Masechet Nedarim 56a-62b

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14 Feb 2008

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


Nedarim 56a-b

The Mishnah teaches that a person who vows not to enter a city can enter its techum, or boundary (the 2,000 amot – cubits – that surround the city and are considered related to the city with regard to travel on Shabbat), but not the area immediately surrounding it (iburah – the 70 amot closest to the city). At the same time, someone who vows not to enter a house only prohibits entry from the agaf – where the door closes – inwards to the house.

When the walls of a house are thick, we will often find a situation where there will be a large amount of space in an entranceway, due to the fact that the place where the door is hinged to the wall – the agaf – is closest to the interior of the house. It is clear that if the door is located on the outer part of the agaf, the entire entranceway will be considered part of the house; our Mishnah is teaching how we should view the entranceway when it is separated from the house by the door.

The last rule of the Mishnah is notable not because of the area in the house that is forbidden, but because of the area outside the house that remains permitted. Even if the door is in the middle of an entranceway, the outer part will not be considered part of the house for the purposes of this vow. In this the house is very different from the city, where an area outside the city is viewed as being part of the city with regard to this halakha. Furthermore, this stands in contrast to other areas of halakha – for example, the holiness of the Temple and Jerusalem – where sometimes the area of entrances like doorways and windows are considered to have the kedusha of the inside.

Nedarim 57a-b

According to Jewish law, the fruit of a newly planted tree cannot be used for the first three seasons. During that time any fruit that is produced is orlah and is prohibited. In the fourth year the fruit is neta revai which must be brought to Jerusalem and eaten in a state of ritual purity. Only in the fifth year will the fruit be permitted to be used normally.

Our Gemara brings the ruling of Rabbi Abahu quoting Rabbi Yohanan according to whom this same rule will apply even if a “younger” branch bearing fruit is grafted on an “older” branch (one that is already more than five years old) – even in a case when the fruits continued to develop and grew more than 200 times their original size (under ordinary circumstances, if orlah gets mixed in with more than 200 times permissible fruit, the orlah will become nullified from a halakhic perspective).

Most of the commentaries limit this ruling to a case where the grafted branch already had fruits on it at the time it was attached to the “older” tree. According to the Rashba, if the “younger” branch was empty of fruits at the time it was grafted on to the “older” tree, we would view it as part of the tree and its fruits would be permitted.

Grafting trees is done in a number of ways, and it is an important part of agricultural work. When a farmer wants to improve or diversify the produce growing on his trees, one of the most common methods to use is grafting, where a branch is connected into – or onto – a mature tree of a similar kind. In our case, the Gemara uses the expression yaldah she-sibkhah bi-zekenah – when a young branch is connected with an older tree. Sibkhah implies complication or confusion, which may indicate that this case is not a normal situation of grafting – which is called harkavah – but perhaps a case where the branch remained partially connected to its original tree at the time of grafting, and was not removed from it until it had become fully integrated with the older tree.

Nedarim 58a-b

During the Sabbatical year, fruits that grow are hefker – ownerless – and available to all – men and beasts. As long as the fruits are available on the trees, a person can pick them to eat immediately, or to store for later use. Once the harvest season for a particular fruit is over, and that type of fruit is no longer available on the trees, there is an obligation of bi’ur – of “cleaning out” the fruit.

According to the Ramban in his commentary on the Torah, at the time of bi’ur the person who is storing fruit must remove it from his property and declare it to be hefker. At that time it can be taken and eaten by anyone. The Rambam understands that bi’ur means destruction, and that the fruits of the Sabbatical year can only be eaten as long as they are available in the fields. After that time, the fruits are forbidden and must be destroyed.

Our Gemara contrasts things that are considered davar she-yesh lo matirin (something that is forbidden today, but will become permitted at a later time) and things that are davar she-en lo matirin (something that is forbidden forever). In the latter case the concept of bittul (nullification when mixed with a larger volume of permitted food) applies, while in the former case, bittul does not apply (since it will become permitted simply with the passage of time, there is no pressing reason to employ the rules of nullification). Thus, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Shimon who lists forbidden foods – like terumah (tithes) and kilei ha-kerem (grape vines and grain that grew together as a forbidden mixture) – that are nullified when mixed with larger amounts of permitted foods, since they are all davar she-en lo matirin. On the other hand, such things as tevel (produce that is forbidden because it has not yet been tithed, which will be permitted after tithing) or hadash (grain that is harvested before Pesach that is forbidden until after the first day of Pesach when the korban ha-omer is brought) are considered davar she-yesh lo matirin and will not become nullified.

With regard to Sabbatical fruits, Rabbi Shimon is quoted by the Gemara as saying that they are considered a davar she-yesh lo matirin that cannot become batel (nullified). This explanation works well according to the Ramban, who believes that after the time of bi’ur the fruits can become permitted by declaring them ownerless. According to the Rambam, who believes that such fruits become forbidden forever, we will have to interpret the case like the Ran, who suggests that Rabbi Shimon must be referring to the time prior to bi’ur, saying that any mixture that includes shemitta fruits must be eaten before that time.

Nedarim 59a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned of the distinction between things that are considered davar she-yesh lo matirin (something that is forbidden today, but will become permitted at a later time) and things that are davar she-en lo matirin (something that is forbidden forever). In the latter case, the concept of bittul (nullification when mixed with a larger volume of permitted food) applies, while in the former case, bittul does not apply (since it will become permitted simply with the passage of time, there is no pressing reason to employ the rules of nullification). Our Gemara questions whether something that is forbidden because of a vow can be considered a davar she-yesh lo matirin on the basis of the fact that a person can undo the vow by consulting with a rabbi and questioning the assumptions that he made while taking the neder, or vow (a method referred to by the Gemara as being sho’el on the neder).

