Nedarim 29

Are women trees?

In the mishnah on yesterday’s daf, we learned about someone who dedicates a tree to God “until it is cut down.” At the moment of dedication, the tree takes on the sanctity of being dedicated to God. But things that are dedicated to God can sometimes be redeemed with cash, so what happens if the dedicator redeems the tree with cash before it is cut down? Is it no longer sacred? Or does it immediately become sacred again because the original condition that ends its dedication has not yet been fulfilled? 

Yesterday, the Gemara concluded that no matter how many times the tree is redeemed, it continues to become sacred over and over again until it is cut down and the original condition fulfilled. But what happens when that condition is met? Bar Padda said that, once it is cut down, it must be redeemed — once — and then the wood is no longer considered sacred. Ulla disagrees, saying that if the tree is cut down, then it is automatically no longer sacred and doesn’t also need to be formally redeemed. 

In discussing this question, the Gemara today tells us a story about Rabbi Avin and Rav Yitzhak, who were sitting before their teacher Rabbi Yirmeya, who was dozing. While their teacher is asleep, these two students try to connect what they are learning about trees to a different topic. What would Bar Padda say about a different case in which a man gave a woman two coins and stipulated that one of them would betroth her to him immediately and the other would betroth her to him after their divorce? Would Bar Padda, who believes a conditional dedication continues to operate if there isn’t a formal ritual ending it, say that the second betrothal kicks in immediately after the divorce, like the tree constantly being re-consecrated after redemption? Or would the couple need to actually re-betrothe themselves for it to be valid? 

The two students conclude that according to Bar Padda, the betrothal should be valid without any kind of new act. 

Rabbi Yirmeya woke up and said to them: Why are you comparing where he redeemed them to where others redeemed them? This is what Rabbi Yohanan said: If he redeemed (the saplings), they become consecrated again. If others redeemed them, they do not become consecrated again. A woman is considered as if others redeemed her. 

Rabbi Yirmeya rules that the two cases are not comparable. The minute a woman is divorced, she is no longer in her (now-ex) husband’s “possession.” That means that any conditions her husband set before their marriage are no longer operative. If he wants to remarry her, he will need to perform a new act of betrothal (and just as a reminder, rabbinic betrothal only works with the woman’s consent!). 

I love the image of a teacher who falls asleep in front of the class (after all, Torah can be both energizing and exhausting!), waking up and immediately being able to pinpoint the flaws in their students’ thinking. After all, owning a tree is not the same thing as marrying a woman, and redeeming your own tree over and over again is not the same thing as divorcing someone who is now free to wash their hands of the situation entirely. 

Read all of Nedarim 29 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 23rd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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