Mishna Avot 1:1
Interactive Learning Module
This module will focus on the third piece of advice given by the Men of the Great Assembly in
"עשו סייג לתורה,
" make a fence for the Torah.
How does this instruction relate to the prohibition in
against "adding or subtracting" from the Torah? Given Devarim's command of
, should not making decrees above and beyond Torah law be prohibited?
An in depth analysis of the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" can be found at
Adding and Subtracting from Torah
. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
2. "עשו סייג לתורה"
Let's begin our study by looking at the
, focusing on the last three words.
See Rambam, R. Ovadiah of Bartenura, and R. Yonah ד"ה "עשו סייג לתורה".
According to all three, what does it mean to "make a fence around the Torah"? What
do they bring to demonstrate that such safeguards are encouraged?
of such "fences" are brought by R. Ovadiah of Bartenura?
According to R. Yonah, why are such "fences" so
? What does a person who does not abide by Rabbinic safeguards betray about his fear of heaven and his attitude towards observance?
The above commentators point to
, "ושמרתם משמרתי", and its interpretation in
Bavli Yevamot 21a
"עשו משמרת למשמרתי"
as evidence for the need to add prohibitions so as to distance one's self from sin.
These are not the only sources which emphasize the importance of making
To see where else the concept is discussed in Rabbinic literature, highlight the phrase "וַעֲשׂוּ סְיָג לַתּוֹרָה" in the
, and from the drop down menu, press
For more results, in the input bar at the top of the page, change the word "ועשו" to "עשו" and press Search. In the tree menu to the right of the results, click on
to scroll to those results.
4. Similar Sources
How does the statement in
Bavli Yevamot 90b
that: "ב"ד מכין ועונשין שלא מן התורה ולא לעבור על דברי תורה אלא לעשות סייג לתורה" compare to the advice in our Mishna?
Is it fundamentally
from the intent of Avot 1:1? What type of safeguard is it advocating?
, "ד"ה "קדושים תהיו, from the second paragraph that begins, "ולפי דעתי". How does he understand the command to
? What type of "fences" does he recommend?
How does his advice on
, ד"ה "ועשית הישר הטוב בעיני י"י compare?
5. A Contradiction
The common denominator between the above sources is the idea that, to distance one's self from sin, one sometimes needs to go
beyond the prohibitions
of Torah, adding decrees or safeguards. These might take the form of additional prohibitions, punishments, or positive commands.
Let's now look at another set of sources,
. What do both appear to prohibit? How do these verses
"additions" made to Torah law? ?
Note the small differences in the
of the two verses. Are these significant?
Given this Torah prohibition, how should we understand all the above sources which encourage "adding" to the law? Why are rabbinic decrees and safeguards
not a violation
of "בל תוסיף"?.
Chizkuni on Devarim 4:2
, looking at the second paragraph which begins "דבר אחר". How does he
the scope of the prohibition of "בל תוסיף"?
of the prohibition in both
. How might it support this reading?
How does this explanation resolve our difficulty and
the various sources about adding to Torah law?
Chizkuni explicitly addresses
("תשובה למיני ישראל שפקרו על התלמוד") and is possibly referring to the Karaites who reject the Oral law. How are his words a response to their claims?
According to Chizkuni, the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" is very limited in scope, and pertains only to
. One may neither worship additional gods nor detract from the worship of Hashem.
R. Yehuda HaLevi
similarly limits the law, but in a very different manner.
, accessible from the
. [To access the next section, use the arrows at the top of the source.]
According to him, at whom is the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" aimed? Who is
8. Kuzari Continued
The Kuzari asserts that the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" is directed only at the
. Judges, priests, and prophets, in contrast, have the authority to innovate and change.
reasoning does he provide to explain why such leaders are not included in the prohibition?
does he cite from Biblical stories to prove that leaders can and have made adaptations to the law? Are these innovations limited to safeguards and fences?
Are there any limits to the types of changes and laws leaders can introduce? What might be the
of this whole approach?
