The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan
The first Mishnah in the masechet teaches that a person does not need to use a specific formula to make a neder – a vow – but that kinuyim, which are substitutes for the formal language of a vow, will also be effective. This is true in other cases where a person makes a statement that has significance according to the halakha, like taking a shevua – an oath – or accepting the status of a nazir upon oneself.
What is the difference between a neder and a shevua? The Gemara explains that in a neder, the statement made by the person takes effect on the object – e.g., when a person takes a vow not to eat a certain food, the food is now forbidden. A shevua, on the other hand, takes effect on the person, so that now there is a prohibition on the person to eat the food.
The conceptual distinction between the object (the heftza) and the person (the gavra) has become a popular method of distinguishing in many areas of mitzvot and halakhot. Nevertheless, the basic question that needs to be dealt with is what actual difference is there if a given prohibition is applied to the object or to the person. Several suggestions are put forward by the rishonim –
The Ran and Tosafot suggest that in a case where the language is mixed up and a person takes a shevuah that an object is forbidden or takes a neder that he will refrain from a given activity, the oath or the vow will not take effect since the statement was an incorrect one. In fact, this very question is dealt with in the Talmud Yerushalmi, and the majority opinion is that a neder cannot use the language of a shevuah or vice versa.
Not all are in agreement with this conclusion. The Ramban rules that such mistaken language would create an obligation because it would be considered to be yadot nedarim – literally “handles” to a neder – abbreviated forms that create a neder even if the language is not precise.
We have already learned that the most basic requirements of nedarim – or becoming obligated by making a vow – are for a person to have clear intent, that he express it in a clear manner. Nevertheless, as the first Mishnah makes clear, there is not set formula for taking on a neder, and substitutes – referred to by the Mishnah as kinuyei nedarim – or abbreviated formulations – referred to by the Gemara as yadot nedarim – will also create a full obligation.
The Gemara on our daf discusses the order in which kinuyei nedarim and yadot nedarim are presented by the Mishnah, and suggests that kinuyei nedarim are mentioned first because they are mi-d’oraita (from the Torah), while yadot nedarim, which are learned mi-derasha (derived from a homiletic teaching) are taught afterwards.
Tosafot point out that according to the Talmud Yerushalmi kinuyei nedarim are expressions developed by the Sages for use when making vows, and that effectively both kinuyei nedarim and yadot nedarim are of rabbinic origin. Based on this approach, even though the Gemara finds passages in the Torah to which the concept of kinuyei nedarim is connected, someone who uses such an expression to accept upon himself nezirut, for example, would not bring the sacrifices that a nazir ordinarily brings, even though he will receive the punishment of malkot – lashes – if he breaks the rules of nezirut, albeit only on a rabbinic level.
Some commentaries suggest that according to our Gemara, both kinuyei nedarim and yadot nedarim are treated as creating biblical obligations. According to this approach, when our Gemara presented yadot nedarim as being derived mi-derasha, it does not indicate that yadot are rabbinic, rather that they are not clearly written in the Torah. This approach is similar to that of the Rambam who uses the expression mi-divrei soferim – from the words of the scribes – when referring to laws that have biblical weight but are derived from the words of the Torah rather than being written explicitly there.
A closely related concept to nedarim – or becoming obligated by making a vow – is the acceptance of nezirut. When a man or a woman states that he or she desires to accept the status of a nazir the following prohibitions come into play.
- No drinking wine or eating grapes or their products
- No cutting hair
- No contact with dead bodies. This condition is essential, as someone who becomes tameh – ritually impure – by coming into contact with a dead body will need to begin the nezirut
Ordinarily, nezirut extends for 30 days, unless a different time frame is expressed when the person accepts nezirut.
What would happen if a person states that he or she is accepting nezirut even as that person is standing in a cemetery?
