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
One of the expressions of a vow that appears in the Mishnah is menudah ani lekha – “my relationship with you is one of niduy.” A niduy is a type of ban, a basic type of excommunication that was used to distance a given individual from the community (more severe levels of excommunication include shamta and herem). The rules and regulations of niduy, including the requirement that someone in this state avoid contact with others as well as punishments that the person is supposed to accept upon himself, are delineated in the third chapter of Masechet Mo’ed Katan. Niduy can be imposed on someone by the courts for a number of reasons:
- It can be used as a method of forcing someone to accept the ruling of the court.
- It can be a punishment for a transgression that the person did.
- It can be a punishment for a person who belittled or made fun of the court.
- Sometimes a Sage can put someone into niduy because he feels that the person insulted him.
Depending on the underlying reason for the niduy, we find different methods and different lengths of time necessary for releasing the person from this state.
One example brought by the Gemara is taught by Rav Hanin, who quotes Rav as teaching that someone who hears his friend take God’s name in vain must declare that he is in niduy, and that if he does not do so, then he himself will be in niduy.
Most of the commentaries understand this as simply using God’s name without purpose – even when saying a berakhah that is unnecessary. The Geonim discuss this at some length, concluding that this holds true even if God’s name is said in a foreign language. Others, however, indicate that, in this context, taking God’s name in vain refers to a situation of a false oath.
Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Sadie Kaplan (20 Tevet)
Our Gemara describes how Ravina‘s wife took a vow, and Ravina went to Rav Ashi to ask whether he could represent his wife as her shali’ah (messenger) to arrange to have the vow annulled. Rav Ashi responded that he could only do so if there were already three people gathered who could act as judges; otherwise he could not do so. From this story the Gemara reaches three conclusions:
- A husband can act as his wife’s representative to annul a vow.
- A person cannot act as a judge to annul vows while in the same city as his teacher (since Ravina was not able to annul the vow on his own).
- It is necessary for three people to have already gathered in order for a husband to represent his wife in this matter.
There are a wide variety of approaches to this discussion in the Gemara.
According to the Rambam, a person cannot ordinarily represent someone else when annulling a vow. This was a unique case in which the close relationship between spouses may have allowed Ravina to represent his wife. The response was that, in theory, a husband can represent his wife, but if the judges need to be gathered, then we also ask the wife to appear on her own.
Tosafot rule that a person can send someone else to represent him/her to arrange for a vow to be annulled (Rabbeinu Shimshon is quoted as even permitting it to be done in a written request to the court). The question in our case is whether a husband is allowed to represent his wife, or are we concerned that because of his interest in the matter he will perhaps present arguments that his wife neither said nor meant? The response is that a husband can represent his wife, but if there is a need to gather the judges, then our concern rises that the husband may embellish the story in order to make his efforts worthwhile.
The Rashbam takes an entirely different approach and suggests that this was not a discussion of a neder (a vow) but of nidui (excommunication) and is a continuation of the discussion from the previous page.
Does the Torah consider someone who accepts nezirut upon himself to be a holy person who aspires to higher levels of spirituality, or is he in some way a sinner?
The Gemara tells of Shimon ha-Tzaddik who testified that only on one occasion did he agree to partake of the sacrifice of a nazir who became tamei (i.e. he was bringing a sacrifice because he accidentally became ritually defiled and broke his nezirut. The Talmud Yerushalmi suggests that he refused to partake of any sacrifices brought by nezirim – even from those who successfully completed their obligations). Once a nazir came to the Temple who was particularly attractive and had beautiful curly hair. Shimon ha-Tzaddik asked him why he chose to become a nazir, thus obligating himself to cut off his hair at the end of his nezirut. The man explained that he was a shepherd and he chanced to see his reflection in a pool. Taken with his own beauty, the evil inclination tried to overpower him. To protect himself, he accepted a vow of nezirut in order to donate his hair to God. Shimon ha-Tzaddik accepted this as a legitimate explanation, but otherwise rejected the value of nezirut.
The “evil inclination” alluded to by the nazir is understood in a variety of different ways. The Rivan suggests that realizing how good looking he was made him think that he could have his way with women. The Aruch also connects it with sexual behavior, suggesting that seeing how attractive he was made him desirous of homosexual relations. The Maharsha and others argue that this is not necessarily an issue of sensuality, but rather that his appearance gave him the idea that he should abandon his father’s flocks since someone of his talents should not remain a simple shepherd.
Shimon ha-Tzaddik is the first sage mentioned in Masechet Avot. Although we have little information about him, it appears that he was the High Priest at the beginning of Greek rule in Israel and that it was he who welcomed Alexander Mokdon, who conquered the land. He is mentioned in both Josephus and Sefer Ben-Sira, which describes how glorious he appeared upon leaving the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur
On yesterday’s daf we learned that not all the Sages viewed nezirut as desirable, and that only once did Shimon ha-Tzaddik meet a nazir whose motives he approved of. On our daf, Rabbi Yehuda presents another group that had a specific ideological reason for accepting nezirut. He tells of chasidim ha-rishonim – the early righteous ones – who had a strong desire to bring a korban chatat – a sin offering – but could not do so because God always protected them from committing any sin. To solve this problem they accepted nezirut upon themselves, so that they could bring the korban chatat, one of the standard sacrifices brought at the end of the nezirut.
Who were these chasidim ha-rishonim?
