Nedarim 68

Heard it through the grapevine.

Today’s very short daf continues yesterday’s discussion about the right of a woman’s father and/or husband to cancel a vow she has made. And like yesterday, the discussion is driven by the Gemara’s attempt to parse several verses from Chapter 30 of the book of Numbers. 

On yesterday’s daf, we saw the rabbis attempt to use the verse in Numbers 30:7 to prove the halakhah that if a betrothed woman who made a vow is still living in her father’s house, her father and her fiancé (called “the husband” on our daf because betrothal effects his responsibility over her) need to agree together to cancel it. If they don’t, the vow stands. 

On today’s daf, we find another verse used to establish this rule. 

The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: “between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter” (Numbers 30:17). From here (it is derived) with regard to a betrothed young woman that her father and her husband nullify her vows. 

The Gemara then asks what the school of Rabbi Yishmael learns from the other verse, Numbers 30:7. The answer is that it is used to teach a different law attributed to Rava: that if the fiancé dies without ratifying the woman’s vow, her father can nullify it on his own. But if that’s the case, what does Rava, who learns the law about the fiancé and the father jointly nullifying the vow from Numbers 30:7, learn from Numbers 30:17? 

He requires it to say the husband can nullify only vows that are between him and her.

Here, we have a further narrowing of which vows can be canceled. Once the couple marries, a man can only cancel his wife’s vows if those vows negatively impact their marital relationship. 

Now that we know what type of vows can be revoked by a woman’s husband, the Gemara addresses another matter: What if the husband intended to cancel her vow, but died before he had the opportunity to do so? 

This is what we learned: If the husband dies, the authority reverts to the father. But if (the husband) heard and ratified the vow, or where he heard, and was silent, and died on the following day, (the father) cannot nullify the vow.

Here we learn that in a case where the husband either actively agreed to the vow, or he learned of the vow and declined to cancel it, the father cannot now do so. But what if the situation is reversed — that is, the husband revokes the vow, but the father dies before he can agree? In that case, the husband cannot nullify the vow because the husband can only nullify the woman’s vows jointly with her father. 

This discussion might seem familiar to you, since this is precisely the law we learned yesterday in the mishnah. Why does the Talmud feel the need to give us new examples when we have already learned this ruling? 

Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, the main commentator on Nedarim known by his acronym the Ran, notes that the phrasing of a case in which “the husband did not manage to hear about the vow” teaches us something new. Later in Nedarim, we will learn that until a woman’s husband hears about her vow, he is not considered as having acquired jurisdiction over it. This means that her father has greater control over his daughter’s vow than one might think based on the language we saw previously. We might have thought that their partnership was equal. But according to the Ran’s interpretation, it is not. And this inequality can have real bearing on the ability of one or the other party to cancel a woman’s vow.

The language of “managing to hear” conveys happenstance. Vows are so serious that they deserve real consideration and conversation, particularly when the matter is nullification of someone else’s vow. If a woman’s husband or father does not manage to hear about her vow through the grapevine, so to speak, they cannot participate in a decision to revoke — and therefore, her vow stands.

Read all of Nedarim 68 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 1st, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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