Masechet Nedarim 77a – 83b

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07 Mar 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 77a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the Mishnah (76b) notes that hafarat nedarim – the annulment of a vow taken by a woman by her father or her husband – can be done on Shabbat. Our Gemara brings a Mishnah from Masechet Shabbat (157a) that reiterates this rule, adding that hatarat nedarim – annulment of a vow by a Jewish court or Rabbi – is only performed on Shabbat if it is a neder that affects Shabbat itself. Hafarat nedarim can only be done on the day that the father or husband hears of the neder, so if it is limited only to nedarim that are connected to Shabbat, then the opportunity to do hafarat nedarim would be lost. This is not the case with regard to hatarat nedarim, which has no such limits. The Gemara points out that according to the opinion in the Mishnah that hafarat nedarim can be done for the 24 hours following the neder, if there would be time to do hafarat nedarim after Shabbat then we would also limit hafarat nedarim on Shabbat only to those cases where the neder interferes with Shabbat.

Which rule of Shabbat is it that would limit the types of nedarim that can be annulled on that day?

According to the Ran, since hatarat nedarim appears to be a court decision, we would prefer to avoid doing it on Shabbat. The Ran adds an idea that is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi – that since there is no limitation of the times that a neder might be annulled by the courts, there is no pressing need to do it on Shabbat, so we recommend doing it after Shabbat is over.

The Rambam appears to connect this rule with the words of the prophet that prohibit memtzo heftzekhah ve-daber davar, which forbids speaking about weekday matters on Shabbat (see Yeshayahu 58:13). Thus on Shabbat, only things that are tzorkhei shamayim – heavenly things – like issues essential for Shabbat, are discussed.

Nedarim 78a-b

We have been discussing two methods of annulling vows –

  1. hafarat nedarim – the annulment of a vow taken by a woman by her father or her husband
  2. hatarat nedarim – annulment of a vow by a Jewish court or Rabbi.

These two methods work with different rules (e.g. hafarat nedarim is only on the day that the father or husband hear of the neder; hatarat nedarim only can be performed if the person who took the vow expresses regret that he took the neder) and the father or husband only have the power of hafarah, while the Rabbi only has the power of hatarah.

The same baraita that teaches this halakhah, points out the parallel language (gezera shavah) of ve-zeh ha-davar that is used with regard to the laws of nedarim (Bamidbar 30:2) and the laws of shehutei hutz (Vayikra 17:2). The laws of nedarim are presented to rashei ha-matot – the heads of the tribes – while the laws of bringing sacrifices outside of the area of the Temple are presented to Aharon the high priest, his sons and the Children of Israel. This leads Rav Aha bar Ya’akov to conclude that aside from the power that a single Rabbi to perform hatarat nedarim, a group of three simple Jews can also play that role.

While it is easily understood that by expanding the rules of hatarat nedarim beyond the leaders of the tribes we can conclude that even simple Jews can participate in the annulment of vows, it is less clear how the Gemara learns that we specifically need three such people. Rashi suggests that since three groups are mentioned:

  1. Aharon,
  2. Aharon’s sons,
  3. the children of Israel

We can conclude that you need three. The obvious problem with this is that two of these three categories are written in the plural, and we should need more than three! Rabbi Avraham min ha-Har suggests that Aharon and his sons Elazar and Itamar (since Nadav and Avihu died earlier) are the model for the three person tribunal, and the reference to the Children of Israel teaches that we do not need an ordained Rabbi or judges. The Ran suggests simply that once we see the need for more than a single individual, we turn to the model of a Jewish court which needs three participants.

Nedarim 79a-b

The eleventh perek of Masechet Nedarim which begins on today’s daf continues the discussion of hafarat nedarim – the ability of a woman’s father or husband to annul a vow taken by her – and specifically of which nedarim can be annulled. From a close reading of the passages in Sefer Bamidbar (30:10-14) the Talmudic Sages conclude that a man cannot annul any neder taken by his wife, rather his power is limited only to vows that affect the personal relationship between husband and wife – bein ish le-ishto – or nedarim that are considered vows that make her suffer – innuy nefesh.

