February 14, 2023

Nedarim 21

So far in our study of Massechet Nedarim we have spoken about the specific words that are needed to be verbalized in order make a valid vow. However, we are taught in Mishna Nedarim (3:1) that there are certain circumstances when even if someone did use the correct ‘vow terminology’, their vow is invalid. And why? Because while the person speaking may have said the correct words that make a vow, they did not intend to make a vow. And among this list of four types of vowers-in-words-but-not-in-practice are what we call נִדְרֵי זֵרוּזִין, meaning ‘those who vow to motivate another person’.
As the Mishna then proceeds to explain, an example of ‘motivational vowing’ would be a case when two people are negotiating a sale, and one says: “Konam! I will not lower the price for you to less than a sela”, to which the other responds, “Konam! I will not raise my payment to you to more than a shekel”. Here, both parties are actually using accurate vow-words. However, it is clear from the context that they are not actually making a vow in order to stick to, but rather, a vow-in-words-but-not-in-practice to motivate the other party to lower their price.
Today’s daf (Nedarim 21a) focusses its attention on these נִדְרֵי זֵרוּזִין, and though it acknowledges – while referencing a later Mishna (Nedarim 8:7) – that there are occasions when even the context may lead us to wonder whether what has been said is a fully-fledged vow, nevertheless, מִשְׁתַּעֵי אִינִישׁ הָכִי – ‘this is how people speak this way’ i.e. using exaggerated terms, such that though they may sound as if they are vows, they are not, in fact, considered to be vows.
In terms of vows themselves, I think the point made in our daf is clear. The problem, however, with the fact that מִשְׁתַּעֵי אִינִישׁ הָכִי – ‘this is how people speak this way’ i.e. using exaggerated terms – is that there are times when people say certain things which they didn’t mean literally, and which you don’t necessarily think they meant literally, but nevertheless, given their exaggerated tone, you expect them to fulfil. For example, people may ‘promise’ to give you certain support or help you through a particular challenge. Yet though they mean well and would like to assist, they are – in actual fact – primarily offering you words of encouragement and motivation rather than making an absolute commitment to you.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of these or similar words (which, to clarify, by virtue of them being a commitment of a person than necessarily a statement about an object, would mean that such words would be less of a vow and more of an oath) which have not been realized, then you know that notwithstanding the good intentions of a person, it can be confusing to be told something when you most want to hear those words that does not come to fruition.
Given all this, I think we can conclude by saying that we should always be cognizant of the fact that different people hear words differently, and that while there is a category of vows called נִדְרֵי זֵרוּזִין, if you don’t truly intend to commit to something, then you should probably avoid suggesting that you will – notwithstanding your good intentions.
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