Our Gemara makes reference to this case, which is the subject of a dispute between Reish Lakish who says that the nezirut does not immediately take effect and Rabbi Yochanan, who believes that it does. Some of the commentaries explain that even according to Reish Lakish, although this nezirut does not take effect, the individual will be obligated to accept nezirut upon himself after the period that he is tamei concludes. This is because his statement is taken seriously and we view it as a commitment, even though it could not take effect in the cemetery. Rabbi Yochanan, on the other hand, believes that the nezirut does take effect immediately. Nevertheless, since the individual is tamei, the nezirut will be suspended for the moment, but it will take effect immediately when the person becomes tahor (ritually pure), without the need for any further statements.
Our Gemara quotes Mar bar Rav Ashi who offered an alternative approach to the dispute between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan. He understands that both sages agree that the nezirut takes effect immediately, but they disagree with regard to the punishment. Tosafot explain this approach to mean that all agree that the person standing in the cemetery will be punished if he drank wine or cut his hair; the disagreement is whether he will receive punishment for being tamei, given that that was the state he was in at the moment when he accepted nezirut.
We have already learned (see Nedarim 3) that a person can accept a vow on himself by means of yadot nedarim – an abbreviation or “short form” of a neder that is understood to be an expression of a vow. Our Gemara raises the issue of clarity – how clear does such a statement need to be? While all agree that yadayim mokhihot – clear abbreviations – would create a neder, there is a dispute about yadayim she-en mokhihot – abbreviated statements that are not clear. Thus, according to Shmuel, saying mufrishani mimkha (I am separated from you) or meruhkani mimkha (I am removed from you) will only be understood as a neder if it is followed up with a supporting statement that clarifies that the intent is to actually forbid deriving benefit from the person. This is because he considers these to be yadayim she-en mokhihot and Shmuel believes that yadayim she-en mokhihot lo have yadayim – that unclear abbreviations are not considered clear yadayim.
Most of the commentaries understand the etymology of the term yadayim to be from the idea of a handle, which allows a person to hold or grasp an object. That is to say that even though the statement that we are calling a yad does not intrinsically have the meaning of a neder, nevertheless it can act as a tool to express a certain idea, just as a handle allows for grasping and controlling something else. A different perspective on this concept is offered by the Rambam in his commentary on the Mishnah. He explains that the word yad in this context means a part of something (see, for example, Bereshit 43:34 where the word yad is used in this way). Thus the expression yadayim mean that it is a partial statement, one that does not complete the thought, even as its intent may be possible to determine.
We have already discussed the concept of yadot nedarim – a “short form” statement that creates a vow even though it is not an entirely clear statement. Our Gemara examines the concept of yad in other areas of halakha. Will a yad work in the case of kiddushin – marriage? When separating pe’ah (the corner of the field that is left for the poor)? When giving charity? How clear does the statement need to be in these cases?
With regard to kiddushin, there is a basic difference between taking a vow and creating a marriage. While a neder works entirely through a verbal statement, kiddushin needs not only a statement but also an act of marriage – usually the transfer of money or a contract. Will yad work in such a case, as well? Some suggest that the only reason yad might work in kiddushin is because it contains an aspect similar to hekdesh – sanctification to the Temple – in that a woman who marries becomes forbidden to all others like hekdesh. This concept, which is included in the very word that is used for marriage in the language of the Sages (kiddushin = hekdesh), is the basis for nedarim, as well, where we find that the object has become forbidden. Rav Avraham min haHar suggests that there is a further reason to suggest that yad will work in the case of kiddushin; since the act of transfer indicates that a serious interaction is taking place between the man and the woman, even a weak statement will be understood.
The Ran explains that the continuation of the Gemara, where the possibility of yad in the case of pe’ah is discussed, follows this line of reasoning. Thus, even if we reject the use of yad in the case of kiddushin because kiddushin is deemed to be too far removed from kodashim and nedarim, perhaps we can consider the case of pe’ah, where the field is set aside for the use of the poor in a manner similar to that of hekdesh.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.