Talmudic pages

Nedarim 21

Can you change your mind?

We ended yesterday’s daf with a mishnah that listed four types of vows that are dissolved by the sages: vows of exhortation, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error and vows that are made against one’s will. These four kinds of vows are flawed from the get-go because the vower didn’t have all the information or the right intentions, and so they are easy for the sages to void.

Today’s daf asks: Are these the only four types of vows that can be voided? What about someone who makes a perfectly valid vow but then comes to regret it?

Rav Yehuda said that Rav Asi said: A halakhic authority is able to dissolve only similar to these four vowsHe reasons that (we do not dissolve it based) on regret.

The Gemara next offers a counterpoint: 

A certain (man) came before Rav Hunawho said to him: “Is your heart upon you?” 

He said to him: “No.” 

And Rav Huna dissolved for him.

When this man comes to Rav Huna seeking to annul his vow, Rav Huna does not ask whether the vow was exaggerated or made in error. Instead, he asks whether the man is still happy to have made the vow. And when the man says no, Rav Huna annuls the vow, no questions asked. The story suggests that the vow was legitimate when made, but that changing one’s mind is reasonable grounds for dissolving a vow. 

The Gemara follows up with another story, this one about Rav Huna’s son: 

A certain (man) who came before Rabba bar Rav Huna, who said to him: “Had there been ten people who appeased you at the timewould you have made the vow?” 

He said to him: “No.” 

And he dissolved for him.

This case is fundamentally different from the first one. Here, the man seems to suggest that he made the initial vow in the heat of the moment. The problem with this vow is rooted in the moment in which it was made — it was legitimate in that the man had all the information necessary and wasn’t being forced, but it was still flawed because of his emotional state. The Gemara doesn’t tell us whether Rabba bar Rav Huna would have annulled the vow if the man hadn’t been agitated when he made it and merely changed his mind. But his father seems to have been willing to do precisely that. 

The Gemara continues by recounting a number of stories in which a rabbi dissolves a person’s vow, sometimes because the person regretted having made it, sometimes because it was made in the heat of the moment, and sometimes because the person didn’t have all the necessary information when making the vow.  

But it’s worth spending another minute on the implicit debate between father and son. Do people who make vows have the right to change their minds when there are no extenuating circumstances at play?

Can a vow that made sense for you in one stage of your life be annulled if it no longer makes sense because you have changed? Rabba bar Rav Huna seems to suggest that the answer is no. But his father insists that yes, if you insist on making vows, the courts can take such change into consideration.

Read all of Nedarim 21 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 15th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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