The first Mishnah of the perek opens with the words eilu nedarim she-hu mefer – these are the vows that he has the power to annul. While the Rosh, the Ran and others understand that the Mishnah refers to both the husband and the father, the Rambam believes that these limitations only apply to the husband; the father has wide-ranging powers to annul any of his daughter’s vows with no limitations. The first opinion follows the Talmud Yerushalmi, which teaches that the Torah connects the laws of the husband and the father (see Bamidbar 30:17).

At first glance it would appear that the nedarim that the husband annuls because they affect personal relations between husband and wife (beino le-veinah, in the terminology of the Gemara) refer to issues of intimacy that will affect marital relations. Nevertheless, the Ramban and his students point out that this concept is broad enough to encompass other issues of their relationship, i.e. vows that will cause discord or strife in their relationship. This explanation is particularly important according to those rishonim who disagree with the Rambam and apply these rules not only to husband and wife, but to father and daughter, as well.

Nedarim 80a-b

We have learned that the only vows that a husband has the ability to annul are nedarim that affect the personal relationship between husband and wife – bein ish le-ishto – or nedarim that are considered vows that make her suffer – innuy nefesh. How do we define innuy nefesh? The examples offered by the Tanna Kamma in the Mishnah are vows that would keep a woman from bathing or perfuming herself, while Rabbi Yossi limits them only to cases where the woman would suffer some physical lack, like if she were to have to stop eating certain foods.

Our Gemara questions whether the inability to bathe should be considered innuy nefesh, since we find that on Yom Kippur – a day on which the Torah commands us to suffer innuy nefesh (see Vayikra 23:27) – only people who eat, drink or perform work will suffer the punishment of karet (being cut off from the community) for desecrating the day. Since bathing, while forbidden, is not punishable, it would seem that it is not truly a situation of innuy nefesh. Rava answers that the Torah distinguishes between the requirement for immediate innuy nefesh on Yom Kippur and the long-term innuy nefesh implied in a neder. Innuy nefesh of Yom Kippur involves activities that cause suffering within a relatively short period of time, like eating and drinking. A person can go for a relatively short period of time without bathing and it will not create a situation of innuy nefesh. Over time, however, it certainly will create such a situation.

According to the Gemara in Masechet Yoma (74b) the source for limiting the punishment of karet for innuy nefesh on Yom Kippur solely to eating and drinking, is based on the way the passages (Vayikra 23:29-31) read. We find that the term va-ha’avadeti et ha-nefesh is placed immediately after the stated punishment of karet, and this juxtaposition is understood to limit the punishment only to innuy nefesh that have the potential to lead to loss of life. Those include eating and drinking, but not bathing.

Nedarim 81a-b

Does Judaism believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness?

In the context of the discussion on whether a vow to refrain from bathing is considered innuy nefesh – suffering of the soul – the Gemara quotes a statement made by the Sages of Israel: take care with regard to arbuvita (dirt or filth), be careful with chabura (a learning partner) and be sensitive to the children of the poor, because they will be the ones from whom Torah will come.

The term arbuvita appears to mean dirt, although some interpret it to mean a mixture, that is to say, when a person’s hair or clothing are dirty or soiled. Different manuscripts offer variant readings of this word (e.g. harfifuta or arpufita) whose meanings are not clear. Nevertheless they seem to indicate that this is a unique word for filthy conditions, perhaps a situation where things begin to get stuck together because of the dirt.

Filthy conditions oftentimes contain ideal environments for diseases of different kinds. The Gemara refers to arbuvita d’reisha – a filthy head – which may describe a situation where a person will scratch his head because it itches, and then will unknowingly transfer bacteria to his eyes, causing eye disease and possibly blindness. Dirt on the skin can enter the body through superficial cuts, contaminating the blood by transferring fungi or bacteria into the body.

