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
We have already been introduced to Rabbi Yehuda‘s teaching (see daf 55) that a person’s neder must be evaluated both by the words that are used as well as by external indicators of the person’s intentions. In our Mishnah we find this idea presented by Rabbi Yehuda in the context of time. For example, if a person vows to drink no wine ad she-yehei ha-Pesach – “until Passover will occur” – we interpret it to mean that he will refrain from wine until the night of the seder. Given that a person is obligated to drink wine at the seder, we assume that he did not intend for his vow to extend to that night. Rabbi Yehudah’s son, Rabbi Yossi, adds another case. If a person vows to refrain from eating garlic ad she-tehei Shabbat – until Shabbat will occur – he is allowed to eat garlic on Friday night, since that is the common practice.
The novelty in Rabbi Yehuda’s position is that although the expression ad she-yehei is usually understood to mean until the end of the time that is mentioned, in these cases we will interpret the neder based on external evidence of his intentions, rather than on the usual meaning of the words. Both the Rambam and the Ramban suggest that Rabbi Yehuda disagrees with the position stated in the earlier Mishnah, which would insist that a vow’s meaning be determined by common word usage. The Ramban explains that Rabbi Yossi goes one step further in suggesting that Rabbi Yehuda’s rule applies not only when the vow would affect a mitzvah (like drinking wine at the seder) but even when it was just a minhag – an established tradition – like the case of eating garlic on Friday nights.
During Talmudic times (as well as afterwards) it was considered Jewish tradition to eat garlic. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 82a) offers a list of the many health benefits accrued by eating that vegetable. Cooked garlic was understood to increase sperm, which is why it was traditional to eat on Friday nights when marital relations are encouraged. In fact, eating garlic is listed as one of the ordinances established by Ezra ha-Sofer.
The ninth perek of Masechet Nedarim deals with the various ways that a vow can be annulled by a Jewish court or by a chacham (an ordained rabbi). One of the methods used by the court is a petach – an opening – that the rabbi might find by suggesting that the individual who made the neder may not have been aware of some mitigating circumstance when he took the vow. If he admits that with that knowledge he would never have vowed, the chacham can declare the vow to have been taken in error and declare it null and void.
One of the questions addressed here is whether a situation that is nolad – one that did not exist at the time that the neder was made – can be used as a petach. For example, can a person who vows that he will derive no benefit from a certain individual ask to have the neder annulled if it turns out that he becomes a sofer? In such a case we find a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Chachamim. Rabbi Eliezer believes that nolad can be used as a petach, while the Chachamim rule that it cannot.
The term sofer is used in the Gemara in a number of different ways. One meaning of sofer is a Torah scholar who is knowledgeable in the books of the Torah, as we find in the title carried by Ezra ha-Sofer. The Sages borrow this term when they refer to their own works, calling rabbinic ordinances divrei soferim. According to this definition, the argument of the man who took the vow was that he would not have wanted to distance himself from a person who became a Torah scholar, particularly because the scholar was sought after in the community.
Another way the term sofer is used is to indicate a person’s profession as a scribe. Aside from writing Tefillin or mezuzot, a scribe also wrote deeds, contracts, etc. for the court or for individuals. As such, it is likely that the person who took the vow may need his services at some point.
Finally, a sofer might be the title of someone who teaches children. In any case, it would be commonplace for a person to need the services of a sofer.
Our Gemara brings a baraita saying that someone who has taken a vow that affects his friend should only arrange to annul the vow in that person’s presence. Two explanations for this rule are offered by the Talmud Yerushalmi:
- Chashad – suspicion. When the person does not keep the neder, he will be suspected of ignoring his vow.
- Bushah – embarrassment. We want the person who took the vow to be careful with his words, so we insist that he put himself in an embarrassing situation should he want to avoid keeping the neder.
The commentaries point out that according to the first reason, it would be enough to simply inform the other party that the neder is no longer valid; although according to the second reason, he must do it in front of the other party.
The Gemara offers two sources for this rule:
- The story of Moshe who takes leave of his father-in-law and returns to Egypt. The passage (Shemot 4:19) describing Moshe’s conversation with God is understood to include an instruction to first return to Midyan to arrange for permission to leave.
- The story of King Tzidkiyahu who had vowed to remain loyal to Nebuchadnezzar and broke his word (see II Divrei HaYamim 36:13).
According to the Gemara, the specific commitment that King Tzidkiyahu made was to keep a secret. He had once seen Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit. Nebuchadnezzar was embarrassed to be seen behaving this way and made Tzidkiyahu take an oath not to reveal it. Tzidkiyahu could not contain himself, so he went to the Sanhedrin and arranged to have his vow annulled. Nebuchadnezzar took Tzidkiyahu before the Sanhedrin (see II Melachim 25:6), which is understood to mean that Nebuchadnezzar approached a Jewish court and asked whether Tzidkiyahu had been given permission to break his vow. When Nebuchadnezzar asked whether this could even be done without the knowledge of the other party, the Sanhedrin removed their pillows from beneath themselves (as understood from Eicha 2:10) and admitted their error.
One possible petach – i.e. grounds for annulment of a neder – that is presented by the Mishnah is Shabbat v’Yamim Tovim. For example, a person who vows to refrain from eating meat can annul the vow if he agrees that he did not realize the problems that would ensue from his neder on Shabbat and holidays, when it is accepted that everyone eats meat.
The Mishnah teaches that at first this was understood to be dispensation, which would allow the person to eat meat only on Shabbat and Yom Tov, even as the neder remained in effect on other days. Then Rabbi Akiva came and taught she-ha-neder she-batlah miktzato, batlah kulo – when part of a vow is dispensed with, the entire neder becomes annulled. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains this based on the pasuk in Bamidbar (30:3), according to which a person must keep everything that he expresses as a neder. Once he is not keeping part of it, however, he does not need to keep any of it.
