March 11, 2023

Nedarim 91

Today those studying daf yomi complete their study of Massechet Nedarim.
Over the past three months, our study of Nedarim has demanded that we learn about a vast range of various vows and the variety of ways to revoke (הפרה) or annul (ביטול) vows that have been made.
In fact, given that Nedarim places such an emphasis on vow revocation and annulment, this possibly leads to conclude that if the utterance of words may lead to an awkward situation, those words can be revoked or annulled to avoid that awkward situation.
However, this is not how our Massechet ends – and I believe that the way Nedarim ends is meant to be a countervoice to much of what we have studied until now. Instead, the final lines of today’s daf (Nedarim 91b) discusses a scenario where an apparent adulterer is hiding in the home where he has apparently committed adultery with a married woman, at which time her husband returns home.
In this story, the adulterer then sees that her husband is about to eat some cress on which a snake has left its poison, and the adulterer then calls out the husband, from his hiding place, to warn the husband. According to Rava, if this man does warn the husband, we can conclude that he did not, in fact, commit adultery, because were he to have done so, it would have been more convenient for the husband to have died.
As this seems to be such a glaringly obvious conclusion that it is hard to understand why the Gemara even felt the need to teach us this law, the Gemara suggests that we may have thought that the adulterer would have preferred to keep the husband alive because ‘stolen waters are sweet’ (Mishlei 9:17) – meaning that there is an added thrill of adultery that comes from the fact that the woman’s husband is still alive. However, the Gemara rejects this thesis. In so doing, it concludes that we can presume that the man did not – in fact – physically commit adultery.
Thus, having spent much of Nedarim considering how to use various vow revocation and annulment formulae to avoid awkward situations, what we learn from these final lines of Massechet Nedarim is that there are times when saying things which may be awkward is better than not doing so, and that how we feel needs to be considered within the wider calculus of doing the right thing.
הַדְרָן עֲלָךְ וְאֵלּוּ נְדָרִים וּסְלִיקָא לַהּ מַסֶּכֶת נְדָרִים
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