Nedarim 76

Tips for dodging vow annulment.

We learned yesterday that a husband can only nullify his wife’s vows once she’s made them; he can’t annul them in advance. But how long does he have to annul these vows once they’ve been made? The Torah has two statements on this:

But if her husband does annul them on the day he finds out, then nothing that has crossed her lips shall stand … (Numbers 30:13)

If her husband offers no objection from that day to the next, he has upheld all the vows or obligations she has assumed … (Numbers 30:15)

Given their proximity to one another in the Torah, we might suppose that the biblical text thinks of these two statements as synonymous. The husband has only a day to act. But the rabbis detect a difference in the language of the two verses, between the time frame of verse 13, “on the day he finds out” and verse 15, “from that day to the next.” So just how much time does he have to annul?

The mishnah on today’s daf teaches: 

The nullification of vows is all day.

The rabbinic day starts at sundown and ends at sundown, so the mishnah’s calculations take this into account:

If a woman took a vow on Shabbat evening, (her father or husband) can nullify it on Shabbat evening, and on Shabbat day until dark. If she took a vow with nightfall approaching, he can nullify it until nightfall …

In other words, he has until the end of the day at sundown. If she vowed toward the beginning of the rabbinic day, he has close to 24 hours. If she vowed later in the day, then his window of opportunity narrows. 

The Gemara then quotes beraita, a rabbinic tradition not in the Mishnah but of the same period, which offers a relevant rabbinic dispute.

The nullification of vows is all day.

Rabbi Yosei son of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon said a period. 

The first opinion in this beraita agrees with our mishnah. But the tradition then cites two rabbis who disagree with it. Rabbis Yosei and Elazar understand the “day” in which a woman’s vow can be annulled not as the standard sundown to sundown day (as we might infer from Numbers 30:13), but as a 24-hour period after the vow is made, regardless of the time at which it is made (as might be inferred from Numbers 30:15).

The Gemara now tries to figure out how each source in the beraita understands the other verse in Numbers. According to the Gemara, the anonymous first opinion reads the first verse as insisting that vows have to be annulled on the same day that they are made — before the sun sets. As for the second verse:

It is necessary, as if it had said only “on the day that he hears them,” I would say during the day, yes, at night, no. Therefore, it is written, “from day to day.” 

In other words, the second verse teaches the first source that a man can annul his wife’s vow during the night and doesn’t have to wait until sunrise. 

Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Elazar, on the other hand, read the second verse (Numbers 30:15) as insisting that a man can annul his wife’s vows for 24 full hours, regardless of whether this spans more than one day. And as for Numbers 30:13, here’s what they do with it, according to the Gemara:

It was necessary, as if it had written only “from day to day,” I would say that he can nullify a vow for her from one Sunday to the next Sunday. Therefore, it is written, “on the day that he hears them.”

In other words, they think Numbers 30:13, which says “on the day he found out,” comes to prevent us from reading “from day to day” in verse 15 as permission to extend the entire annulment period to a full week.

Though both positions are biblically supported, the Gemara tells us that the halakhah follows the mishnah (which is also the anonymous position in the beraita) — not surprising because it is presented as the majority opinion in both sources — and not the position of Rabbis Yosei and Elazar. But it does take the time to explore and respect the thinking of those two rabbis.

So, ladies: Want to make vows that last? You have two options: (1) Stay single and move out of your father’s household, or (2) If you want to marry, make sure to vow just before the sun sets. Not only is sunset the “golden hour” when the light is perfect for portraits (and who doesn’t want to look fabulous when vowing?), but it also limits the amount of time your husband has to annul it.

Read all of Nedarim 76 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 9th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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