Masechet Nedarim 84a-90b

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14 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 84a-b

The Mishnah (83b) teaches that in a case where a person takes a vow that kohanim and levi’im cannot derive any benefit from him, the priests and Levites can take the terumah and ma’aser (tithes) that are due to them, even against the will of the one who made the vow; the tithes, after all, do not really belong to him – they belong to the families of the priests and Levites. If, however, the person says that specific Kohanim or Levi’im cannot derive benefit from him, then those priests and Levites should not take tithes from him, but rather should allow others to do so.

The Gemara wants to suggest that this halakhah can shed light on a general question discussed in numerous places in the Talmudtovat hana’ah mamon or tovat hana’ah eino mamon?

The concept of tovat hana’ah is a sense of benefit that has a real monetary value (not a mere sense of pleasure for having done something) that can be associated with it. This can be evaluated by answering the question – is this something that a person can get paid to do? Specifically in our case, the owner of the field who is dividing up his tithes among kohanim and Levi’im of his choosing can be approached by someone who is willing to pay him to give the tithes to specific people. Do we view this as an intrinsic part of the value of the item, or is it, at best, a side benefit that has no specific significance?

The Talmud Yerushalmi brings a disagreement as to whether a person is allowed to accept tovat hana’ah payment in the case of tithes. All are in agreement, however, that if such a payment can be made, it must be made by a third party and not by the recipient himself, since such an arrangement would be chillul kodashim – a desecration of the tithes.

Nedarim 85a-b

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that there is a difference of opinion in a case where a woman takes a neder that she will not perform those activities that a woman is obligated to perform for her husband based on their agreement in the ketubah (see Ketubot 59 for a list of these activities).

The approach taken by most of the rishonim is based on the Gemara in Ketubot (66a), which explains that the disagreement among the tanna’im is centered around the question of who “owns” the wife’s work that is done over-and-above the basic requirement.

The Ran in Ketubot asks why we should be at all concerned with what may happen at some point in the future. The general approach to this obvious question is that we are concerned that leaving such a vow active will limit the possibility that the couple can remarry in the event of a divorce.

Nedarim 86a-b

We have already learned that a father or a husband can annul the vows taken by a daughter or wife through a process known as hafarah.

What information does the father or husband need to have when he does the hafarah? How accurate does it have to be?

The Mishna on our daf discusses three cases of misinformation:

  1. when someone thinks that his daughter took the neder, but, in fact it was his wife (or
    vice versa)
  2. when he thought she had accepted upon herself to be a Nazarite, but, in fact, she had accepted an obligation to bring a sacrifice (or vice versa)
  3. When he thought that she had vowed to refrain from eating figs, when, if fact, her vow forbade her from eating grapes (or vice versa)

In all of these cases, the hafarah – which was done in error – needs to be repeated once
the actual situation is clarified.

Our Gemara suggests that the source for this halakha is the passage (Bamidbar 30:9) yani otah – that he objects specifically to her vow – which indicates that he knows who made it. The Sifra learns it from an earlier pasuk (see Bamidbar 30:5) ve-he-herish lah – that he remained silent for her neder specifically – again, indicating that he must know the identity of the person who made the neder. While some commentaries say that we extend the rule regarding the identity of the person taking the vow to the other cases as well, the Ri”d suggests that it is only in the first case that we need a biblical source. The other two cases need no source, since the father (or husband) clearly reacted to a different neder than the one that was made.

Some of the acharonim ask why we even need a source for the first case – after all, the reaction was an erroneous one! Why should we need a pasuk to teach us that something done in error has no meaning?

Rabbi Yitzhak mi-Karlin, in his Keren Orah, explains that such an argument would be true if, for example, he did hafarah thinking that it was his wife who vowed, but had he known that it was his daughter he would not have been mefer. Our Mishnah is talking about a case where he would have been mefer in either case, and we need a source to teach that his first hafarah cannot be relied upon.

Nedarim 87a-b

Continuing the discussion from yesterday’s daf about errors related to vows, the Gemara brings a series of baraitot about other cases of error which lead to acts that need to be done over again. The cases deal with a person who mistakenly performed keriyah (tore his clothing in mourning), only to discover that he had done so with the wrong intention (e.g. he was told that his father had died, but it turned out to be his son).

Nevertheless, there are some cases where even a mistaken keriyah need not be repeated. Rav Ashi teaches that if the mistaken impression is immediately corrected – tokh ke-day dibur – then the original act is considered to be significant.

One baraita deals with a case where an ill person appeared to have died, leading his relatives to perform keriyah, but, in fact, he died only later on. The ruling of the baraita is that the keriyah must be done again after the man’s death.

The term used by the baraita to describe the man’s condition is nit’alef, a word that in Modern Hebrew means “to faint.” From the description in the Gemara, however, it appears that the person in our story was in a situation well beyond a simple swoon. It is more likely that the person described in the baraita entered a comatose state caused by low blood flow to the brain. A situation like this one is often irreversible, and death may follow a short time later. Sometimes, however, a person may recover – either to resume a normal life, or for a short time before death. On occasion, the loss of brain function in such a state leads to a total absence of reaction to any outside stimulus, which can explain how the people surrounding the sick man could have concluded – however erroneously – that he had already passed on.

