• April 13, 2024
  • 5 5784, Nisan
  • פרשת תזריע

Laws of Vows

Laws of Vows

Sound familiar: “I swear to God I will never do it again!” How many times have you said this and more importantly – can you ‘swear’ to God? Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman will take you through the laws surrounding vows.

May 5, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 1
Class description

Hello Everyone, Here is a summary of the material which we discussed in yesterday’s shiur. We began the shiur with an overview of two words which will we study in greater depth as the course proceeds. The two words are שבועה and נדר. The words are found in the pasuk in Parashat Matot which contains the Torah’s main discussion of this subject: במדבר פרק ל (ג) אִישׁ כִּי יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַייָ אוֹ הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה: What is the difference between a נדר and a שבועה? The Ramban explains that a נדר is a statement by means of which I change the status of an object from permitted to forbidden. A person who is deeply religious but cannot stop smoking cigarettes can say, ” Cigarettes are as forbidden to me as is a sacrificial offering.” At that point cigarettes are forbidden to him by the Torah. It is axiomatic in the Halachic system that we can dedicate objects to the Temple. These objects which had no holiness acquire holiness when we verbally dedicate them to God ( hekdesh ). Once objects are donated to הקדש it is forbidden to use them. The novelty of the laws of vows is that the Halacha allows a person to create a “personal prohibition.” Eating pork is forbidden and should a person eat pork he has violated a prohibition of the Torah. When a smoker who forbidden cigarettes to himself via a נדר smokes a cigarette he has also violated a prohibition of the Torah; he has violated the law of נדרים. The implications of this Halacha are quite striking. It means that each one of us can create a “personal Torah” with our own personal prohibitions. In the coming weeks (bli neder!) we will see that Chazal had very ambivalent attitudes towards the use of נדרים. The Ramban goes on and says that a שבועה relates to the person as opposed to an object. When a person is נשבע (swears) he is either forbidding an action to himself or obligating himself to perform an action. A person can swear that he will never smoke a cigarette or he can swear to smoke 20 cigarettes. However should a person say “אני נודר” to never smoke this lacks any Halachic validity. A second type of oath/שבועה is the oath whose intention is to emphasize that one is telling the truth. We are expected by the Torah’s system of values to tell the truth and to be bound by our agreements. The two-part institution of נדר ושבועה allows us to bring Hashem into our world and to be the guarantor כביכול of our declarations. Involving Hahsem in our discussions obviously places a great responsibility on us to speak carefully and seriously. The Ramban quotes a דרשה will makes this clear: ספרי במדבר פרשת מטות פיסקא קנג מה הפרש בין נדרים לשבועות בנדרים כנודר בחיי המלך בשבועות כנשבע במלך עצמו The Rambam writes: רמב”ם הלכות שבועות פרק יב הלכה א אף על פי שלוקה הנשבע לשוא או לשקר וכן הנשבע שבועת העדות או שבועת הפקדון מביא קרבן, אין מתכפר להן עון השבועה כלו שנאמר לא ינקה ה’ אין לזה נקיון מדין שמים עד שיתפרע ממנו על השם הגדול שחלל, שנאמר וחללת את שם ה’ אלהיך אני ה’, לפיכך צריך אדם להזהר מעון זה יותר מכל העבירות. הלכה ב עון זה מן החמורות הוא כמו שבארנו בהלכות תשובה, אף על פי שאין בו לא כרת ולא מיתת בית דין יש בו חלול השם המקודש שהוא גדול מכל העונות. We next discussed one aspect of the laws of שבועות known as כינויי וידיים של שבועות. The word שבועה is defined and has a very clear meaning. There are other words which convey the same intention as the word שבועה and they are כינויים ושבועות. These words carry the import of the actual word נשבע. For example the Rema holds that when a person says, “אמונה that this is true” this statement is treated as a שבועה. Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l was asked, based on the law of ,כינויי שבועה when a person sates in an Israeli court ” הן צדק” is this phrase is the equivalent of actually saying אני נשבע . Rav Ovadiah Yosef cited the Poskim who hold that even saying “אמת” creates a שבועה since the one who says אמת is saying that his words are true just as ה’ is True (כביכול). Conceivably the words “הן צדק” may have the same connotation. However , Rav Ovadiah Yosef concludes that since the courts introduced the use of the words הן צדק to excuse observant Jews from having to say אני נשבע it is clear that all concerned understand that the person making the statement wishes to avoid any of the Halachic concerns involving שבועות. Presumably the same could be said about the use of the word “affirm” in the courts of English speaking countries. Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur and I hope it was enjoyable. Stuart Fischman

