February 14, 2023

Nedarim 18

The Mishna (Nedarim 2:4) in today’s daf (Nedarim 18b) draws two parallel distinctions between those residing in Judea and those living in the Galilee.
Firstly, according to Rabbi Yehuda, a non-specific vow referencing ‘terumah’ (סתם תרומה) made by those in Judea is binding, while it is not binding if made by someone in the Galilee. This is because those in Judea would refer to donations to the Temple treasury with the term ‘terumah’. However, since agricultural terumah cannot be prohibited by a vow, and given the possibility that this is what the Galileans might have been referring to, their vow is invalid.
Secondly, we are taught that a non-specific vow referencing ‘cherem’ (סתם חרמים) made by those in Judea does not render the object forbidden, whereas if someone in the Galilee made such a vow, the object would be forbidden. This is because those in Judea would refer to gifts to the Kohanim with the term ‘charamim’ – in which case their vow would not be valid. However, given the possibility that Galileans may have used this term to refer to gifts to the Temple, in which case the vow would be valid, then the object is forbidden to them.
As should be clear, in both cases a presumption is made that those living in Judea – who lived nearer to the centres of Jewish learning – were more knowledgeable and thus more nuanced in the words they used while making vows, while those living in the Galilee – living further away from those centres of learning – were less knowledgeable. Consequently, we must consider broader possibilities in terms of the intention of what they said.
Admittedly, this is not the only time when such comparisons have been made between those in Judea and the Galilee. Instead, as I have previously explained in my commentary to Chagigah 25a (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/chagigah-25/), this distinction is made repeatedly in the Mishna – which is an important fact in helping us understand why the Sages were dismissive of those from the Galilee who claimed to have alternative interpretations of Jewish Law.
At the same time, as I explain in my commentary to Ketubot 52b (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/ketubot-52/), we find instances when those in Judea adopted a less benevolent attitude towards those in the Galilee. Meaning, during the same period of time that those in Judea were considered to be more knowledgeable than those in the Galilee, those in the Galilee were considered to be more sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable (in this case, widows), than those in Judea.
But what does this mean? I believe the simple lesson that we can draw from here is that greater Torah knowledge, and greater halachic nuance, does not always automatically lead people to greater human sensitivity.
Of course, this does not mean that we should not learn more or be more particular with our practice. But what it does mean is that learning and practice are not equivalent to benevolence and sensitivity – and that we need to work on both.
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