While the Gemara considers the possibility that a neder should be considered a davar she-yesh lo matirin, as we learned on yesterday’s daf, it is clear that terumah is not considered a davar she-yesh lo matirin even though if a person believes that the produced was tithed in error he can go to a rabbi and be sho’el on the tithing. The Gemara distinguishes between the two by quoting Rabbi Natan who rules that someone who takes a neder is compared to a person who builds a forbidden altar and when someone fulfills his neder it is as though he brought a forbidden sacrifice on it. Thus, Rabbi Natan considers it a mitzvah to annul one’s vows, while it is certainly not recommended for a person to annul his tithes.

Rashi explains that in the case of nedarim, even though the vow is still in force, since it is a mitzvah to be sho’el we consider it as though it had already been annulled. The Rosh understands the reasoning as being that we work with the assumption that the neder will be annulled, so we consider it a davar she-yesh lo matirin.

Nedarim 60a-b

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that a person who vows not to drink wine “today” only needs to refrain from drinking wine until nightfall. In the Gemara, Rabbi Yirmiyah rules that the Mishnah’s ruling notwithstanding, in such a case the person must go to a rabbi to be sho’el on his neder (to request that the vow be annulled).

The Shitah Mekubetzet and others write that Rabbi Yirmiyah is not explaining the Mishnah, rather he is adding an additional injunction to the basic law; according to the Mishnah, there would be no need to be sho’el on the neder at nightfall. The Rashba writes that even Rabbi Yirmiyah would agree that in a case where a person vows to fast for the day, he can begin eating at nightfall, since it is clear that the person’s intention was to fast only until nightfall.

Two reasons are presented by the Gemara in explanation of Rabbi Yirmiyah’s ruling:

  1. Rav Yosef says that it is a rabbinic injunction that is applied because we are afraid that a person may confuse a case of taking a vow “today” with a case where a person vows to refrain from drinking wine “for one day.” According to the Mishnah, taking a vow not to drink wine “for one day” obligates the person to keep the neder for a 24 hour period.
  2. Ravina quotes Rav Yosef as saying that Rabbi Yirmiyah is following the ruling of Rabbi Natan who believes that making nedarim and keeping them is equivalent to building a forbidden altar and sacrificing on it (see yesterday’s daf). Thus, even if the vow was fulfilled, we still recommend that it be annulled by a rabbi.

According to many of the rishonim (Tosafot, the Rosh, the Rashba, the Ran), Ravina is not disagreeing with Rav Yosef’s original explanation, rather he is adding a further reason for Rabbi Yirmiyah’s ruling. The Rosh and Ran add that according to this explanation, if the neder that was made was a mitzvah, there would be no need to annul it.

Nedarim 61a-b

In an attempt to define terms and the length of time that a vow must be kept, the Mishnah on our daf distinguishes between “until the summer” which means until the summer begins, and “until the summer passes” which means until the summer is over.

The Hebrew word for summer is kayitz. It should be noted that in Hebrew (although not in other related languages) the word kayitz has another meaning, which is similar, but not identical. See II Shmuel 16:1-2, where the term is used to mean specifically the period of the fig harvest. These two meanings intersect inasmuch as figs are harvested during the summer (see Yeshayahu 28:4). Unlike other fruits, figs are harvested by a simple cutting motion (to cut in Hebrew is liktzotz) that removes the fruit from the tree.

In truth, our Mishnah is referring to the fig harvest. Thus we find that the kayitz begins when the fruit is collected in baskets and it ends when the maktzu’ot are folded up. What exactly the folding of the maktzu’ot means is the subject of some discussion among the rishonim.

Most rishonim (Rashi, the Ritva and others) suggest that it mean that the knives used for harvesting are stored away. Some suggest that they were foldable knives, which is why they are referred to in that way.

The Arukh explains that the figs were strung together when they were dried. The strings of figs are called ketzi’ot, and folding the maktzu’ot refers to the completion of this process.

The Rambam, both in his commentary to the Mishnah and in his Mishneh Torah, explains that maktzu’ot are the mats on which the figs were dried. Folding up the mats was an indication that the season was over and that they were being stored for next year.

Nedarim 62a-b

In his Mishnah Torah (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:10-12), the Rambam states in very strong terms that a Torah scholar cannot rely on his study as a means of support, rather that he should work to support himself. Among the proofs that he brings for this ruling (see his commentary on the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 4:7) is a story that appears on our daf.

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, once the maktzu’ot were put away, the fig harvest was considered to be over. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches how at that point, figs that were left in the field were considered to be ownerless and could be taken and eaten by anyone. Based on this ruling, Rabbi Tarfon was once out walking in the field, and ate some leftover figs, as was the halakhah. The owner of the field, who had been plagued by a thief throughout the year, did not recognize Rabbi Tarfon, and, seeing someone eating his remaining figs, believed him to be the thief. He pounced upon Rabbi Tarfon and put him in a sack, planning to throw him in the river. Upon realizing his precarious situation, Rabbi Tarfon moaned aloud “Woe to you, Tarfon, that this man will kill you.” When he realized that it was a Sage, Rabbi Tarfon, in his sack, the man left him and ran away.

The Gemara brings Rabbi Abahu who quoted Rabbi Chananiah ben Gamliel as saying that from then on Rabbi Tarfon felt bad that he had made use of his name and his title (i.e. he had made use of the Torah) to save himself, when he could have offered to pay the man instead.

Based on this exchange, the Rambam concludes that we can see how even in desperate straits the Sages felt it inappropriate to make use of the Torah for mundane purposes.

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 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.