May 12, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 2
Class description

Dear Everyone, In yesterday’s shiur we began the study of “nedarim.” Nedarim are category of statement which the Torah regulates and which we need to fulfill, beyond the general expectation that we behave honestly. We saw yesterday that there are three categories of נדר: a) נדרי הקדש b) נדרי איסור c) נדרי מצוה נדרי הקדש are declarations by which we donate property to the Beit Hamikdash, and by doing so we impart sanctity to those items. נדרי איסור are (at least to me) a striking Halacha. The law of נדרי הקדש demonstrates that an individual can change the Halachic status of an object. An object which had no sanctity acquires sanctity by means of its owner’s statement. The sacred status of the object must be respected by everyone. The law of נדרי איסור carries the idea of הקדש further. A person can create a sort of “personal הקדש.” A person can say about an object הרי זה אסור עלי כהקדש”” (“this object is forbidden to me as is הקדש”) and the object becomes forbidden to him . The person who makes a נדר של איסור creates his own personalized Torah-prohibition. נדרי מצוה are statements of intent to perform a mitzvah. The Gemarah points out that from the moment that our ancestors accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai we became obligated to carry out all of the Torah’s mitzvoth. Chazal considered the declaration of נעשה ונשמע an oath and the rule is אין שבועה חלה על השבועה , so there really is no need or even validity to a on oath taken to obey an existing oath. Nevertheless, any statement made to the effect that one intends to perform a mitzvah is considered a valid oath. Therefore whenever a person wishes to make such a statement he should say בלי נדר. For example, if a person plans to attend a shiur he should say, “I will be at the shiur, בלי נדר.” I myself have not heard about many נדרי איסור , but it seems that in the past they were commonly invoked, as a means of strengthening a person’s resolve. In the statements of Chazal we can find differing opinions regarding the appropriateness of using נדרים to bolster one’s resolve. We see this statement of Rabbi Akiva: משנה מסכת אבות פרק ג משנה יג רבי עקיבא אומר …נדרים סייג לפרישות … And this statement by Rabbi Natan: תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדרים דף כב עמוד א ר’ נתן אומר הנודר כאילו בנה במה והמקיימו כאילו מקריב עליו קרבן The standard commentary to מסכת נדרים is that of the ר”ן. The ר”ן explains Rabbi Natan’s almost hostile attitude with a citation from the Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi says that when a person accepts upon himself a נדר איסור the Heavenly court asks, “Are the 613 mitzvot in the Torah so insufficient that you need new mitzvot?” The Rambam cites both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Natan in his Hilchot Nedarim: רמב”ם הלכות נדרים פרק יג הלכה כג מי שנדר נדרים כדי לכונן דעותיו ולתקן מעשיו הרי זה זריז ומשובח, כיצד כגון מי שהיה זולל ואסר עליו הבשר שנה או שתים, או מי שהיה שוגה ביין ואסר היין על עצמו זמן מרובה, או אסר השכרות לעולם, וכן מי שהיה רודף שלמונים ונבהל להון ואסר על עצמו המתנות או הניית אנשי מדינה זו, וכן מי שהיה מתגאה ביופיו ונדר בנזיר וכיוצא בנדרים אלו, כולן דרך עבודה לשם הם ובנדרים אלו וכיוצא בהן אמרו חכמים נדרים סייג לפרישות. הלכה כד ואף על פי שהן עבודה (לשם) לא ירבה אדם בנדרי איסור ולא ירגיל עצמו בהם, אלא יפרוש מדברים שראוי לפרוש מהן בלא נדר. הלכה כה אמרו חכמים כל הנודר כאילו בנה במה, ואם עבר ונדר מצוה להשאל על נדרו כדי שלא יהא מכשול לפניו, במה דברים אמורים בנדרי איסר אבל נדרי הקדש מצוה לקיימן ולא ישאל עליהן אלא מדוחק שנאמר נדרי לה’ אשלם. סליקו להו הלכות נדרים בס”ד. Nedarim are a valuable tool for reinforcing our convictions but ideally we should be able to overcome obstacles without using them. The Chassidic commentator, the מי השילוח, presents another perspective on Nedarim. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah are eternal and universal. All Jews need to observe the Torah, in all times and in all circumstances. The idea behind the mitzvah of Nedarim (and it is after all one of the 613 mitzvot) is that we can be partners to Hashem כביכול by creating a prohibition when necessity requires this. Hashem acknowledges with the mitzvah of Nedarim that there are times when a person does indeed require “extra mitzvoth” and thus Nedarim are a valuable tool in achieving holiness. Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

May 19, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 3
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Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we began to study how promises to give צדקה are judged as Nedarim. The Gemarah in Rosh Hashanah parses the verse:

דברים פרק כג פסוק כד

מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיךָ תִּשְׁמֹר וְעָשִׂיתָ כַּאֲשֶׁר נָדַרְתָּ לַייָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ נְדָבָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ בְּפִיךָ:


As follows:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף ו עמוד א

תנו רבנן מוצא שפתיך זו מצות עשה תשמר זו מצות לא תעשה ועשית אזהרה לבית דין שיעשוך כאשר נדרת זה נדר לה’ אלהיך אלו חטאות ואשמות עולות ושלמים נדבה כמשמעו אשר דברת אלו קדשי בדק הבית בפיך זו צדקה

So statements of intent to give tzedakah are treated as Nedarim. And this rule is not limited to a case where a  person explicitly uses the words “.אני נודר לתת צדקה” Even if he or she merely says, “I will give tzedakah,” the statement is a נדר. This is what the ש”ך  rules on this point:

ש”ך על שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן רג סעיף ד

“….דאף אם פוסק סתם הוה נדר…”

To give tzedakah is a great mitzvah; but this does not make the neder to give tzedakah any less problematic than other nedarim.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן רג

סעיף ד

צריך ליזהר שלא ידור שום דבר, ואפילו צדקה אין טוב לידור; אלא אם ישנו בידו, יתן מיד; ואם לאו, לא ידור עד שיהיה לו. ואם פוסקים צדקה וצריך לפסוק עמהם, יאמר: בלא נדר.

If a person has the means to give tzedakah she should, as the Nike commercial used to say, “Just do it.” If she does not have the means to do so, she must not make any promise to give tzedakkah. This is very important to keep in mind when saying the Yizkor prayer or when receiving an Aliyah. In both cases siddurim have the phrase “”…בעבור שאתן/יתן צדקה… One should say in the Yizkor prayer, “בעבור שאתן בלי נדר מדקה” and similarly correct the גבאי reciting the מי שברך to say בעבור שיתן בלי נדר צדקה.

When a person gives tzedakah to fulfill a specific obligation (such as the YIzkor non-neder) she should give it with the intention of fulfilling that obligation, otherwise it may be that the obligation has not been met.

דרך אמונה הלכות מתנות עניים פרק ח

(יא) הנודר לצדקה ואח”כ נתן סתם לצדקה ולא חשב לשם נדרו י“א שלא יצא.

Two of the mitzvoth which govern נדרים  are a positive commandment to fulfill the neder and a prohibition against delaying the fulfillment of the neder.

ספר המצוות לרמב”ם מצות עשה צד

והמצוה הצ”ד היא שצונו לקיים כל מה שקבלנו על נפשנו במלת שבועה ונדר וצדקה וקרבן וזולת זה והוא אמרו יתע’ (תצא כג) מוצא שפתיך תשמור…..

ספר המצוות לרמב”ם מצות לא תעשה קנה

והמצוה הקנ”ה היא שהזהירנו מאחר הנדרים והנדבות ושאר הקרבנות שהם חובה עלינו. והוא אמרו ית’ (תצא כג) כי תדור נדר לי”י אלהיך לא תאחר לשלמו…..