The Ritva explains the case of the Mishnah as one where, at the time of the neder, the person believed that his neder would not apply to Shabbat and Yom Tov. Once he is made aware of the fact that it will apply to those days as well, he uses that information as a petach to annul the vow. The Meiri suggests that the case of the Mishnah is one where the person took the neder without thinking through all of the repercussions and without realizing that during the period of his vow there would be days when he could not keep the neder. Thus, the petach is that, had he realized that such days were included, he would never have taken the vow. Furthermore, argues the Meiri, we may be dealing with a situation where the person does not realize that he is obligated to eat on Shabbat and holidays, and when that is clarified to him, he declares that he would not have taken such a neder in the first place.
The previous perek of Masechet Nedarim focused on hatarat nedarim – annulment of a vow by appealing to a chacham or a Jewish court of law. The tenth perek, which begins on our daf, turns its attention to hafarat nedarim – annulment of vows taken by a woman while she is living in her father’s house or in her husband’s house. According to the Torah (see Bamidbar 30:4-9) if a woman takes a vow, either her father or her husband has the right to annul it if he chooses to do so on the same day that he becomes aware of it. Our perek focuses specifically on a case where the woman is engaged to be married, but is still living in her father’s house.
The engaged woman whose case is under discussion is referred to as a na’arah me’orasah. A na’arah is a girl from the time that she is twelve years old – or, more specifically, a girl who has seen signs of physical maturity at about that age – until she is twelve and a half. When she is twelve and a half, she becomes an independent adult – a bogeret – at which time she is no longer considered to be in her father’s charge at all. While she is a na’arah, however, her father is still in charge of her with regard to several halakhot, e.g. the father can arrange a marriage for her.
As noted above, the situation of a na’arah me’orasah is that she is partially in her father’s charge, by dint of her age, and partially in her husband’s charge, by dint of their engagement (while we have translated erusin as “engagement,” in halakha it is actually the first stage of marriage, that will be completed with nisu’in). The commentaries point out that our Mishnah describes the “upper limit” of this law – that until she is twelve and a half, her father will play a role in hafarat nedarim together with her husband; after that time the role reverts solely to her husband. Nevertheless, a girl who is younger than twelve who is engaged will also be subject to hafarah through the combined efforts of her father and husband, assuming that her cognitive abilities have developed to the extent that she understands the meaning and significance of a neder.
We learned on yesterday’s daf that a na’arah me’orasah – a twelve year old girl who is engaged – can have her vows annulled through the joint agreement of her father and her husband. Although the rules of hafarat nedarim that appear in Sefer Bamidbar (30:4-9) discuss the father’s right to annul vows and the husband’s right to annul vows, this specific case is not mentioned. What is the source for this law?
The Gemara offers a number of possible sources for this. On our daf we find a teaching from the bet midrash of Rabbi Yishmael which suggests that the source is the very last pasuk in the parashah (Bamidbar 30:17). The passage concludes ben ish le-ishto, ben av le-bito bine’urehah bet avihah – that these rules of hafarat nedarim apply to situations “between a husband and wife, between a father and daughter, while she is living in her father’s house.”
Rashi explains that this closing passage is totally unnecessary, since the Torah clearly stated the relationships earlier. Thus we must conclude that this discusses a new case – na’arah me’orasah. Since we find the father and husband mentioned together, we must conclude that they partner in this case.
The Ran explains that Rabbi Yishmael does not perceive the end of this pasuk – bine’urehah bet avihah – “while she is a na’arah in her father’s house” – as a concluding phrase, but rather as a new case: that of a na’arah me’orasah.
The Rit”z quoted in the Shittah Mekubetzet also bases his approach on the concluding words bine’urehah bet avihah, asking “why would the Torah limit the case to a situation where she is a na’arah in her father’s house?” Rather we must conclude that this is pointing to a unique case where the married woman is still perceived as being in her father’s house – the case of a na’arah me’orasah.
We have been discussing the rules of hafarat nedarim – the right of a girl’s father or a woman’s husband to annul her vows upon hearing them. The halakhot that appear in Sefer Bamidbar (30:14-16) consider two other possible reactions: either silence, or hakamat ha-neder – affirming that the vow should take effect. In both of these cases – i.e. if the father or husband hears the neder and does nothing for the day, or else says “yes, I want that neder to take effect,” the vow can no longer be removed by the father or the husband.
We have already seen that nedarim can also be annulled by another method – hatarat nedarim, where the person who took a vow approaches the Jewish court or a single ordained Rabbi and does she’ela, asking that the neder be annulled because of a mistaken impression at the time that the vow was taken. In our Gemara, Rava asks whether the concept of she’ela can be applied to a case of hakamat ha-neder or hafarat ha-neder.
Rashi explains that Rava’s original question was whether the father or the husband who affirmed the neder can approach a rabbi and explain that the affirmation was mistaken. This would be possible because hakamah can be seen as a type of neder and thus can be treated like one. Rabbi Elazar mi-Metz offers an alternative approach to the question, explaining that the reference is to the girl or the wife who took the neder. Can she approach the court or a sage and ask to have her vow annulled after it was affirmed by her father or by her husband? Should we say that their approval simply makes this a vow like any other, or does the Torah give them the power to affirm the neder such that it is now a stronger obligation than a standard vow, and she will no longer be able to have it annulled due to its affirmation?
In conclusion, the Gemara quotes Rabbi Yochanan as ruling that one can be sho’el on hakamah but not on hafarah.
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.