Nedarim 54

Eat your veggies.

If you’ve ever sent your partner or child to the supermarket with your shopping list, it’s likely you’ve received a call or text saying that the store is out of a specific item you requested and asking if they can substitute something else. The mishnah on today’s daf discusses the topic of substitutions within the general framework of — you guessed it — vows.

One who vows that vegetables are forbidden to him may eat gourds. But Rabbi Akiva prohibits it.

The rabbis said to Rabbi Akiva: But doesn’t a person say to his agent, “Purchase vegetables for me,” and the agent says, “I found only gourds”?

This debate resembles some of my shopping text exchanges. Are gourds vegetables? The rabbis say they’re not, and Rabbi Akiva says they are, bringing along this proof:

Rabbi Akiva said to them: The matter is so, for would the agent say, “I found only legumes?” Rather, gourds are included in the category of vegetables, and legumes are not included in the category of vegetables.

In the rabbinic-era marketplace, a person who is shopping for someone else and doesn’t find the exact vegetable requested might ask, “Is squash okay?” But, according to Rabbi Akiva, they wouldn’t suggest substituting lentils for vegetables. The rabbis view this phrasing as proving that gourds are not vegetables (since the agent had to ask whether the substitution was acceptable), but Rabbi Akiva understands the opposite: Asking about gourds indicates they are in the category of vegetables and might be an acceptable substitute.

Part of the confusion here could be that the word for vegetables in Hebrew is yerakot — literally “greens.” Some gourds are green (zucchini, for example), and others are not. So are gourds vegetables, or aren’t they?

The Gemara clarifies the dispute:

With regard to what do they disagree? The rabbis maintain: Any item with regard to which an agent must consult the person (before purchasing something else), is not the same type. And Rabbi Akiva maintains: Any item with regard to which an agent must consult is the same type.

Abaye said: Rabbi Akiva concedes with regard to lashes that the one who vowed is not flogged (if he ate gourds).

Though Rabbi Akiva insists that gourds are vegetables, and thus prohibited to someone who vowed not to eat any vegetables, he agrees that since the matter is not provable, the person who vowed not to eat veggies but still ate gourds shouldn’t be flogged for breaking his vow. Writing hundreds of years later, Maimonides sides with the rabbis: “When a person takes a vow not to partake of green vegetables, he is permitted to partake of squash.” (Mishneh Torah, Vows, 9:10)

Today, thankfully, science has given us the definitive answer for the question that plagued the rabbis so long ago. Gourds are actually … fruit.

Read all of Nedarim 54 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 18th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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