These mitzvoth affect נדרי צדקה  as well. Nedarim need to be fulfilled at the first opportunity which prevents itself. Since, sadly, there is no shortage of poor people,נדרי צדקה should be paid immediately.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רנז סעיף ג

הצדקה, הרי היא בכלל הנדרים. לפיכך האומר: הרי עלי סלע לצדקה או הרי הסלע זו צדקה, חייב ליתנה לעניים מיד. ואם איחר, עובר בבל תאחר (דברים כג, כב). שהרי בידו ליתן מיד, ועניים מצויים הם. ואם אין שם עניים, מפריש ומניח עד שימצא עניים.

If however a person made a נדר to give tzedakah to a particular institution he can wait until he is contacted by the institution and is asked for the payment. The person making the neder needs of course to notify the institution of his pledge.




שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רנז סעיף ג

…אבל כשנודרין צדקה בבית הכנסת ליתנה ליד גבאי, או שאר צדקה שיש לו ליתן לגבאי, אינו עובר עליה אף על גב דעניים מצויים. אא”כ תבעו הגבאי ואז עובר עליה מיד אי קיימי עניים והגבאי היה מחלק להם מיד. ואם אין ידוע לגבאי, צריך הוא להודיע לגבאי מה שנדר, כדי שיוכל לתבעו….

An exception to rule to avoid saying a נדר is the concept of נדר בעת צרה. When a a person is facing a crisis he can and should make a נדר  , which is essentially a “deal” כביכול with ה’. We learn this from יעקב אבינו:

בראשית פרק כח

(כ) וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר אִם יִהְיֶה אֱלֹהִים עִמָּדִי וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ וְנָתַן לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ:

(כא) וְשַׁבְתִּי בְשָׁלוֹם אֶל בֵּית אָבִי וְהָיָה יְיָ לִי לֵאלֹהִים:

(כב) וְהָאֶבֶן הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי מַצֵּבָה יִהְיֶה בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּתֶּן לִי עַשֵּׂר אֲעַשְּׂרֶנּוּ לָךְ:

The Shulchan Aruch rules:

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן רג סעיף ה

בעת צרה מותר לנדור.

We opened and closed the shiur with a question about such a neder. During the Second World War a father promised to donate to a yeshiva the sum of $100.00 should his return from the war “.בשלום” At the end of the war, the son returned in perfect health but, to the chagrin of the father, he arrived with his non-Jewish wife and  child. When the father was approached by the yeshiva and asked to pay the money that he promised, the father claimed that the conditions of the neder were not met. Yes, his son was not injured, but how can anyone say that he returned “בשלום” if he married a Gentile woman while away?

The administrator of the yeshiva approached Rav Yehoshua Baumel zt”l with the question of whether the neder needs to be paid. Rav Baumel proceeded to examine the word “שלום ” and whether it refers only to physical well-being or does it include spiritual well-being as well. Based on how the word is used in the Talmud he concluded that the word “שלום” to physical well-being. He added that even though his son has a non-Jewish wife and child, they may convert to Judaism, so the situation is far from hopeless. Finally, he wrote that in Nedarim we have a rule that in cases of doubt we interpret the neder “.כלשון בני אדם” In our case, it is clear that when people are worried about their sons going off to war and  these parents ask Hashem to deliver their children home “בשלום” their intention is that their sons should come home in good health. This prayer was answered and the father needs to pay the promised money.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


May 26, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 4
Class description

Hello Everyone,

We began yesterday’s shiur with a discussion about the status of thoughts with regard to nedarim.  As a rule, thoughts do not create obligations. With regard to נדרים the Torah says:

במדבר פרק ל

(ג) אִישׁ כִּי יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַייָ אוֹ הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה:

It is clear that until the words exit the person’s mouth they do not possess the binding nature of a neder.

The exception to this rule are donations to the בית המקדש , this exception is also learned from a pasuk:

דברי הימים ב פרק כט

(לא) וַיַּעַן יְחִזְקִיָּהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר עַתָּה מִלֵּאתֶם יֶדְכֶם לַייָ גֹּשׁוּ וְהָבִיאוּ זְבָחִים וְתוֹדוֹת לְבֵית יְיָ וַיָּבִיאוּ הַקָּהָל זְבָחִים וְתוֹדוֹת וְכָל נְדִיב לֵב עֹלוֹת:

So we see that the purpose of the vow is to sanctify an object it suffices that one merely thinks to do so.

In our time we sadly have no Beit Hamikdash. We can however donate money and property to a synagogue which is a מקדש מעט . The question is whether the thought to make a contribution to a charitable institution is binding. There are authorities who say that charitable institutions have the status of הקדש in this regard and there are authorities who say that charitable institutions do not have the status of הקדש. This disagreement is reflected in the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch:

שולחן ערוך חושן משפט הלכות מקח וממכר סימן ריב סעיף ח

קנה קרקע אדעתא שיעשנו הקדש ולא הוציא מפיו כלום י”א דכיון שגמר בלבו לתת לצדקה חייב ליתן ויש מי שאומר דאף על גב דכתיב כל נדיב לב עולות (דברי הימים – ב כט, לא) חולין מקדשים לא ילפינן והאידנא כל הקדש יש לו דין חולין שאין הקדש עתה לבדק הבית ואינו אלא לצדקה הילכך כל שלא הוציא בשפתיו אינו כלום. (ויש להחמיר כסברא הראשונה ועיין בי”ד סוף סימן רנ”ח).

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רנח סעיף יג

הגה: אם חשב בלבו ליתן איזה דבר לצדקה, חייב לקיים מחשבתו ואין צריך אמירה, אלא דאם אמר מחייבין אותו לקיים. (מרדכי פ”ק דקידושין ובפ”ק דב”ב ובהגהות ובמהרי”ק שורש קפ”ה /קס”א/ ומהר”ר פרץ ובהגהות סמ”ק ורא”ש פ”ק דתענית). וי”א דאם לא הוציא בפיו, אינו כלום. (הרא”ש כלל י”ג). והעיקר כסברא הראשונה, ועיין בחושן המשפט סימן רי”ב).