The concept of a chasid in the Talmud is a person on a particularly high religious level, who – in every aspect of his life – goes over-and-above what is required by the letter of the law (as opposed to someone who is scrupulous in his activities and does exactly what is required, who is referred to as a tzaddik). It appears that during the Second Temple era, the chasidim were a loosely organized group. These chasidim were among the first supporters of the Hasmonean rebellion against Greek/Hellenist rule, but were also among the first to abandon the Hasmonean dynastic rule. It is likely that the chasidim ha-rishonim mentioned here and in other places in the Talmud have their roots in this group. According to Talmudic sources, the chasidim ha-rishonim devoted most of their lives to prayer and to developing a relationship with God, and they were careful in both mitzvot ben adam le-chaveiro (between man and his fellow man) and bein adam la-Makom (between man and God).
Their desire to bring sin offerings – even though it is clear that not every mitzvah applies to every person – is explained by the Rosh as a desire to bring every possible korban.
The Mishnah (10b) lists as examples a number of expressions that are considered to be statements of a vow. Among them is someone who says “this object should be like Jerusalem (ke-Yerushalayim)” because we consider that to be equivalent to saying that the object should be forbidden like a sacrifice. The Mishnah closes with the statement of Rabbi Yehudah that saying just “Jerusalem” will not be considered a vow.
The Gemara offers two approaches to understanding Rabbi Yehuda’s position. One possibility is that the entire Mishnah is the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, who believes that saying ke-Yerushalayim creates a neder, even though saying just Yerushalayim will not be a neder. The other possibility is that Rabbi Yehuda does not think that Yerushalayim is a meaningful statement in the context of nedarim. Such a statement will only be effective in creating a neder if it is made on something that is specifically brought to Jerusalem for sacrifice.
Most of the commentaries (Rashi, the Rosh and others) agree that the question here is whether the walls and towers that encircle Jerusalem were built with Temple funds, which would give them the status of a davar ha-nadur – something that was consecrated to the Temple. According to the opinion that the city itself was not built from holy funds, relating to the city will not create a neder. Tosafot suggest that all parties to this discussion may agree that the city was built from consecrated funds, and the difference of opinion is based on the question of how we interpret the vow made by the individual who invoked Jerusalem. Was his intent to make his vow parallel to the walls of the city, which are a davar ha-nadur and will effectively create a neder, or was his intention to relate to the intrinsic holiness of Jerusalem itself, which is not a davar ha-nadur and will not allow the vow to take effect?
One of the basic rules when making nedarim (vows) is that the prohibition that is being created should be compared to another davar ha-nadur – something else whose prohibition stems from a vow. Thus, the classic neder has a person saying “this food is forbidden to me like a sacrifice.”
Our Gemara teaches that a vow can be made by a person who says “I will not eat meat or drink wine, just like the day that my father died,” or “…just like the day that Gedaliah ben Achikam was killed,” or “…just like the day that I saw Jerusalem destroyed.” Shmuel clarifies that this is true if the person took a personal vow not to eat or drink on those particular days.
With regard to fasting on a yahrtzeit – the anniversary of a relative’s death – we find that the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah (402:1) rules that it is a mitzvah to fast on such a day, and it is clear that this was a common custom in many countries (see the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 668:8). Even though it was not an obligatory fast, nevertheless the tradition was to be even more careful with regard to a yahrtzeit fast than for minor communal fasts (like Ta’anit Esther, for example). In modern times this tradition has become less prevalent, but a person who does accept it upon himself has taken on a vow of sorts and will be obligated to keep it. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is a mitzvah to fast on the anniversary of the day that one’s primary teacher (rabbo muvhak) passed away.
The day that Gedaliah ben Achikam was killed is commemorated as a communal fast on the 3rd day of Tishrei. Still, it is viewed as a davar ha-nadur if a person accepted upon himself to refrain from eating on that day. The Rashba and Ran explain that this is because the communal fast is Rabbinic in origin, while a personal vow can create a Biblical obligation, which is a stronger prohibition.
Our Gemara quotes a baraita that compares and contrasts nedarim (vows) and shavuot (oaths). According to the baraita, each of them has a strength that the other does not possess. Specifically, nedarim can be made on mitzvot, as well as on things that are permissible, while shavuot are limited and can be made only on permissible things. On the other hand, shavuot can take effect even on things that have no physical characteristics (davar she-en bo mamash) while nedarim can only take effect on things that have physical characteristics (davar she-yesh bo mamash).
Many of the rishonim explain that shavuot can take effect even on a davar she-en bo mamash because a shevua is accepted by the person on himself – the terminology that is used is harei alay (“I accept upon myself”), rather than the wording of a neder, which is harei zo (“That thing should be forbidden”) – and the person himself is a davar she-yesh bo mamash. The Ritva suggests a more basic approach, which we have already encountered (see Masechet Nedarim, page 2). 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 shevuah, on the other hand, takes effect on the person, so that now there is a prohibition on the person to eat the food. It is the difference between an issur cheftza – a prohibition on the object – and an issur gavra – a prohibition on the person.
In our Gemara, the difficulty is how to understand the Mishnah which appears to permit a person to make a neder forbidding him to speak to someone, to help him or to walk with him. Given the fact that a neder must take effect on a davar she-yesh bo mamash, how are we to understand these rulings? Rav Yehuda explains that we must interpret his statement as meaning that he forbids his mouth to speak, his hands to support and his legs to walk. Thus the neder applies to specific parts of the body rather than to the activities.
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.