The term chabura is understood by most of the rishonim as referring to the importance of a study partner, since joint study will help a person from persisting in errors. Another suggestion is that it refers to the group in which a person places himself. A person who spends significant time with any group of people will be influenced by them – for positive or for negative.

Finally, the call for sensitivity to children of the poor is a statement that they too must be educated. The Ran suggests that their humble beginnings make them particularly deserving students, and given their circumstances they will not be distracted by other pursuits as are the children of the wealthy.

Nedarim 82a-b

The Gemara brings an example of a woman who takes a vow not to eat two loaves of bread. It turns out that refraining from eating one would not be a situation of innuy nefesh (suffering), while refraining from the other one would be innuy nefesh. Should her husband choose to do hafarah (cancellation) of the neder (vow), will it affect both loaves or only the single one that constitutes innuy nefesh? (Remember that a husband is limited in his ability to do hafarah only to situations where the neder affects the relationship between husband and wife or one where the woman who takes the vow would suffer innuy nefesh were she to fulfill it.) Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as ruling that once one of the loaves is released from the vow, the other one is, as well. Rav Assi quotes Rabbi Yochanan as ruling that only the one that constitutes innuy nefesh is annulled, the other remains in force.

The question raised by the rishonim is how Shmuel can suggest that the husband can remove the neder that does not involve innuy nefesh – a power that he does not possess? Several approaches are offered in response to this question:

One suggestion is that with regard to issues of innuy nefesh, once part of a neder is cancelled, the entire statement is rendered meaningless.

Another approach is that although our perception is that one loaf is desirable and missing out on it would be innuy nefesh while the other one is less desirable and is not considered innuy nefesh, still there is some level of innuy nefesh in losing out on the ability to eat the second one, as well.

The question on Rabbi Yochanan is presented in the other direction. Given the principle neder she-hutar miktzato, hutar kulo – a vow that is partially permitted becomes totally permitted – how can Rabbi Yochanan suggest that half of the woman’s neder remains in force? Rashi suggests that this principle applies only to a situation where the vow is hutar – is annulled by a Rabbi. Only in that case is the neder cancelled retroactively and is perceived as never having taken effect. When a husband objects to a neder and is meifer, it only removes the part of the neder that is considered innuy nefesh, leaving the rest still intact.

Nedarim 83a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned that the principle of neder she-hutar miktzato, hutar kulo – a vow that is partially permitted becomes totally permitted – only applied to hatarat nedarim, when the vow is annulled by a Rabbi. When a husband objects to a neder (vow) and is meifer, it only removes the part of the neder that is considered innuy nefesh (suffering), leaving the rest still intact. The Gemara on our daf brings the case of a woman who accepted upon herself to be a Nazerite who cannot drink or eat grape products, cannot cut her hair and cannot come into contact with a dead body, which would make her become ritually defiled. The baraita teaches that if her husband objects to her having taken on this neder of nezirut, she is freed of her obligation, and even if she is unaware of it and drinks wine or touches a dead body, she will not be held liable. The question presented by the Gemara is: if the husband only cancels nedarim of innuy nefesh, perhaps we must assume that he has only annulled her vow with regard to drinking wine, but other rules of nezirut (e.g. eating grape peels or seeds) should still remain in force?

Rav Yosef’s response is ein nezirut la-hatza’in – a person cannot be a partial nazir.

The Maharit explains that the rules that apply to nazir do not fit into normal categories of issur cheftza – that the objects are forbidden – or of issur gavra – that the person is prohibited from doing a certain action. The rules of nazir are situational in that a person who finds themselves in the situation of being a nazir is obligated to keep the rules of nezirut, similar to the rules that apply to a Jewish king or High Priest. Thus it is clear that a person who enters into the situation of a nazir must keep all of the rules that apply to a nazir. In the event that a woman accepts this status, and it is cancelled by her husband by means of hafarah, it cannot remove specific rules that apply to the nazir, rather it undoes the entire status of the woman, removing from her all of the obligations that come with that status.

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.