Today we begin chapter ten of Tractate Nedarim. Chapters ten and eleven will cover the subject of vows made by women and in what circumstances those vows can be canceled by male relatives.
The Torah addresses this topic in Numbers chapter 30, where we learn that if a young woman makes a vow while living in her father’s house, her father can either let the vow stand or cancel it if he does so on the day he learns about it. The Torah also tells us that if the young woman gets married while under the obligation of a vow that her father let stand, her new husband can similarly allow the vow to stand or he can cancel it himself. (Numbers 30:4–9)
But what if the young woman in question is at an intermediary stage of her life — engaged but still living in her father’s house? In that case, she is somewhat under the purview of her father, and somewhat under the purview of her fiancé, as the ceremony of erusin (betrothal) binds her to her future husband even though they have not yet consummated the marriage. The mishnah that begins at the bottom of yesterday’s daf reads:
With regard to a betrothed young woman, her father and her husband together nullify her vows. If the father nullified her vow and the husband did not nullify it, or if the husband nullified it and the father did not nullify it, then the vow is not nullified. And needless to say, it is not nullified if one of them ratified the vow.
In this situation, rules the mishnah, it’s not enough for either the father or the fiancé to cancel the woman’s vow individually; they have to agree to do it together or the vow she made stays in effect. And, the mishnah says, if either her father or her fiancé actively ratified it, the vow also stands, even if the other tried to nullify it.
The Gemara is puzzled by the mishnah’s need to state the last part. Isn’t it obvious that if either the father or the fiancé ratified the vow it stands? The Gemara clarifies:
The mishnah teaches us that they both must nullify it together.
Does this actually mean that the father and the fiancé must simultaneously say “one, two, three — canceled!”? It doesn’t seem so. According to the Ran (Rabbenu Nissim of Gerona, the main commentator for Tractate Nedarim), they both have to cancel the vow within one uninterrupted period of time.
The passage in Numbers is pretty clear: A woman’s vows can be canceled by her father or her fiancé. The mishnah increases the stringency by obligating them both to do it. But what type of vow could a betrothed woman make that would be so objectionable that her father and/or her fiancé would want to cancel it?
Back in Ketubot 74b, we learned about a man who betrothed a woman on condition that she was not bound by any vows. But she had, in fact, made a vow, which was then annulled by a sage so the marriage could take place. The medieval commentator Bartenura, commenting on both the Torah passage in Numbers 30 and our tractate (Bartenura on Mishnah Nedarim 11:1:3) suggests her vow might have been abstaining from washing or in some other way neglecting her appearance. Such a vow would impact her new marriage and might prompt a father (who had an interest in marrying her off) or fiancé (who cared about stringencies his new bride might bring into the marriage that could affect him as well) to cancel such vows. But as we have learned throughout this tractate, vows are serious and not to be taken — or nullified — lightly.
For a young betrothed woman’s vow to be canceled, both her father and her future husband have to agree to do it. Making it difficult to annul a woman’s vows not only ensures that they won’t be taken lightly, but might underscore a not-so-subtle message that she probably shouldn’t make them at all.
Read all of Nedarim 67 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 31st, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.