Talmud pages

Nedarim 70

The chicken and the egg.

As you probably know by now, the Talmud isn’t laid out in chronological order. It’s not like the rabbis sat down and said, “Let’s start with Berakhot 2a and keep going page by page until we get to Niddah 73a — 63 tractates later.”  

Today’s daf points to material that comes up in a few pages and draws attention to uncertainty of which text came first. The Gemara is still in the midst of discussing a mishnah that laid out the relative powers of a betrothed woman’s father and fiance to nullify her vows. We have learned that If her fiance dies before the marriage is consummated, her father regains the sole power to nullify her vows. But if her father dies, her fiance doesn’t inherit her father’s nullification rights. 

Furthermore, while they’re married, her husband can nullify her vows, but her father can’t.

The Gemara zeroes in on this latter clause, where a husband’s authority overshadows the father’s, and asks when this might be the case:

If we say (the mishnah is referring to cases) where he betrothed her when she was a young woman, and then she reached majority, (that cannot be the halakhah): After all, the death removes her and attaining her majority removes her from the father’s authority. Just as with death, authority does not revert to the husband, so too (upon attaining), authority does not revert to the husband. 

The Gemara rejects the possibility that we’re talking about a woman who comes of age after being betrothed. After all, a woman who reached the age of majority is no longer subject to her father’s right to nullify her vows. So neither in that case, nor one in which her father dies, should the husband be able to take over the father’s rights. Instead, the Gemara concludes that we’re talking about a grown woman who got engaged and then took a vow, which presumably wouldn’t be subject to her father’s right to nullify it, but might be within the purview of her husband. But this is a bit strange, since a mishnah we will encounter three pages hence makes the same point:

The Gemara asks: Didn’t we learn on another occasion (Nedarim 73b): a grown woman who waited twelve months (after her betrothal and then requested that her betrothed marry her)?

The Gemara here refers to an upcoming mishnah in which we find Rabbi Eliezer and the other rabbis arguing over a husband’s right to nullify his fiancee’s vows if the couple is at the twelve-month anniversary of their betrothal. At that point, the groom-to-be is obliged to marry his fiancee. Rabbi Eliezer says that the husband’s nullification right kicks in at this point even if they aren’t yet married, while his peers say marriage must happen before it does.

After briefly wading into that debate, our daf continues with the question of why we’re getting a glimpse of a debate that comes in three days: 

If you wish, say (that the mishnah) here is actually (the primary source of this halakhah), and a grown woman is taught there because it wants (to present) how Rabbi Eliezer and the rabbis disagree.

According to the Gemara, our conversation isn’t flowing backwards in time from 73b. Instead, today’s daf is the origin of the rule about a husband’s nullification rights, and the discussion three days from now is revisiting the rule solely to lay out Rabbi Eliezer’s disagreement with the other rabbis over when the husband’s right to nullify his wife’s vow takes effect. 

Don’t like that explanation? No worries.The Gemara has another argument to make:

If you wish, say a grown woman is actually the source. (The mishnah here repeats the halakhah incidentally), since it needs to cite the first clause.

The Gemara offers that it’s also possible to hold that the later mishnah is the original source of this rule, and the only reason it’s cited here is because of its relevance to the discussion of the nullification rights of a father and a husband. In contrast, the focus of the later discussion is about when a husband’s rights come into force.  

It’s well and good that the Gemara reaches a conclusion about the rights of a husband and father to nullify a woman’s vows. But to me, the conclusion is secondary. It’s more fascinating to watch the rabbis struggle over the original setting for this particular law, in part because the temporal flow of the Gemara is a bit baffling.  

Read all of Nedarim 70 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 3rd, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Gittin 35

Widows cry out for justice.

Gittin 85

False conditions.

Kiddushin 2

Welcome to Tractate Kiddushin!