Talmudic pages

Nedarim 11

Double condition.

Today, we encounter a teaching of Rabbi Meir about the language one should use when attaching a condition to a legally binding statement.

Rabbi Meir says that any condition that is not like the condition of the sons of the tribe of Gad and the sons of the tribe of Reuben is not a valid condition.

Making sense of what Rabbi Meir is talking about requires a visit to Numbers 32. There, we find the Israelites near the end of their 40-year journey to the land of Israel passing through lands east of the Jordan and outside the land of Israel, which were ideal for grazing. As the Torah tells it, the flock-herding tribes of Reuben, Gad and part of Menasheh requested that they be allowed to settle in these lands.

Moses, taken aback by their request, rebukes them for abandoning their kinsmen and for hiding in safety as the rest of the Israelites take up arms as they enter the land. But the Gaddites and Reubenites persist and make the following offer: If they are allowed to settle their families and flocks in these fertile lands, the soldiers among them will serve in the vanguard as the Israelites cross over into the promised land. Further, they pledged to remain in the land of Israel until the conquest was complete and their kinsmen had all settled in their assigned lands. Then and only then would they return home.

Moses is swayed by their offer and agrees to the request of the tribes. He then informs Joshua of the agreement:

If every shock-fighter among the Gaddites and the Reubenites crosses the Jordan with you to do battle, at the instance of the Lord, and the land is subdued before you, you shall give them the land of Gilead as a holding. But if they do not cross over with you as shock-troops, they shall receive holdings among you in the land of Canaan. (Numbers 32:20-23)

Rabbi Meir’s teaching is from Mishnah Kiddushin 3:4 and, there, it speaks to the proper way to place conditions on a betrothal. We took note of it as a part of our discussion of Yevamot 53 which dealt with conditions placed upon a levirate marriage, as well:

Everyone agrees that a condition is effective with regard to halitzah, and here they disagree with regard to a double condition. One sage (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) holds that we require a double condition, and one sage (the rabbis) holds that we do not require a double condition.

On our daf, Rabbi Meir’s teaching comes not to teach us about how to best place a condition on a vow (although it has what to say about it), but rather to rule Rabbi Meir out as a possible author of a mishnah. The mishnah in question teaches:

If one says to another: That which I eat of yours shall be considered non-sacred, not valid or not ritually pure … it is forbidden.

In response to its question about whose opinion is expressed in the mishnah, the Gemara quickly eliminates Rabbi Meir. Why? Because:

He [Rabbi Meir] does not hold that you can infer a positive statement from a negative statement.

In other words, given that Rabbi Meir requires a double condition (framed both negatively and positively), he cannot be the author of a mishnah that formulates conditions solely with negative language.

The Mishnah is a multi-vocal text and, more often than not, includes more than one opinion on a particular topic. The Mishnah is also a compilation of a number of proto-Mishnahs, a compilation of compilations if you will. The Gemara is aware of this and, like it did today, often seeks to associate an anonymous section with the approach of a particular rabbi. 

While Rabbi Meir’s opinion ultimately becomes codified into Jewish law as the standard for adding conditions to an agreement, today we got a glimpse of a time when this was not yet the case. 

Read all of Nedarim 11 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 5th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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