in Jesus statement in Rev 2:11 (will not be hurt by the second death). Where is the commandment? Rev 21:8 "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
  3. I disagree. I believe Jesus was expanding upon our understanding of what constitutes a sin. In this case He is saying it is as much a sin to commit adultery in your mind as with your body.
    • This is indeed traditional view. But do remember that Jesus was not expanding upon "OUR" but upon "THEIR". We are eavesdropping on what he was teaching them.
  4. The " Fence", referrenced here is simply an extra precaution to stop and turn around. You are on the wrong side of the highway and if you we don't take immediate action we are heading for self destruction. Shalom
  5. I feel that Building a Fence around the Torah means that the fence will "protect" the Torah. The Fence will guard the Torah so that it will not be altered or watered down in any way. In the same way the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be protected at all costs. The phrase "A FENCE" is a metaphor for PROTECT.
  6. "Lust in your heart", today would include pornography and the hyper-sexualised culture promoted around the world that culminates in sexual harassment, rape and the sex trade etc. which we now try to deal with using the law courts rather than tackling the root causes.
  7. See, I don’t fully agree with this final conclusion about Messiah Himself building fences around the Law. Before I give my interpretation of what Yeshua did with so-called fences, I would like to offer my own perspective: I always feel a rather irritated resistance to man-made rules that have not emanated directly from the mandates of G d Himself. First, if a rule is not clearly identifiable as definitive of the Word, the Law, and the opinion of YHWH Himself, it cannot be passed off— without much arrogance or even outlet right lying— to be the law of G d.
  8. Interesting. The idea of fences,an extra layer of caution, makes interesting insight. I never thought about fences around the Torah. I guess we need to be open minded as we search the scriptures and see if 'there is a fence' in the scripture we are reading. Can the rebuke on 'making the scriptures void by our traditions' a Pharisaic fence that Jesus was contending against
    • Exactly! The pharisaic fences he criticized were helping with one thing and hurting another (usually a weightier commandment).
  9. I like many others disagree with your interpretation of the meaning of :fences, a fence protects what is inside. Judgement comes from the Torah, disciples equates to purpose of Torah and fences to protecting the Torah. Yeshua said , I have not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill them.
    • Folks, disagreement is a good thing. It causes all of us to test our ideas. Thank you for taking part in this invigorating discussion.
  10. Paul said he had the right to do anything, but not everything was beneficial, constructive or served others (1 Cor 10:23). Sometimes the freedom that doctrine allows us is in opposition to the life God wants us to have. We call it a watered down message. The fence is a symbol of protection. Love protects. How can love protect if it is law-free?
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