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Building a Fence Around the Torah
The famous rabbinical maxim to "build a fence around the law" was originally published in the Talmudic tract, Pirque Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). The basic thinking is as follows: We do not want to violate the Torah. If we create extra laws to protect the Torah, and we obey those extra laws, then we will not come close to disobeying the Torah. Numerous Rabbinical requirements can be understood as attempts to protect the Torah in this way.
The most common example of protecting the Torah is the laws of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), especially the laws concerning milk and meat. The Torah exhorts us to not boil a kid (a baby goat) in its mother's milk. This command is in the context of pagan Canaanite practice. It is also an obvious humanitarian deference to animal life. To protect this law, Rabbis decided that eating milk and meat together, even if not from the same animal, should be avoided. Once this was accepted, they determined that we needed to have hours of separation between meat meals and milk meals so that milk and meat will not be cooked together in our digestive system. Once this was accepted, we were required to have separate dishes for milk and meat since there is a possibility that particles of meat or milk may be left on the plate and get mixed and eaten. In the case of Kashrut, a new fence is made for each new rabbinic law!
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicted, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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Tikkun International, Inc. is not affiliated with TIKKUN magazine,
the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, or Rabbi Michael Lerner.
Tikkun International, Inc. is not affiliated with TIKKUN magazine, the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, or Rabbi Michael Lerner.