We have already learned that, halakhically, a husband can nullify his wife’s vows once she’s made them. Today’s daf explores whether he can take this one step further and preemptively nullify them.
One who says to his wife: “All vows that you will vow from now until I arrive from such and such a place … are hereby nullified,” Rabbi Eliezer says they are nullified.
According to Rabbi Eliezer, a husband can nullify his wife’s vows before she even makes them. At least when he knows that he is traveling.
The rabbis interrogate exactly how Rabbi Eliezer’s “advance nullification” would work. If a vow is nullified in advance, does that mean it never took effect? Or does it take effect for a split second only to be officially nullified thereafter?
Before we answer this question though, the Gemara takes a step back to ask why it would even matter which way the advance nullification works.
Where another person associated with this vow: If you say (such vows) take effect, then the association takes effect. If you say they do not take effect, it has no substance.
If someone sees this woman making her vow and is inspired — “I’m making the same vow!” — if the vow takes effect, even for a brief moment, then this person’s vow also takes effect (and since presumably no one has preemptively annulled it, stands). But if the wife’s vow never takes effect, then this other person’s vow doesn’t take effect either; the same vow is no vow at all. So in this one particular case, it really matters — according to Rabbi Eliezer — whether vows annulled in advance take effect, even for a split second, before being annulled.
Why does he think this? To answer this question, the Gemara explores different early rabbinic sources in which Rabbi Eliezer has a relevant opinion, to see whether they can extrapolate to this discussion. Let’s look at just one example:
Rabbi Eliezer said to them: And since it is the case that he cannot nullify his own vows once he has vowed, but he can nullify his own vows before he vows, in the situation where he can nullify his wife’s vows after she vows, is it not logical that he should be able to nullify his wife’s vows before she vows?
Here Rabbi Eliezer offers a kal va-chomer argument, a logical inference from one case to another, a kind of inference that English-language legal sources call by the Latin name a fortiori. Since a man in general has more power over his wife’s vows than his own, seeing as he can annul hers after they are made and he cannot do the same for himself, reasons the Gemara, it would follow that since he can preemptively annul is own vows, he should have at least the same amount of power to preemptively annul hers.
The Gemara then asks whether this tradition can offer insight into whether Rabbi Eliezer thinks these preemptively nullified vows ever take effect. Since when a man annuls his own vows in advance, they never take effect at all, can we assume that likewise the wife’s preemptively annulled vows do not take effect?
No, this as it is, and that as it is.
The Gemara ultimately rejects this extrapolation — the cases are too different from each other for us to infer whether Rabbi Eliezer thought a man’s advance nullification of his wife’s vows would mean the vows never took effect at all.
The Gemara cites several older traditions and explores them using the same pattern — first demonstrating relevance and then attempting to extrapolate in order to determine how Rabbi Eliezer thought advanced nullification actually worked. The Gemara’s discussion on this topic will continue tomorrow, where the rabbis conclude that Rabbi Eliezer thought that a wife’s preemptively annulled vows never take effect.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth noting that the mishnah with which we opened our discussion concludes with the rabbis rejecting Rabbi Eliezer’s position from the get go, insisting that a wife’s vows actually can’t be nullified in advance at all. So all of this discussion of Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion is theoretical rather than practical. In the end, a husband can only nullify his wife’s vows once she’s made them. So that’s one more risk he takes when he decides to travel.
Read all of Nedarim 75 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 8th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.