February 28, 2023

Nedarim 82

Sometimes all it takes are a few extra words to change the meaning of a statement. Both yesterday (Nedarim 81b) and today’s daf (Nedarim 82a) cites the words of a later Mishna (Nedarim 11:12, 90b) which speaks of a married woman who makes a vow that: נְטוּלָה אֲנִי מִן הַיְּהוּדִים – literally, ‘I am removed from the Jews’, which is understood to mean that she forbids herself from having sexual relations with all Jews – her husband included.
Interestingly, Rashi (on 81b) understands this vow to mean ‘that no Jew will experience [sexual] pleasure from her’ (שלא יהנה שום יהודי ממנה). Accordingly, much of the commentary about this vow and its consequences relates to the obligation of sexual relations in a marriage, and the sexual pleasure her that husband seeks to receive from her.
However, a few extra words – stated by the Ran and further repeated by the Tifferet Yisrael – change this whole discussion. As the Ran explains, this is because she made this vow דתשמיש קשה לה – because ‘sexual relations are difficult for her’, or as the Tifferet Yisrael puts it in her own words דתשמיש קשה עלי – because ‘sexual relations are difficult for me’.
Of course, the word קשה – ‘difficult’ – can mean different things. Physically difficult; physically painful; psychologically difficult etc. Still, while Rashi focuses on the consequence of her vow, the Ran and the Tifferet Yisrael offer a brief insight into the reason for her vow (nb. in terms of the halachic consequences of this specific point, see the discussion by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed at https://ph.yhb.org.il/en/14-02-12/ and especially click ‘displaying comments’ for further information. Please note that he has a parallel discussion about men which can be read at https://ph.yhb.org.il/en/14-02-11/).
So as we near the end of Massechet Nedarim I think that this serves as a powerful example of how any discussion about the status of a vow demands that we pay close attention to the situation of the vower. This is because most people don’t make random vows, and if they do make a vow, there is almost always a reason. Consequently, to focus on the ‘what’ of the vow, rather than the ‘why’ of the vow, is to overlook the real problem that is going on. And to simply address the revocation of the ‘what’ of the vow, rather than the cause and the ‘why’ of the vow, is to find a band-aid solution for a much more ‘difficult’ (קשה) problem.
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