Nedarim 88

Science and Health

We have spent a lot of time in this tractate discussing all the ways that a man can dissolve the vows of his wives and daughters. Today, we shift gears to discuss situations where he cannot. According to Numbers 30:10, “every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, with which she has bound her soul, shall stand against her.” In other words, a woman who is divorced or widowed cannot have her vows annulled — they “shall stand against her.” But what if the woman’s single status is only temporary? 

To explore this question, the mishnah lays out three possible scenarios:

She said: I am hereby a nazirite after thirty days, even if she was married within thirty days, he cannot nullify her vow. 

If a single woman makes a vow that would only take effect at a future date, and in the interim gets married, then even though she has a husband when the vow takes effect, her husband cannot annul the vow. So apparently when dating, we all need to be asking each other if any difficult vows might come into effect during our marriage. 

Here’s the second scenario:

If she said: I am hereby a nazirite for after thirty days (and her husband nullified the vow), then even if she was widowed or divorced within thirty days, it is nullified.

This scenario is the flip side of the first — a married woman makes a vow that will take effect at a future date and her husband annuls it. But by the time that date rolls around, she is no longer married. Does the vow kick in anyways? Nope. But it’s worth noting that since at this point she has no husband, she could just make the vow again if she wants to.

The third scenario is the most complicated. We’ve already learned that a husband has one day, and only one day, to nullify his wife’s vow. So here the mishnah asks us to imagine a very busy day: A married woman makes a vow that her husband does not nullify, he then divorces her, presumably realizes his mistake, convinces her to marry him again, and then they remarry— all in the same day. What happens with the woman’s initial vow?

If she took a vow on that day and was divorced on that day, and he took her back on that day, he cannot nullifyThis is the principle: Once she has left into her own jurisdiction for even a single hour, he cannot nullify.

If the day a married woman makes a vow is interrupted by even a brief period in which she is not married, then her husband cannot nullify the vow. When he divorced her, he created a break between them. They can marry again, but it’s a different marriage, which means that he cannot nullify any of her vows from their first marriage, even if it’s still within the one-day window.

All of these scenarios, even if they are just elaborate thought experiments, recognize that people’s statuses change over time — a woman might be married, and then divorced or widowed, and then remarried — or not. Heck, she might be married, divorced and remarried all in the same day! And in a world where people grow and change, rabbinic law stretches to address all the possibilities.

Read all of Nedarim 88 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 21st, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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