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July 31, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vaetchanan

“Ye shall not add [to the Torah]” (Deut. 4:2)

But of course most of Judiasm is rabbinic law.  How does Nachmanides square the reality of rabbinic Judaism with the ideal of not adding to the Torah?

He writes that these laws are “fences around the Torah” and that “that activity of [establishing fences] is itself a requirement of the Torah, provided only that one realizes that these [laws] are the result of a particular fence and that they are not from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed by He, in the Torah.”

So in other words, Nachmanides says you can’t add to the Torah unless you call your addition a “fence” in which case you can add to the Torah.

The Chavel commentary to Nachmanides adds that this “fence” idea comes from Lev. 18:30, which states “ye shall keep my mishmarti [translated by Chavel as “charge”).  The Talmud interprets this to mean “make a mishmeret”, defined as a “fence or protection.”

If you look at Lev. 18:30 in detail, it follows a description of a group of forbidden sexual practices, and states “Therefore shall ye keep my mishmarti, that ye not do any of these abominable customs, while were done before you, and that ye not defile not yourselves therein” (Hertz translation).  I’m not enough of a Hebrew scholar to speak about the literal meaning of the words.  But in context, this clearly does not mean “fence around the Torah” nor does it mean anything outside the realm of “abominable customs.”

My guess is that most fences around the Torah evolved as (sometimes) reasonable ways to avoid violations, and the authors of the Talmud were looking for a phrase in the Torah to justify what they were doing, and waterboarded Lev. 18:30 until it produced the right result.

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