Nedarim 69

Ratified — no! — nullified.

As we have seen, a woman’s vow can be either ratified or nullified by her husband or father. Today’s page begins with Rava asking a question: Once a husband has either ratified or nullified his wife’s vow, can he subsequently appeal to a rabbi to undo what he has done?

This turns out to be an easy question to answer. The Gemara brings a beraita that says the rabbi can dissolve the ratification of a woman’s vow, but not the nullification. The effect of this ruling is that the rabbi has the power to lessen the impact of the woman’s vow, but not to increase it (which tracks with the rabbinic dislike of vowing in general).

The Gemara now presents a harder question:

Rabba asks: “It is ratified for you, it is ratified for you” — then he asked to dissolve the ratification. What has he accomplished?

Let’s suppose that an eager husband doubly ratifies his wife’s vow and then, regretful, goes to a rabbi to dissolve this ratification. If the rabbi offers a single statement dissolving the ratification, is the second ratification still in effect?

To answer this one, the Gemara quotes a teaching from Rava on oaths:

Come and hear that which Rava said (regarding a double oath not to eat): If a rabbi was requested to dissolve the first oath, the second oath goes into effect.

One infers from this teaching that the rabbi who dissolves a man’s first ratification of his wife’s vow has not in fact dissolved the second ratification and the vow remains ratified.

That was also a pretty easy one. Now Rabba poses an even more complicated scenario:

In the case where he said “It is ratified for you, it is nullified for you, and the ratification will not take effect unless the nullification takes effect” — what is the halakhah?

Here, the husband or father is trying to cleverly undo his own ratification. As Tosafot point out, if he only said “it is ratified, it is nullified,” then his nullification would not take effect because he cannot dissolve his own ratification (he’d need a rabbi for that). But if he cleverly words his statement so that nullification takes effect first, and only then ratification, perhaps he succeeds in nullifying her vow even though his first words were to ratify it.

The Gemara now introduces a mishnah from Temurah 25b to answer Rabba’s tricky question:

If one said about an animal, “This is hereby a substitute for a burnt offering, a substitute for a peace offering,” then it becomes a substitute only for a burnt offering, according to Rabbi Meir.

Rabbi Yosei says: If this is what he intended from the outset, since it is impossible to give two names at once, his statement is effective.

Rabbi Meir says that the second statement, that the animal is a substitute for a peace offering, cannot undo the first — and so the animal in question remains a designated substitute for a burnt offering. Likewise, one who simply says “ratified” and then “nullified” has not nullified his wife or daughter’s vow. 

But Rabbi Yosei tells us that because there is no language that would allow a person to simultaneously designate his animal as a substitute for a burnt offering and a peace offering, this was the speaker’s intention, so both statements take effect and the animal serves as a substitute for both. Now the Gemara explains how this applies to our question:

And even Rabbi Meir says (that the first part of the statement is determinant only where he did not state): “This will not take effect unless this also takes effect.” Here, however, where he expressly said: “The ratification will not take effect until the nullification takes effect,” — even Rabbi Meir concedes that nullification takes effect.

In other words, this man’s clever (and slightly convoluted) verbal formulation works! With the addition of the words “the ratification will not take effect unless the nullification takes effect,” he succeeds in nullifying a vow that he initially ratified. He has managed to undo his own ratification — without the help of a rabbi. One more way the rabbis have enabled people to lessen the impact of vows.

Read all of Nedarim 67 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 2nd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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