Let's now move to a third reading of the prohibition, looking at the
Sifre on Devarim 13:1
does the Midrash bring to elucidate what is included in the prohibition? How does it appear to understand the law?
recommended in Mishna Avot similar to these examples or different? Why? Should they fall under the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" according to this understanding of the command?
Hilkhot Mamrim 2:9
) who formulates the Sifre into a rule. What does he say is forbidden by the verse? What is not included? Why are Rabbinic safeguards allowed?
Based on this logic, what might this position maintain regarding the status of
which are not safeguards (such as the institution of the holiday of Purim)?
10. Ramban and Rambam
A fourth approach provides the most
understanding of "בל תוסיף".
. What two distinct types of "additions" does he assert are included in the prohibition? .
suggests that one aspect is derived from Devarim 4:2 and the other from 13:1. How does this work?]
explain why Rabbinic safeguards are allowed? What is the status of
which are not meant to protect the observance of existing laws?
Now, turn to
Hilkhot Mamrim 2:9
. According to him, how does the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" affect Rabbinic decrees? What appears to be the
of the prohibition?
11. Back to Mishna Avot
The various sources we have seen each define the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" in unique ways, but all agree that "making
to the Torah" is not included in the prohibition, and is, in fact, a praiseworthy endeavor.
Why might it be specifically the
"Men of the Great Assembly"
who make a point of emphasizing the importance of Rabbinic safeguards?
Let's return to
to see how
answers this question. Scroll towards the end of his comments, to the third to last paragraph, beginning "האמנם מי אמר שלושת דברים האלה".
12. Abarbanel and R. Wessely
, who actually suggests to whom that fences be made? Why? How does this suggestion relate to the Kuzari's understanding of who has the authority to make changes?
See also the commentary of
R. Naftali Herz Wessely
, midway through "ד"ה "עשו סייג לתורה, from the words "אלא אנשי כנסת הגדולה ראו בחכמתם".
According to him, to what types of fences is the Mishna specifically referring? Why were
so necessary in the time of the Great Assembly and Greek rule?
13. A Different Take
Let's conclude our study of the Mishna by looking at the Meiri and Midrash Shemuel, who offer a somewhat
of the phrase "עשו סייג לתורה".
Turn to the
, and begin several lines into the last paragraph of his comments, from the words "ובאבות דר"נ פ"ק פירשו עשה סייג לדברך" until "וכ״ש בדברי תורה".
According to him, what is the Mishna advising? What does it council regarding how to best
and relay words of Torah?
How might this advice fit with the other two messages offered in the Mishna?
14. Knowing Your Students
Meiri suggests that the Mishna is advising that one make a fence to "words of Torah". When teaching, one must be
aware of the audience
, recognizing that sometimes more is less.
. Scroll down to ד"ה "והעמידו תלמידים הרבה" and scan the paragraph that begins "ואפשר עוד שכוונת התנא לשלול".
R. Shemuel b. Yitzchak de Uceda's starting point is the second recommendation given by the Mishna, that one should have many students, even if not all are "proper". According to him, how does the instruction "עשו סייג לתורה" serve to
(or, perhaps, mitigate) that rule?
This module has looked at four attempts to reconcile the Mishna's recommendation that one add safeguards to Torah with the prohibition of "בל תוסיף", which forbids adding to Torah.
limits the prohibition of Devarim 4 and 13, suggesting that it refers solely to the prohibition of
. This narrow reading easily explains why Rabbinic safeguards are not considered a violation.
limits the law in another way, claiming that it is aimed only at
. Leaders such as sages, prophets, or priests, are not included and are, thus, free to enact laws as they deem necessary.
narrows the scope of the prohibition in yet a third manner, asserting that it applies only to
changing the form
of an existing law. As such, Rabbinic enacting of new laws is not problematic.
, in contrast, does not limit the law and suggests that it relates to adjusting both
commands and creating
ones. Rabbinic safeguards are exceptional only because the Torah itself commands that one put such fences in place.
15. Additional Reading
For a general discussion of the prohibition of "בל תוסיף" see
Adding and Subtracting from Torah
the beginning of this module
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