Whereas the Mechaber cites both opinions, the Rema holds unambiguously that a thought to give charity is binding.

Rav Kook zt”l was asked if a thought to give three dollars[1] to charity is binding. He replied that the thought to give tzedakkah is binding. He added that if a person thinks, “I will give tzedakkah,” without fixing on a particular sum, then the person should give whatever he normally gives to tzedakkah. The person is not obligated to give the largest sum that he could conceivable donate. In this case where the person specifically thought to give three dollars to tzedakkah, then that is what he must give, and not a penny more or less.

We then began to study the laws of התרת נדרים, the annulment of vows and oaths. We will study (bli neder) the subject in greater depth during the next shiurim but to describe it briefly, annulment is based on two factors known as פתח וחרטה.

פתח  can be understood as an unforeseen circumstance. When a person makes a נדר it is based on certain circumstances. For example, a person (let’s call her Jane) was told by her doctor that her cholesterol is too high. Therefore, she resolved never to eat pizza again. In order to strengthen her resolve she made a נדר forbidding pizza shops. Now she may no longer enter pizza shops at all and she is safe from temptation. One month later Jane’s best friend opens a pizzeria. Jane’s friend is constantly asking her to come into the pizza shop, just to sit down and have a diet soda , but Jane may not do so because of the נדר. This refusal offends her friend and may cause the end of their friendship. At wit’s end, Jane goes to her local Orthodox rabbi and asks what can be done. The rabbi asks Jane, if, when she made this neder could she have anticipated her friend opening a pizza shop. If Jane could  not anticipate this turn of events, then this unforeseen development is a “פתח” to annul the neder and Jane may now enter her friend’s pizza shop.

The other avenue for annulling vows is חרטה which means “regret.” In our example with Jane and her friend from the pizzeria, Jane might have become so annoyed by her friend’s nagging that in a moment of exasperation she may have made a נדר forbidding her to have any contact with the friend, ever again. A week may pass, and Jane will see a long list of unanswered phone calls from her friend. She will see that her friendship with the pizza-shop owner was a very important part of her life and will long to renew their contact. Jane will go to her local Orthodox rabbi and ask what is there to be done. The rabbi will ask Jane if she regrets ever having made the neder and Jane will answer, yes. The rabbi can then annul the vow based on Jane’s regret.

רבנו בחיי in his commentary to the Torah explains the idea of annulling vows and oaths. נדרים ושבועות  are often outlets for people’s anger and frustration. “I swear I’ll never (fill in the blank) again” is often said when a person is not thinking clearly and calmly. After the rage has passed and the person is rational again, he may regret having spoken so hastily. רבנו בחיי explains that when the person was in the grip of irrational range, he was quite simply not his usual self. He was a different person. After regaining his composure he looks back upon his anger and does not understand how he could have lost his self-control and how could he have made the neder.  This is what רבנו בחיי writes:

…ורצתה תורה לתקן עותתו של אדם שלפעמים מתגבר עליו כעסו ואין לו מעצור כלל וקופץ ונשבע בשם שיעשה כך או שלא יעשה כך, ועוד מוסיף ומרבה בשבועתו בשעת כעסו ואומר: בלא שום צד היתר וחרטה בעולם, ולאחר שיתישב ונהפך והיה לאיש אחר יתחרט מעקרו ותשתנה דעתו לדעת אחרת, ועם החרטה שיתחרט יש לו היתר על פי חכם וחוזר להיתרו הראשון…

The law of התרת נדרים  is Hashem’s way to allow a person to undo the damage done by unchecked emotion.

Rav Soloveitchik zt”l saw a connection between התרת נדרים and teshuvah. Teshuvah allows a person to escape punishment for his sins, but how can this be? Why is a person not held accountable for his transgressions? The Rav zt”l explained that we can see in התרת נדרים the principle which operates in teshuvah. It is the principle that that a person can change and that this change is acknowledged by God. The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuvah:

רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק ב


הלכה ד

מדרכי התשובה להיות השב צועק תמיד לפני השם בבכי ובתחנונים ועושה צדקה כפי כחו ומתרחק הרבה מן הדבר שחטא בו ומשנה שמו כלומר אני אחר ואיני אותו האיש שעשה אותן המעשים……

If a person sincerely regrets his ill-conceived actions he is a new person. He will not be held responsible by Hashem for his past mistakes.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


[1] Which was not a trivial sum in his time.

June 2, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 5
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June 16, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 6
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Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed two types of vows which do not need to be formally annulled in order to be considered non-binding. They are known as נדרי הבאי- nonsensical vows, and נדרי אונסין- vows made under compulsion.

Nonsensical vows are inherently non-binding because it is obvious that the person who made the vow did not say it with any serious intent. An example of a nonsensical vow is when a person would say, “Pizza is forbidden to me as a neder if I have not seen a camel with wings.” This neder was obviously made because the person wanted to get some extra intention from his listeners.

The Tosafot derive  an important Halacha from the Gemarah’s discussion of nonsensical vows.  As opposed to vows (נדרים) the Torah specifically prohibits making nonsensical oaths (שבועות):

שמות פרק כ

(ז) לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְיָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא אֶת שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא:

An example of a nonsense oath is when a person swears that he will not sleep for three consecutive days. This oath is impossible to fulfill so it is considered to be a nonsense statement. The person who makes this oath has violated the prohibition of שבועת שוא and is flogged for breaking this law, but he may immediately sleep since this oath lacks any validity. The Gemarah says that similarly should a person forbid himself to sleep  for three consecutive days via נדר he may sleep immediately.[1] The Tosafot learn from this passage that any נדר which is impossible to observe is נדר שוא and is inherently non-binding.

Rav Dovid Povarsky[2] zt”l ( the late head of the Ponovezh yeshiva) made an interesting observation regarding nonsense oaths and vows. Oaths (שבועות) are categorized as איסורי גברא  , that is to say they relate to the individual. Should a person swear that he will not sleep for the coming three days this is a statement that cannot be fulfilled because the subject of the oath is the individual and the individual cannot go without sleep for three days. Therefore this is a nonsensical oath.