Nedarim 88a-b

We have been discussing the ability of a woman’s father or husband to annul her vows through the power of hafarah. What is the halakha if a woman has no father and is not married? The Torah is clear on this point: once a woman is independent – that is to say, if she is widowed or divorced – she is obligated to keep her nedarim and cannot have them removed by hafarah (see Bamidbar 30:10ve’neder almana u’gerushahyakum alehah – “regarding the vow of a widow or divorcee, all that she accepts on herself will remain standing”).

The Mishna on our daf quotes this passage and appears to learn yet another halakha from it. What if a widow or divorcee were to accept nezirut upon herself on a specific date in the future, and prior to that day, she gets married? Does her new husband have the ability to be mefer her acceptance of nezirut, which has not yet come into effect? The Mishnah teaches that he cannot do so, since the neder was taken at a time when the woman was independent.

Most of the commentaries understand that the Mishnah sees the pasuk quoted above as the
source for this halakha, since there is no need for the Torah to teach that a woman who has neither a father nor a husband must keep her vows; what other possibility is there!? Thus the passage must be teaching a new halakha: that even when a husband does appear in her house, the nedarim that she took while she was independent cannot be annulled. The Ritva and others, however, argue that the pasuk is not the source for this halakha, which is derived
from normative rules about how nedarim work. According to this view, the passage quoted in the Mishnah is not a source but a lyrical introduction to a parallel halakha.

Nedarim 89a-b

As we have learned, a woman’s husband or father can annul her vows through the power of hafarah. What about a case where the woman’s neder will only take effect based on some future event? Can hafarah be done on the vow before it takes effect, or only once it is an actual vow?

Our Mishna discusses cases where the woman makes her vow conditional on some other thing. For example, she says “If I follow your instructions, then I vow never to accept benefit from your father” or “If I follow your father’s instructions, I vow never to accept benefit from you.” In such cases, the Mishnah rules that the husband can be mefer even before the condition is fulfilled; our Gemara quotes a baraita that brings Rabbi Natan‘s ruling that the husband cannot annul the vow. The approach taken by most of the commentaries is that Rabbi Natan does not believe that the power of hafarah works until the neder is a real one.

To illustrate Rabbi Natan’s position, the Gemara relates a story about a man who vowed not to derive benefit from anyone in the world if he were to get married before becoming a Torah scholar. The Gemara describes his unsuccessful attempts at learning with the expression rahit be-gapa ve-tovlaya, ve-lo imtzei le-mitnah (literally “he ran with a ladder and a rope, but he could not learn”). Three suggestions are given to explain this expression:

  1. Rashi, the Ran and others explain simply that he put all of his efforts into learning, but was unsuccessful.
  2. According to the Ritva, Rosh and others he became involved in other work or activities (the Ritva understands tovlaya as “vanities”) and did not become a scholar.
  3. The Aruch suggests that despite his hard work to pay his teachers, he was an unsuccessful student.

In any case, what was this man to do? His well-intentioned vow did not help him become a scholar, but were he to marry, he would no longer be able to derive benefit from others? …And according to Rabbi Natan, since the vow would not take effect unless he married, he cannot even approach a Rabbi to annul the vow?!

The Gemara tells that Rav Aha bar Rav Huna tricked him into getting married, so that the vow would take effect, allowing him to arrange for the vow to be annulled.

Nedarim 90a-b

Our Mishnah teaches that, originally, if a woman made a statement which indicated that she could no longer live with her husband, the bet din would obligate him to divorce her and pay her ketubah. Later on, the Sages became concerned that a woman who no longer desired to be married to her husband would make one of these claims, so the ruling was changed.

The following statements are those that were originally deemed sufficient to end a marriage:

  1. teme’ah ani lekhah – the wife of a kohen tells him that she had relations with another man, and even if it was a case of rape, he will have to divorce her
  2. ha-shamayim beini le-veinkhah – literally “the heavens separate us” netulah ani min
    – the woman takes a vow never to engage in relations with any Jewish man

The suggestions made by the Sages when they rescinded their original ruling were:

  1. The woman will have to bring proof that she was raped
  2. ya’asu derech bakasha – literally “they should make entreaties”
  3. The husband should use his powers to annul the vow, at least as it pertains to him (see Bamidbar ch. 30).

The second claim mentioned in the Gemaraha-shamayim beini le-veinkhah – as well as the response to it – ya’asu derekh bakasha – are left unclear in the Gemara and are subject to different interpretations by the rishonim.

Rashi appears to follow the Talmud Yerushalmi and explains that she is claiming that her husband chooses not to engage in sexual relations with her. In the words of the Yerushalmi, her argument is “just as the heavens are far from the earth, so my husband is far away from me.” According to tomorrow’s daf, her claim is that he is incapable of engaging in relations.

In order to resolve this claim, ya’asu derekh bakasha is understood by Rabbeinu Tam to mean that they should engage in prayer (apparently he is working with the explanation that the husband is suffering from a disability that does not allow him to engage in relations). Rashi follows the explanation of the Yerushalmi and Rabbeinu Chananel who explain that a meal should be arranged at which the couple will be encouraged to work out their issues. The rishonim point out that the intention is that neither should be forced into any action, but rather that the couple be counseled to work out the differences that exist between them.

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.