Nedarim 72

Did he actually hear her?

Daf 72b begins with a new mishnah:

The practice of Torah scholars is that a father, before his daughter would leave him (through marriage) would say to her: “All vows that you vowed in my house are hereby nullified.” And similarly, the husband, before she would enter his jurisdiction, would say to her: “All vows that you vowed before you entered my jurisdiction are hereby nullified” — because once she enters his jurisdiction, he cannot nullify (vows made previously).

As we have seen, a betrothed woman, who experiences all the obligations but none of the privileges of marriage (see Ketubot 57b), must have her vows annulled by both her father and her husband. But we also learned that, according to the Torah, they are supposed to do that on the same day the vows are made. This mishnah, which states that the father and future husband can issue a blanket annulment of her vows right before marriage, seems to violate what the Torah says:

If her father restrains her on the day he learns of it, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand … If her husband restrains her on the day that he learns of it, he thereby annuls her vow … (Numbers 30:6, 9)

The Hebrew for the words, “he learns of it,” shom’o, literally means “he hears of it.” This makes clear that not only are the father and husband supposed to annul vows on the same day, they must have literallyheard her utter the vow before either of them can annul it. So how can they annul a bride’s vows after the fact, and possibly without hearing them?

The first part of that question is easier to answer. Our mishnah limits this procedure to rabbinic authorities in their own households presumably because they possess the requisite knowledge about annulment and release from vows. (As we saw previously, fathers and husbands who are not rabbis and have even ratified a woman’s vow can go to a rabbi to have the vow annulled.) 

Still, there is the problem that they must have heard the vow. Motivated by this concern, the Gemara restrictively interprets the mishnah’s annulment procedure for Torah scholars as follows: 

When he will hear a particular vow is when he nullifies it. If so, when he has not actually heard, why is it necessary for him to state preemptively that the vows will be nullified? This teaches us that it is the practice of a Torah scholar to pursue such matters.

In other words, he has to first talk to her and hear her relate her vows. The mishnahisn’t giving a Torah scholar a new power of annulment that contradicts the Torah’s laws, it’s simply creating an opportunity for discussion.  

Perhaps this is an apologetic reading of the mishnah. But it is not the only possible reading. The mishnah is clearly trying to expand the powers of the father and husband to annul her vows, in line with the rabbinic preference to keep vowing and its consequences to a minimum. Oral Torah, as we see it at work in this case, is designed to promote justice and peace through a creative betrayal (or, if you prefer, reworking) of the Torah’s dictates. 

Read all of Nedarim 72 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 5th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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