נדרים  (vows) are different in this regard from oaths. Vows relate to objects, they change the Halachic status of objects.[3] The person who wishes to forbid himself via a vow from eating pizza would say, “Pizza is as forbidden to me as a sacrificial offering.” With this in mind, Rav Povarsky questions Tosafot’s ruling about vows which are impossible to observe. Why, asks Rav Povarski, are they considered nonsensical? When a person forbids himself from sleeping that is nonsense. The person who is the subject of the oath must sleep.  But when a person forbids sleep, there is nothing nonsensical about that statement. This vow only addresses sleep and the person needs to adjust his sleep habits accordingly. If he needs to sleep he can seek to have the vow annulled, but why is the vow considered nonsensical?

Rav Povarsky answered this question by referring to the Torah’s commandment regarding vows:

במדבר פרק ל

(ג) אִישׁ כִּי יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַייָ אוֹ הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה:

A vow is a statement which:

  1. a) cannot be violated, and
  2. b) must be fulfilled.

It follows, Rav Povarsky writes, that a vow which cannot be fulfilled is not a vow. When a person says a vow forbidding pizza to himself, it is within his ability to either violate or abide by his resolution so it meets the criteria for a valid נדר. That is to say  “לא יחל” and “ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה” are equally possible. In the Gemarah’s case when the person made a vow forbidding sleep for three consecutive days, there was no possibility of his meeting the demand of “ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה” ,his violating the precept of “לא יחל” was inevitable, and therefore the statement was not a נדר.

The next type of נדר  which we discussed was נדרי אונסין. There are  actually two categories of נדרי אונסין. One type of נדר אונסין is the case where an unforeseen disaster prevents a person from fulfilling his נדר. For example, if a person makes a נדר which obligates him to join a friend for dinner and then illness or flooding prevent him from attending the dinner he is not obligated to observe the נדר.

The second type of נדרי  אונסין is the vow (or oath ) made under duress. Over the course of our history we Jews have often been subjected to unjust taxation. If a person would need to make a false oath regarding his property in order to escape unjust seizure of his property he is permitted to do so. This ruling was the product of necessity and the result of the oppression and persecution which we suffered at the hands of our rulers. The Rema warns that even though it is permitted to engage in this sort of chicanery it is forbidden if this lying under oath would result in חילול ה’.

We learned at the end of the shiur a remarkable and shocking teshuva from Rav Yakov Emden zt”l.[4] It happened that a man once entered a synagogue and proceeded to light his pipe and to smoke during the service. One of the worshippers was very upset at the pipe-smoker’s disrespectful behavior and knocked the pipe to the ground. The smoker was incensed by this act and stabbed the other person to death.

The police came to investigate this crime and arrested the pipe-smoker and charged him with murder. The pipe-smoker proclaimed his innocence. The judge who heard the case told the pipe-smoker that if he is willing to swear that he is innocent then he will be acquitted.

The pipe-smoker asked his local rabbi if he may swear falsely to escape the death penalty. The rabbi told the pipe-smoker that he may do so, since such an oath is made under duress, and is not binding.

Rav Yakov Emden was horrified by this rabbi’s ruling. How can it be, Rav Yakov Emden asked, that we would advise a murderer to commit yet another grievous sin in order to escape punishment? Wherever the Shulcahn Aruch permitted a Jew to swear falsely it was in response to the unjust demand of a local ruler. However here the pipe-smoker committed murder and the death penalty with which he was threatened was entirely deserved. Rav Yakov Emden went on to say that it is possible that even if the murderer did teshuvah for this heinous crime, he would not be forgiven until he paid the price of being put to death for the act of murder. Advising a murderer to swear falsely in order to escape punishment is a perversion of the Halacha.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


[1]  There is no punishment of מלקות for a nonsense נדר because the Biblical prohibition is only for שבועת שוא.


  1. Yehoshua David b. R. Shalom Povarsky (Kostenovitz) was born in Lyuban, Russia in 5662 (1902). He studied under R. Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slotzk, and later in the yeshivot of Mir, Slobodka, Ponovezhe and Kelm. After his marriage, he studied in R. Elchanan Wasserman’s kolel in Baranovitch, and taught in R. Wasserman’s yeshiva. In 5701 (1941), he immigrated to Israel, where he taught in the Chabad yeshiva in Tel Aviv. In 5704 (1944), he became Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezhe, alongside its founder R. Kahaneman and R. Shmuel Rozovsky. He authored a series of commentaries on the Talmud, entitled Yeshuat David. His students also published his mussar lectures in several volumes, as well as his Talmudic lectures, in a series entitled, Shiuri R. David Povarsky on eleven masechtot. It was published in Bnei Brak starting from 5760 (2000), and included in the Responsa Project.

[3] How sleep which is intangible can be made to be the subject of an oath is a technical issue which we will not be addressing.


Rabbi Jacob ben Tzvi Emden was born in 1697 and died in 1776, in Germany. One of the outstanding rabbis of his generation, Emden studied under his father, who was also a noted halachic authority. Yavetz (an acronym for Jacob ben Tzvi) did not serve as a practicing rabbi, and he disseminated his views through the press. He was involved in several controversies, the most famous of which was his acrimonious dispute with Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz, whom he suspected of following Shabbetai Tzvi, the false messiah. Emden wrote commentaries on the Mishnah, Talmud, and the prayer book, a book entitled Mor U-Ketziah on the Tur as well as a book of responsa, She’elat Yavetz. Responsa Project contains both volumes of his responsa, based on the Lemberg 5644 (1884) printing, reprinted in Jerusalem 5731 (1971). It also contains his commentary on the Tur and Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim entitled Mor U-Ketziah, based on the revised edition by Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Bombach, Machon Yerushalayim 5756 (1996).

June 23, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 7
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Hello Everyone,

First of all, I wish to apologize for yesterday’s late start to the shiur. I do not understand why I had trouble logging on both via Chrome and via Firefox. Usually when one does not work the other one does. Be that as it may I truly appreciate the  patience you showed in waiting for my eventual entrance.

