Nedarim 34

Vows and consequences.

On today’s daf, Rava teaches the following:

There was a loaf of ownerless (bread) before (a person), and they said, “This loaf is consecrated.” If they took to eat it, they misused consecrated (property) based on its entire value. But to bequeath it to their sons, they misused consecrated (property) based on the discretionary benefit.

When a person dedicates an object for use in the Temple, it becomes off-limits to them. If they subsequently make use of the object, they have to make restitution for misappropriating Temple property. In this case, Rava teaches that the amount of restitution is based on the person’s intent. If they took the loaf with an intent to eat it, they must make restitution based on the value of the loaf. If they took it with the intent to give it to their children, the restitution is based on the amount of benefit he derives from having his children indebted to him for the bread. 

While on the subject of loaves, the Gemara next cites a question posed to Rava by Rav Hiyya bar Avin.

If one said to another, “My loaf is konam for you,” and then they gave it to them as a gift, what is (the halakhah)?

In this situation, a person restricts the use of a loaf of bread to another by way of a vow but later presents the very same loaf to them as a gift. Rav Hiyya bar Avin wonders about how the change in ownership affects the vow and suggests two possible solutions to his own question. 

One approach hinges on the words “my loaf,” which suggests that the vow is in place only as long as the loaf is in the possession of the vower. Once it’s given to the other person, the vow is no longer operative and so the bread is no longer forbidden. Another focuses on the words “for you.” If we emphasize that part of the vow, it would suggest that the loaf is and will remain forbidden to the other even after the original owner has relinquished possession.

Rava responds:

It is obvious that although they gave it as a gift, it is forbidden.

According to Rava, this case is clear: If the loaf is forbidden by the vow, it remains so regardless of what happens in the future. But then why, Rav Hiyya wants to know, does the vow say “my loaf” instead of “this loaf”? Doesn’t this language indicate something about the case?

Ah, says Rava, it sure does. The word “my” excludes a case where the owner of the loaf invites his friend to share the loaf with him before he makes his vow. In such a case, the vow only falls upon the part of the loaf that the vower intended to eat themselves and not upon the section previously offered to the friend. As a result, their friend can eat from the part of the loaf that had been offered prior to the vow.

In Rava’s initial teaching, someone makes a declaration that results in an object becoming off limits to them and then proceeds to make use of it anyway. In such a case, their intentions affect how they will be held responsible. But in the second case, a person makes a vow that renders an object off limits to another and then acts in a way that seems contrary to the vow — i.e. giving the object to that person as a gift. If the recipient then makes use of it, the consequences depend, as in the first case, with their intent — whether they consume the bread themselves or give it away. 

In both cases, it is the precise language of the vow that determines whether something is forbidden. But the consequences for violating the vow depend on the intent of the person who violates it. And so, if you want to have your bread and eat it too (or share it with your friends), choose your words carefully if you’re going to make a vow. Or better yet, as the rabbis repeatedly advise, better to skip the vow in the first place.

Read all of Nedarim 34 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on November 28th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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