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.” (Mishna, Avot 1:1) The first two of these injections make sense, but what are these “fences around Torah” a teacher is supposed to build?

Just like a physical fence, this fence is a protective enclosure around a commandment, 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.” (Mat 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 his 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 – that’s a fence. The fence is to avoid inappropriate gazing that leads to inappropriate desires and one will not commit the actual sin of adultery. This is Jesus building a fence around a biblical commandment, just like other rabbis of his day.

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  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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