Yesterday we began a discussion of the Kol Nidrei “prayer.” I put the word prayer in quotations since on its surface Kol Nidrei is not a prayer. It is a declaration regarding the nullification of our vows. We do not make any overt requests of God  when we say Kol Nidrei.

Despite Kol Nidrei’s appearance  as a technical/legal declaration it captured the imagination of the Jewish people. It became the opening “prayer” of Yom Kippur. In  Ashkenai synagogues it is sung with a melody of haunting beauty. Kol Nidrei even made cinematic history. The first moving picture with sound was made in 1927. Its title was The Jazz Singer and it tells the story of the son of a famous חזן  who abandons Judaism to seek fame and fortune as a popular (=jazz) singer. The climax of the movie is when he is booked to perform on Yom Kippur eve. The son initially agrees to appear on Broadway and sing but then his father falls gravely ill. The son agrees to sing Kol Nidrei in place of his father and so makes his amends on Yom Kippur and his father dies a happy man.

The Kol Nidrei declaration was much discussed even in the Gaonic period. It was seized upon by anti-Semites as proof that the Jews are a devious people who cannot be trusted.

In yesterday’s much-abbreviated  shiur we began the discussion of Kol Nidrei. The Gemara in Nedarim says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדרים דף כג עמוד ב


והרוצה שלא יתקיימו נדריו כל השנה יעמוד בראש השנה ויאמר כל נדר שאני עתיד לידור יהא בטל

This Gemara introduces the idea of a Halachically valid disclaimer. A person can declare that any vow which he should make is null and void.

But is this passage from the Gemarah the source for the Kol Nidrei declaration? Until the time of Rabbeinu Tam the text of the Kol Nidrei declaration referred to vows made during the past year. The Kol Nidrei declaration said that the vows (and oaths) which we made over the course of the past year are null and void.

Rabbeinu Tam wrote a scathing critique of this text of Kol Nidrei. He pointed out the following fallacies in the Kol Nidrei declaration as it was said in Ashkenazic circles:

1) Vows can only be annulled before a panel of three judges

2) The person seeking annulment needs to express regret for the vow and to explain the reason for his or her regret

3) Vows can only be annulled individually, there is no option within the system of התרת נדרים for “bulk annulment.”

Kol Nidrei meets none of the requirements for a valid התרת נדרים. Therefore, in a bold move, Rabbeinu Tam changed the text in all the מחזורים in Ashkenaz, and decreed[1] that the Kol Nidrei declaration should be re-written so that it refers to vows which will be made in the coming year. Kol Nidrei would be a disclaimer (such as the one described in the Gemarah) and not a flawed type of התרת נדרים .

This is what we discussed yesterday. I sincerely hope that next week the shiur will begin on-time and proceed smoothly.

Thanks again for your cooperation, Stuart Fischman

[1] And Rabbeinu Tam’s authority was such that he was obeyed.

July 1, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 8
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Hello Everyone,

In today’s shiur we covered the subject of the Kol Nidrei “prayer” (for want of a better term).

Last week we began the discussion of this subject. We saw that there are two versions of the Kol Nidrei declaration. The “old” version of the Kol Nidrei declaration addressed vows and oaths  made during the past year. Rabbeinu Tam objected to this text. He said that the only method to “do away” with vows and oaths which one has already made is by asking a panel to annul them via the process of התרת נדרים. The Kol Nidrei declaration has none of the features of התרת נדרים. It is recited by all the members of the congregation and there is no description of the vows or oaths which we seek to annul. Similarly, whereas when we seek to annul a vow we need to explain why we wish to annul the vow in question but התרת נדרים is a fixed text and does not allow for the person to explain why he (or she) cannot fulfill the vow. For that matter, while the request for the annulment needs to be heard by a panel no one is listening to the person saying Kol Nidrei.

For all these reasons, Rabbeinu Tam changed the text of the Kol Nidrei. He ruled that Kol Nidrei should be said in the future tense.  Kol Nidrei is a disclaimer, by which we say that any vow or oath which we make during the coming year is null and void.

Rabbeinu Tam’s objections to the Kol Nidrei said in the past tense are certainly valid. So what defense could be made for saying Kol Nidrei in the past tense? We saw three answers:

  1. a) Rashi’s students wrote that vows are analogous to sacrifices in the time of the Temple. Even though Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, this forgiveness did not excuse a person who owed a sacrifice to the Temple. In our days Yom Kippur does not absolve a person from fulfilling vows which he made during the year. This being the case a person who is aware of a vow which has not been fulfilled must fulfill the vow even after Yom Kippur has passed. But what can a person do about vows which he has forgotten? He can’t seek an annulment since he does not remember it. Kol Nidrei addresses this issue. The Kol Nidrei declaration is an annulment for forgotten vows and oaths. The particulars of התרת נדרים which are missing from Kol Nidrei are irrelevant to forgotten vows. We start the Yom Kippur prayers with a declaration which will obtain for us forgiveness for a portion of our sins.
  2. b) We saw the Machazor  of Aleppo Community (ארם צובה). Their Machazor contains a text of Kol Nidrei which is based ( or at least resembles) the text of Rav Amram Gaon and the Nimukei Yosef. In this text of Kol Nidrei we explicitly ask Hashem to forgive us for our broken vows and oaths. This version of Kol Nidrei is a prayer for forgiveness and not the “public annulment” which Rabbeinu Tam saw.
  3. c) The Chassidic sage, תפארת שלמה , gives a Kabbalistic explanation for the Kol Nidrei prayer.  When we read the Siddur we see prayers for our personal needs (such as health and prosperity) and national needs (wise leaders, return to Israel and redemption). Kabbalists are uncomfortable with these “pedestrian” prayers. Kabbalists say that our sole concern should be what they describe as “the exile of the שכינה.”  When this condition will be rectified all other concerns will vanish. Not only have the Kabbalists composed special prayers for the שכינה they interpret the “standard” prayers in a mystical fashion.

