In this attempt to explain the Mishna (Nedarim 1:5) in today’s daf (Nedarim 46a), I would like to highlight a misunderstanding of the Ra’avad (Rabbi Abraham ben David, 1125-1198), who claims that the Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1138-1204) misunderstood the Mishna, but which, as noted by the Radbaz (Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Zimra, 1479-1573), is clearly a misunderstanding of the Ra’avad, and which highlights a serious misunderstanding of how some people interpret Jewish law today.
Let us begin with the Mishna which states: ‘If one of the partners of a shared courtyard (nb. it is understood here that the courtyard being discussed here is not big enough to be easily divided) is prohibited by a vow from deriving benefit from the other, they may not enter [the courtyard]. Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says: They can say to the other partner: “I am entering into my own [area of the courtyard] and I am not entering into yours”. And we (i.e. the court) compel the one who took such a vow to sell their portion [of the courtyard].’
Interpreting this Mishna, the Rambam (Hilchot Nedarim 7:5) writes: ‘When two people are partners in a courtyard, and one of them vows that the other may not benefit from them, we force the person who vowed to sell their portion.’
However, the Ra’avad then states: ‘it seems to me that Rambam is confused about the meaning of this teaching. In fact, it is the opposite! If someone vowed that their partner may not derive benefit from their property, we don’t compel the one who is forbidden to sell their portion… Instead, if someone made a vow and forbade upon themselves the derive benefit from their partner, we compel that person to sell [their portion]’.
On this, the Radbaz remarks: ‘Concerning what the Ra’avad has written that the law is opposite to what the Rambam rules, I don’t know [how he reached this interpretation of the Rambam]! This is because who [in their right mind] would think the opposite.. that we would compel the one who is forbidden to sell their portion?!’. Simply put, according to the Radbaz, it would be completely incomprehensible to force someone who is not the cause of a given prohibition to give up something of theirs for the sake of the other (which, to be clear, the Rambam never suggested, but which is how the Ra’avad erroneously understood his ruling).
With all this in mind, I’d like to point out how these kinds of statements are often invoked in contemporary orthodoxy – mostly at the cost of women. For example, women are regularly told that they can’t sing in public, even though, fundamentally, the law of ‘kol isha’ (if understood to its maximal level) is that a man should not listen to a woman who is singing. Admittedly, by living in a mixed society, sensitivity and understanding must be shown by all members of a society. Nevertheless, it does seem as if the need for one group of people to adhere to a set of laws often comes at the cost of another group
As I suspect you realise, there are many more examples of this phenomenon. And as I hope you realise, my point is certainly not to ignore or dismiss aspects of Jewish law. Instead, it is to make the point that Jewish law considers it completely incomprehensible to force someone who is not the cause of a given prohibition to give up something of theirs for the sake of the other, and that this is a point that we should carefully consider when we consider the practices and policies that we promote in our communities.