March 10, 2023

Nedarim 84

I’d like to summarise the Mishna (Nedarim 11:3) in yesterday’s daf (Nedarim 83b) because understanding what was said there will help us understand the discussion found in today’s daf (Nedarim 84a-b).
We are taught: ‘[If a woman vowed]: “That which I benefit of other people is konam for me”, then [her husband] cannot nullify her vow. However, [if she is poor], then notwithstanding her vow she may still benefit from ‘leket’ (gleanings – i.e., isolated stalks that fell during the harvest), from ‘shikheha’ (forgotten sheaves), and ‘peah’ (produce of the corners of the field)’. On the basis of this Mishna, today’s daf (Nedarim 84b) then discusses whether such a woman can benefit from ‘ma’aser ani’ (tithes for the poor) in addition to the ‘leket’, ‘shikheha’ and ‘peah’ mentioned in the Mishna.
On first glance, what we are dealing with here is the interpretation of a vow whereby even if a woman says that she won’t benefit from ‘people’, she can still benefit from certain charitable systems which are not given as a direct gift from one to the other, but instead, are left for those who need to take.
But let’s take a step back. What is actually happening here? A woman has taken a vow restricting herself from benefitting from anyone else other than her husband – which very much sounds like a situation where this woman has become, or been made to become, so socially isolated that she has now made it clear that she doesn’t want to get anything from anyone. True, this might be her wish and her choice. But it is also possible that this woman is in some form of abusive marriage where she has been deliberately disconnected from friends and family. Yes, she may have made the vow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is expressive of her true wishes.
Understood this way, the Mishna is actually asking the following: if a married woman is in a situation where she is socially isolated and financially dependent on her husband, how and where can she draw on communal financial services?
Sadly, this question – along with various permutations of this question – is not just theoretical. Instead, it is a practical question which arises more often than people realise, and it comes to teach us about educating towards the possibility of financial independence, as well as educating about the communal resources that are there to assist those in need.
In short, what this Mishna and its corresponding discussion communicate is that even when someone thinks that they are alone, isolated, and have nothing of their own, we – as a community – must make sure that there are ways for them to get at least some of what they need while in that situation.
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