The תפארת שלמה provides a Kabbalistic interpretation for Kol Nidrei. The Midrash says that Hashem made an oath that He will not “return to the Heavenly Jerusalem” until the earthly Jerusalem is restored. Kabbalists seek to create a state in which Hashem can “return to the Heavenly Jerusalem” even though the Jewish people are unworthy of returning to the earthly Jerusalem. The תפארת שלמה , being a Chassid and mystic, writes that our sole concern would be for the state of the שכינה . We need to do all we can to aid the שכינה. That is why we start the Yom Kippur prayer. It is not an annulment of our oaths, it is an annulment of Hashem’s oath. We annul the oath that Hashem made and are “permitting” Him to return to the Jerusalem of Heaven.

(Note: the notion of גלות השכינה is a profound mystery. The renowned נודע ביהודה was opposed to discussing it in public, and I have no grasp of it. I only brought it up today because it is a remarkable interpretation of the Kol Nidrei).

The custom of saying Kol Nidrei is firmly entrenched. The Ashkenaz custom is to say Rabbeinu Tam’s version which is the future tense. The Aruch Hashulchan points out that this “standardization” of the Kol Nidrei makes its recital pointless.

The reason for this is that the “pre-emptive annulment” of vows is only valid when a person forgets that he made the annulment when he said the vow. If a person makes a vow while aware of the annulment, this indicates that he is “annulling the annulment.” This being the case, the Aruch Hashulchan holds that since everybody is aware that he attended the services on Erev Yom Kippur and said Kol Nidrei no  one can claim that the vow was made without awareness of the annulment.

I want to thank everyone who asked about my son. Baruch Hashem he is home and feeling much better. Stuart Fischman

July 7, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 9
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Hello Everyone,

When we began the study of Hilchot Nedarim we saw that Chazal were opposed to people making vows.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדרים דף נט עמוד א

דאמר רבי נתן כל הנודר כאילו בנה במה והמקיימו כאילו מקטיר עליה

One of the few instances where Chazal approved of nedarim is where the person made the vow in order to strengthen his (or her) resolve in breaking a bad habit.

Yesterday we saw the opinions of the Poskim with regard to the annulment of such vows. If the person made a vow to stop gambling[1] but could not break this habit despite the vow, should a Beit Din annul the vow? One could say that the vow should be annulled because, at the very least, this will save the person from violating the prohibition of breaking a vow. On the other hand, one could say that by annulling the vow we are not only enabling the person to engage in this undesirable activity but we are actually sanctioning it. How can the Beit Din recite the words מותר לך, מותר לך, מותר לך about a gambling habit?

In the Talmud Yerushalmi we find this story:

תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת נדרים פרק ה


חד בר נש נדר דלא מרווחא אתא לגבי רבי יודן בר שלום אמר ליה ממאי אישתבעת אמר ליה דלא מרווחא. אמר ליה רבי יודן וכן בר נש עביד דילמא בקביוסטיסא אמר ברוך שבחר בתורה ובחכמים שאמרו צריך לפרוט את הנדר:

Rabbi Yudan refused to annul the vow made by someone to stop gambling. Based on this Gemara many prominent Rishonim (  Rabbeinu Tam, the Rashba and Rivash) refused to annul vows made by gamblers even though they said that they could not stop gambling and were violating their vows. These Rishonim had very harsh words for gamblers:


שו”ת הרשב”א חלק ז סימן ד


1 עוד נשאל מי שנשבע שלא ישחוק בקוביא לזמן ידוע ובא לישאל על נדרו ואומר שמתירא שמא יתקפנו יצרו ולא יוכל להעמיד עצמו ונמצא עושה שתים רעות שוחק ועובר על שבועתו:


תשובה מסתברא דאין נזקקין לו שחוק בקוביא עבירה היא ואין מתירין לו את הנדר לעבור ואם מפני שלא יכשילנו יצרו לעבור שבועתו ישביע את יצרו ואין אומרים לאלו שיזדקקו לעבירה קטנה כדי שלא יעשה הוא עבירה גדולה….

שו”ת הריב”ש סימן תלב

….ואפילו לרב ששת, דס”ל התם: דליכא אסמכתא בקוביא; מ”מ דבר מכוער ומתועב ומשוקץ הוא. ורבים חללים הפיל, ועצומים כל הרוגיו.

The exception to this strict approach is found in the ruling of רבינו טוביה quoted in the Mordechai:

מרדכי מסכת שבועות הגהות מרדכי פרק רביעי רמז תשפו- תשפז

ורבינו טוביה אומר דעתה בזמן הזה יש להתיר נדר של קוביא כי כמו שגגה הוא כי אינם יכולין להתאפק ולמשול ברוחם עכ”ל

One of the basic rules of Hilchot Nedarim is that a neder is valid only when the person who made it understood the circumstances of the neder correctly. When a person makes a neder to stop gambling he is operating with the assumption that the neder will stop him from gambling. If the neder fails to do so this shows that the man who made the neder over-estimated his ability to control  his behavior. It follows that this neder was made with an inadequate understanding of the situation and is in the category of נדרי שגגות (mistaken nedarim) and can be annulled.

The מחבר and the רמ”א disagree in Shulchan Aruch over the final ruling in this issue:

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן רכח סעיף טו

אין מתירין נדר של דבר איסור, אפילו אינו אלא איסור דרבנן, כגון לשחוק. ואם התירו נדר של שחוק, יש מתירין ויש אוסרים. הגה: ואם יש מכשול בנדר זה, כגון שיש לחוש שיעבור בלא התרה, מתירין לו לכתחלה

The Rema wrote a teshuvah on this subject and explains that he thinks that the early authorities who ruled that a gambler’s vow should not be annulled would now agree with רבנו טוביה:

שו”ת הרמ”א סימן קג

…גם יפה כתבת להביא ראיה מדברי ר’ טוביה, שכתב להתיר נדר של משחקי בקוביאות כדי שלא יבוא לידי מכשול, ולדעתי אין חולק עליו בזה לפי דורינו וענין דורו שכתב שיצרם תקפם ובקרוב יעבור. ומה שכתבו הראשונים שאין להתיר נדר של שחוק  היינו לדורם שהיה מעצור לרוחם והיו יכולים לכבוש יצרם. ואם הם היו כאנשים אנחנו כחמורים, ואין לדיין בזה אלא מה שעיניו רואות באיש הנודר….

