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Nedarim 33

Everything I do, I do it for food.

As the saying goes, some people eat to live — others live to eat. Today’s daf can inspire us to reflect: Just how much of our own lives revolve around food?

We begin with a mishnah on the bottom of yesterday’s daf:

The difference between one for whom benefit from another is forbidden by vow and one for whom benefit from his food is forbidden by vow concerns only setting foot (on the other person’s property) and borrowing utensils that one does not use in preparation of food. 

In other words, there is a fine line between vowing not to benefit from a person, and vowing not to benefit from a person’s food. We are, perhaps more than we realize, pretty nearly what we eat. In the latter case, the vow entails not entering the person’s property or using their food preparation utensils. The mishnah continues by setting parameters on what counts as food preparation utensils:

One for whom benefit from another’s food is forbidden by vow, that person may not lend him a sieve, or a strainer, or a millstone, or an oven. However, he may lend him a garment, or a finger ring, or a cloak, or nose rings. 

When someone is forbidden from benefiting from another’s food, says the mishnah, this extends to the utensils regularly used to prepare food: sieve, nutcracker, rolling pin, Tupperware, etc.

The Gemara expresses surprise at this ruling:

But didn’t he vow that he is prohibited from partaking of food?

Surely, the Gemara reasons, a rolling pin is not edible. So why would it be forbidden?

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: Where he says, “benefit from your food is forbidden to me.” 

In other words, it’s not that he said “your food is forbidden to me” but “benefit from your food is forbidden to me.” This extends the prohibition from just food to include food preparation utensils. 

It’s clear that the mishnah places a limit on what counts as a food preparation utensil. Sieves, strainers, millstones, and ovens are. Garments and jewelry are not. But why? Rav Pappa probes the boundary:

Rav Pappa said: A sack in which to bring produce, or a donkey upon which to bring produce, or even merely a basket — each renders benefit that leads to food.

Rav Pappa reasons that the set of items that are forbidden by this vow against benefiting from another’s food should include not just kitchen utensils but also a grain sack, a pack animal, and an empty basket — all used to transport the food. But now it gets trickier:

Rav Pappa raised a dilemma: A horse upon which to ride or a ring with which to be seen — what is the ruling? Traversing and walking on his land — what is the halakhah

We might imagine, Rav Pappa suggests, that a horse, which can carry a person to their next meal, or a ring, which can display wealth and create access to fine dining, or traversing his land, which can provide a shortcut to a person’s next meal — all of these are also forbidden under the vow not to benefit from another’s food. Now the circle of what is included has widened considerably.

However, the mishnah specifically says that garments and jewelry are still permitted to the one who makes this vow. So is Rav Pappa wrong to widen the circle of forbidden items as far as these items? The Gemara explains:

The mishnah is referring to a case where he borrowed those items with the intention not to be seen with them

If the borrower did not intend for the cloak or ring to be seen by others — and in this way hurry along his next meal — then he is in the clear to borrow them, even though he made a vow not to benefit from their owner’s food. If he intended to enjoy the cloak and ring in the privacy of his own home, where it could do nothing to bring him food, then he is in the clear.

One thing is clear: Human beings put a great deal of energy into curating their meals — and many of the items with which we surround ourselves are, more than we might realize, in the service of getting us to the next morsel. Perhaps we all are, more than we’d like to admit, living to eat.

Read all of Nedarim 33 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 27th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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