A second century rabbinic text describes the objectives of a rabbi or a Torah teacher in the following way: The sages said “three things: be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah” (Mishnah, Avot 1:1). The first two of these injunctions make sense, but what is a “fence around the Torah”?

Just like a physical fence, a fence around the Torah is a protective enclosure around a commandment; in other words, an extra layer of rules. First one has to scale the protective fence, and only then be in a position to transgress the actual holy commandment. This way, it will be more difficult for people to transgress the Torah. And as rabbis of his day, Jesus built fences around commandments too! 

“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” (Matt 5:27-28).

First, Yeshua quoted the original commandment (Exodus 20:14) and added, “But I say to you…” and then comes Jesus’ fence: “avoid lustful gazing.” According to Jesus’ wisdom, adultery and unfaithfulness come from looking at someone or something that is not yours, and suddenly the desire is born. Jesus says that this is already a sin. But merely looking at people is not prohibited in Torah. The fence is to avoid inappropriate gazing that leads to inappropriate desires, so that one will not commit the actual sin of adultery. This is an example of Jesus building a fence around a biblical commandment, as was the practice of many other rabbis of his day.



  1. I think he is instead alluding to Ex 20:17//Deut. 5:21
    לֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ
    Do not desire your neighbor's wife.
    Same Greek word too.
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  2. I think that"Fences" around Torah were very common through out the Great Rabbi's of old and new as well. In simply the washing of hands before beginning a Shabbat Service, we are reminded to abstain from all types of impurities not just physical, but more importantly Spiritually.

    Shalom Prof. Pinchas
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  3. I like this idea. On the other hand Jesus seemed to tear down fences that had been erected for the Sabbath commandment. Had the rabbis missed the point of the Sabbath?
    • In some respects, yes. Most of Yeshua's arguments with other religious Jews are really about the specific applications of commandments, not the laws themselves.
  4. Ancient Israel's rewards were temporal in obeying the Commandments rather than eternal. It is not possible by our OUR faith to obey them perfectly to reap the benefits of eternal blessings. We need to pray for the gift" OF His faith" ("of"is correct translation). Mosses knew this and prophesized Him.
    • That is why we are not saved by our efforts, but by grace, by Hashem's favor toward us and not by the merits alone. We live the commandments, we fall short. God in his mercy takes our efforts and through his grace adds to them that which we lack and cannot produce without him. That is grace and that is the only way we can stand before our Maker and not be ashamed. Sorry if that sounds overly simplistic, it is meant to be.
  5. No fence! Jesus was showing us how impossible it is to obey His Commandments perfectly without the indwelling OF the very faith Of Jesus Himself. That is why Paul stated it was Jesus who lived in him! The Apostles only understood at Pentecost when blessed with His Spirit.
  6. Faith in God falls woefully short of qualifying us for eternal blessings. We must show Him that we are willing to obey Him and continually try to earnestly follow His Commandments until we are given the blessing of His very character. He is teaching to be God! Our very purpose!
  7. The Torah commandments dealt with overt actions. Jesus didn't build a fence when He said that one's inner attitude or motive could also violate the commandments. He clarified what the commandments involved, rather than adding to them by "building a fence". That would be adding to God's Word. That's forbidden.
    • No, interpretations of God's words, reasoned extrapolations are not adding to God's word. Not at all. That is not forbidden. That is what fences are in a way. Searching out the depths and implications of God's words is called study. Actively applying those words practically is called seeking God's righteousness. Now some fences are improperly built, but that is a different matter. :)
    • I fully agree. I don't think that alegory to fences is a fortunate one. Jesus was showing us that we're all disqualified when it comes to the sin and need Saviou. He did it by redefining what these sins really mean and zooming in.
  8. In fact, Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day for building fences. He condemned them for teaching their traditions (fences) instead of God's Word (see Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:9; and Mark 7:13). God's Word doesn't need men's fences. It can stand on its own.
    • I am pretty sure you are not entirely clear on what building fences really is... But true, some fences are built in wrong places and Yeshua argued over that. But then he himself practiced the same technique. So it is not the practice of building fences, but where and which ones...
  9. "as rabbis of his day.." There were no "rabbis" in Jesus' day. The term, as a formal, official credentialed title, only came into being post-70 C.E.- i.e,, after Jesus' time.
    • True, "rabbi" as an expert on the rabbinic halachic interpretation of Torah came to be an official title much later in history. Rabbi as someone "ordained" via smicha is a later development. The meaning of this word has changed and acquired specificity over time. However, Yeshua and Torah teachers even prior to his day were called "rabbis" That is all over ancient Jewish literature. Post-Mishna the title acquired a new meaning, but the title itself is quite ancient and historically-accurate.
  10. I strongly agree with the defences interpretation of the Scripture. In fact the obedience of the Torah starts from one's love to his Creator. Therefore, when your heart is right with God you've actually obeyed all the 613 laws.

    Truth! Jesus is a Rabbi...
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