Masechet Nedarim 70a-76b

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29 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 70a-b

Choosing to become a nazir (i.e. to refrain from drinking wine, cutting one’s hair or coming into contact with the dead) is essentially a type of neder (vow). Thus, a woman who accepts upon herself to be a nezirah can have her statement annulled by her father or husband if they object to it on the day that they hear of it, just like any other case of neder. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that rules that in a case where a woman says hareini nezirah – “I accept upon myself the rules of a nazir” – and her husband says in response va-ani – “I am, as well,” the husband can no longer annul his wife’s vow of nezirut.

At first, the Gemara tries to use this ruling to conclude that once a neder has been approved by the husband, he cannot change his mind and do hafarah on the neder (annul the vow) later that day, since a hakamah (a statement of support for the vow) that has been made cannot be changed. The Gemara explains, however, that there is a different rule that is applicable in this case. In fact, we do not consider the husband’s statement as merely accepting nezirut himself, rather we understand it to be an emphatic approval of his wife’s statement.

The Ran explains that the statement that he made – va-ani – is seen as a statement of approval, as if he said “I approve of your neder forever.” In this case, it appears that his statement expresses his approval. By accepting nezirut himself we understand him to be saying that he is so comfortable with the idea of nezirut that he is willing to accept it upon himself. Had he, in fact, desired to reject his wife’s vow, we would have anticipated that he would have clearly said that he was accepting nezirut upon himself even as he was forbidding his wife from keeping her vow.

Nedarim 71a-b

We have been discussing cases where the father or the husband have the right to annul the vows of their daughter or their wife by the power of hafarah, or, alternatively, they can make a statement that is mekim – upholds – the neder (vow). On yesterday’s daf we learned that a statement of approval can be made indirectly, by agreeing to take a similar neder on themselves, for example.

Our Gemara asks what effect divorce might have on the neder? Is it also a statement of approval, or perhaps it is an unrelated event that will have no effect on the vow whatsoever. The Gemara explains that this question is important for deciding the issue of the couple that divorces and remarries the same day. If we view the divorce as a statement of support, then even after they remarry he cannot annul the vow. If the divorce is no worse than remaining silent, then he will still be able to annul the vow once they remarry.

The Ran explains that a divorce may be considered approval of the vow, since the husband recognizes that once they are divorced the vow will remain in effect. Therefore from his actions we must conclude that he desired his wife to keep the neder. Another approach is to say that the divorce shows that he dislikes her and leads to the conclusion that he is perfectly comfortable with the fact that she will remain obligated by her vow.

The Rosh points out that our Gemara’s emphasis on the fact that they might remarry the same day teaches that once the day is over it is clear that he has lost the ability to annul the vow, even if they remarry. This contrasts with the opinion of the Talmud Yerushalmi which rules that whenever the husband cannot perform hafarah because of an outside impediment, that time is not considered to be significant with regard to this halakha, and he will retain the ability to do hafarah at a later date.

Nedarim 72a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned that the Gemara is unsure as to whether divorce effectively expresses the husband’s desire to uphold the vow made by his wife. The Gemara on our daf brings a series of statements in an attempt to clarify this issue. For example, the Gemara points out that there is a straightforward Mishnah later on in Masechet Nedarim (89a) that teaches that when a woman takes a vow, gets divorced and then remarries all on the same day, her husband cannot annul the vow any longer. This would seem to indicate that the act of divorce is considered to be an expression of approval on the part of the husband. The Gemara rejects this conclusion by pointing out that the case on daf 89a is dealing with a case of a woman who was divorced following nisu’in – a full, complete marriage – while the case under discussion in our Gemara is a marriage that has only reached a stage of erusin – engagement that begins a marital relationship. In the case of a full marriage, the husband cannot annul vows that were taken prior to the completion of the marriage, while a husband can do so when the couple is still in a relationship of erusin.

In conclusion, the Gemara does not successfully find a source text to answer its original question about the effect of divorce in our case. Because of this, most of the rishonim perceived the question as being left as a safek – questionable – and following the dictum safek de’oraita le-chumra, that questionable issues on a Torah level must be treated stringently, rule that the husband will not be able to annul the vow should they remarry later in the day.

The Rashba disagrees and argues that a statement made by Shmuel earlier in the Gemara clearly shows that he believes that divorce should be treated like silence, and that it does not affect the neder (vow) at all. Thus, should the couple remarry, the husband would be able to annul his wife’s vow. The Rashba explains that the Gemara knew throughout that this was Shmuel’s opinion, and was simply searching for support from a Mishnah or a baraita. Even though such support was not found, still we can accept Shmuel’s ruling on this issue.

Nedarim 73a-b

We have learned that the Torah gives the power to a man to annul vows taken by his wife or daughter – hafarat nedarim – if he expresses his opposition to them on the day that he hears of them. Our Gemara asks whether a man who is married to two women can perform this hafarah for both of them at the same time. (It is important to remember that the Torah permits a man to marry more than one woman, and the common practice today limiting marriages to a single wife developed at a historically late period with the ordinances of Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or ha-Golah in the 10th century.) Specifically, the question is whether the Torah’s comment that the father can annul her nederhayni avihah otah (Bamidbar 30:6) – means specifically the vow of a single individual or can it be understood more broadly.

In response to this question, Ravina quotes a baraita regarding the halakha of sotah – a woman suspected of having engaged in an affair who is tested by drinking the “bitter waters” prepared by the kohen in the Temple. The baraita teaches that two women who were both suspected of inappropriate behavior were not brought to the Temple to drink at the same time. The Tanna Kamma says that this is mipnei she-libah gas be-havertah – because she is more brazen because she is with her friend. Rabbi Yehuda says that it is true simply because of the Torah’s statement – ve-hishkah – “she should be given to drink” (Bamidbar 5:27) which is stated in the singular.

Ravina’s intention in quoting this baraita is not completely clear. According to the Rosh he is simply pointing out that we find a disagreement between the tanna’im about whether a word that is stated in the singular must be understood as limiting the halakha to just one person or not. An alternative view is presented by the Ramban, who understands the baraita as teaching that the singular truly limits the halakha to just one individual, and that there is no real disagreement in the baraita – Rabbi Yehuda emphasizes the biblical passage, while the Tanna Kamma offers a logical reason for the halakha that appears in the Torah.

Nedarim 74a-b

We have learned that a husband can be mefer (annul) the vows made by his wife. The Mishnah on our daf discusses whether his brother, the yavam, can play that role in the event that he dies without children (see the introduction to Masechet Yevamot for an explanation of the rules of yibum – levirate marriage.) The Mishnah teaches that this is a disagreement among the tanna’im, and the Gemara explains that the focus of the disagreement is whether the concept of zikah is accepted or not.

The word zikah is a noun that expresses a theoretical relationship or connection, which – in its original meaning – indicates that one person is tied to another in some way (in modern Hebrew, for example, the word azikim means handcuffs or restraints). The Sages used the term less for its literal meaning and more to express a legal or emotional tie between people.

According to the opinion that zikah does not exist, the relationship between the yavam and the yevamah (widow) is that described in the Torah – the widow cannot marry out of the immediate family without undergoing the ceremony of halitzah. According to those who believe that zikah exists, however, we view the yavam and yevamah as being engaged, and possibly to actually be married with regard to certain halakhot.

The Gemara in Masechet Yevamot (18a) suggests that according to Rav Yehudah the zikah is so strong that even if the woman dies, the potential yavam will not be allowed to marry her relatives, since we view it as though there was a relationship between them that was similar to marriage. The Talmud Yerushalmi, however, brings an opinion that even if you accept the concept of zikah, in the event that the yevamah dies, it becomes clear that the yibum relationship is never completed and the zikah is retroactively annulled. Thus the surviving yavam would be permitted to marry the dead woman’s relatives.

Nedarim 75a-b

As we have learned, when a woman takes a vow, it can be annulled – mufar by her father while she is living in his house, or by her husband once she is married. Similarly, the father or the husband can be meikim the neder, i.e. he can state his approval of the vow, which will solidify her obligation to fulfill it.

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that all agree that there is no significance to a statement made by a man who tells his wife in advance that he affirms all vows that she takes for the foreseeable future. If, however, he tells her in advance that he is annulling all of her nedarim, Rabbi Eliezer rules that he has the ability to do so, while the Chachamim disagree, arguing that he only has the ability to annul her vows after he hears that she has accepted them. Rabbi Eliezer explains his position by pointing out that the ability to annul an existing vow that has already been made would seem to be more powerful than blocking a neder that has not yet come into force. If the husband has the power to annul a vow we can assume that he certainly has the power to keep it from taking effect.

Why is it so obvious to all that the husband cannot voice his approval before a neder is taken?

Rashi explains simply that a non-existent entity cannot be dealt with. Since the wife has not yet taken any nedarim, there is nothing for the husband to take issue with.

Most of the rishonim (the Rosh, Tosafot, Me’iri and others) suggest that since there are certainly nedarim that the husband will want to annul, we cannot allow his blanket approval to take effect.

The Ran argues that the reasoning put forward by Rabbi Eliezer in the Mishnah indicates why this case will not work. As opposed to his argument regarding hafarat nedarim, the fact that a person can affirm an already existing neder in no way indicates that he will be able to do so for a neder that has not yet been made.

Nedarim 76a-b

We have learned that the ability of a woman’s father or husband to do hafarat ha-neder – to annul her vow – is limited to the day on which he heard that the vow had been taken (see Bamidbar 30:15-16). The Mishnah on our daf teaches that the vow can be annulled “all day.” What is less clear is how to define the day. A baraita brought by the Gemara has the Tanna Kamma permitting hafarah until nightfall of the day, while Rabbi Yossi b’Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon rule that there is a 24 hour period after the husband or father hears of the neder, during which he can be mefer.

The example brought by the Mishnah is a case where the woman took her neder on Friday night. Following the opinion of the Tanna Kamma, the man has all night Friday and throughout Shabbat to be mefer. Once Shabbat is over, the opportunity for hafarah is lost.

It is clear that the case of Shabbat is merely an example; the same halakha would be true if the neder was taken on a normal weekday. The example of Shabbat is used to clarify the rule that the day is defined by the normal halakhic day, where the night is seen as a single unit with the day that follows it and not with the day that precedes it. Tosafot ha-Chadashim point out that it is particularly important to emphasize this halakha with regard to nedarim, since – as we have learned previously – many of the rules of nedarim parallel the rules of kodashim – of objects that are consecrated to the Temple. The rules of kodashim are unique in that the night is considered part of the previous day in many cases, and it is essential to clarify that nedarim do not follow this pattern.

In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam offers an alternative reason for the choice of Shabbat as an example of hafarat nedarim. The Rambam explains that the Mishnah takes the opportunity to teach an additional halakha that might not be obvious – that hafarat nedarim can be done on Shabbat.

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.