The ש”ך  in his commentary to the Shulcahn Aruch distinguishes between two types of vows. If the vow made by the gambler was of the “penalty” type then that vow can be annulled. For example, if a gambler makes a vow stating that should he gamble he will stop eating ice-cream then this vow can be annulled because the court is not explicitly saying that it is permitted to gamble. However if a person would simply swear that he will never gamble again, the ש”ך  sees no basis for annulling this oath

ש”ך על שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן רכח סעיף טו

….משא”כ הכא שהנדר הוא דבר איסור והלכך אנו מתירים לו הנדר לשחוק בקוביא או לעשות איסור, וכה”ג אין לנו ראיה כלל שיהא מותר בדיעבד, וכן נראה בתשובת ר”א מזרחי סי’ נ’ דנדר של קוביא וכה”ג אין לו התרה אפילו בדיעבד:

At the end of the shiur we saw two contemporary teshuvot on this subject.

Rav Yitzchak Zilbershtein שליט”א was approached by a gambler who made a vow that every time he gambles he will give 10,000 NIS to charity. He gambled five times and consequently owed 50,000 to charity. He could not afford to pay this sum of money and asked to have the vow annulled.

Rav Zilbershtein looked at the two components of the vow. The vow is meant to stop his gambling habit and the vow contains a promise to give charity. Annulling the vow would not only sanction his gambling habit, it would also cancel his obligation to pay 50,000 NIS to charity.

With regard to the vow as it regards gambling, Rav Zilbershtein reviewed the literature and accepted the Ashkenzic rulings of רמ”א and גליון מהרש”א  who permit annulling the vow when the person cannot stop gambling.

With regard to the second component of the vow Rav Zilbershtein felt that this is more of a problem. Even though the person cannot stop gambling why should he not pay the debt to charity? He quotes the רדב”ז who held that vows to charity should never be annulled since by doing so the Beit Din is stealing from the poor. However the Rema holds that if there is a compelling need such vows can be annulled. Since the man in Rav Zilbershtein’s case did not have the 50,000 NIS that he owed to charity Rav Zilbershtein held that the vow could be annulled.

However Rav Zilbershtein wrote that the man must pay a not insignificant sum to charity. מהר”ם מינץ  would order people seeking annulments to fast and to give charity. מהר”ם מינץ did so to prevent people from making vows they could not keep on the assumption that annulments are easily attained. Therefore, in conclusion, Rav Zilbershtein annulled the vow and ordered the person to pay a lesser sum to charity.

Rav Chaim David Halevi zt”l was the Rav of Tel Aviv. He was asked by someone who resolved (without actually using the wordsנדר  or שבועה) to stop smoking if he could annul this resolution.

Rav Halevi refused to annul the resolution. He said that first of all it is forbidden to smoke because of the damage that it does to the smoker’s health. Second, even though the person did not use the words נדר or שבועה the resolution that he made carries the import of those words. The reason for this is that there is a rule known as “יד” in the laws of נדרים. “יד”  a difficult word for me to translate into English. The rule of יד says that we judge statements not just on the basis of the words that a person says but also on the basis of the context in which they are said. For example, if a man tells a woman, הרי את מקודשת לי” ” and then tells a second woman “ואת נמי” (“and you too”) if the second woman accepts the ring from the man she is married. The formal words that create marriage are, as we know, “הרי את מקודשת לי כדת משה וישראל” . The words “and you too” can mean anything. But we judge words in the context in which they are said, and since the person said “and you too” when he was in the process of marrying another woman we interpret his statement as meaning “and you too shall be married to me in accordance with the laws of Moshe and Israel.” This is the law of “.יד”

Rav Halevi felt that saying,”I will quit smoking” is a serious statement and is to be judged like any other נדר של מצוה based on the law of יד. Rav Halevi said that the preponderance of authorities hold that נדרי מצוה  cannot be annulled ( unlike the Rema) and that no Beit Din could ever say מותר לך מותר לך מותר לך to a smoker.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. I apologize for the inability to post the pages during the shiur. I have been assured that some of the technology industry’s finest minds have been alerted to this problem.

Stuart Fischman

[1] Most of the cases in the literature involve vows related to gambling.

1 א”ה היא באה בח”א סי’ תשנ”ו עד תיבת גדולה וכן הובאה בס”ס שבלי הלקט אך סיום התשובה איננה שם. וע’ לה”ה בתשו’ מהר”י מברונא סי’ קס”ה.

[S1]Such as Rivash and Rashba

July 14, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 10
Class description

לע”נ ברוך צבי בן ישראל ז”ל

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied one of the more exotic forms that a neder can take, חרם (excommunication).

חרם  can be imposed by the community for various offenses. In yesterday’s shiur we focused on the imposition of  חרם as a punishment for people who sin flagrantly. The Shulchan Aruch writes:

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נידוי וחרם סימן שלד


סעיף א

העובר על דבר איסור, מנדין אותו לאלתר. הגה: אבל מכח ממון, אין מנדין אותו, עד שיתרו בו ג’ פעמים, דהיינו ב’ ה’ ב’ (טור) מן הבית דין, כמו שיתבאר בח”מ סימן י”א. ואין נדוי פחות משלשים יום; ואם אינו חוזר בו, שונים לנדותו לאחר שלשים יום. ואם אינו חוזר בו, ממתינים לו עוד שלשים ומחרימין אותו. אפילו פגע הרגל בתוך שלשים יום, אינו מבטל אותו. בד”א דנידוי שלשים יום, בנידוי דידהו, אבל נידוי דידן כנזיפה דידהו, שהיא ז’ ימים; ונזיפה דידן, חד יומא. הגה: ומנדין למי שהוא חייב נידוי, ואפילו יש לחוש שעל ידי כן יצא לתרבות רעה, אין לחוש בכך (פסקי מהרא”י סימן קל”ח).

חרם is used to exclude people who spread dangerous ideas from the community. We studied two examples of this sort of excommunication; the חרם  of the Rashba against the study of Greek philosophy and the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza.

The Rashba was the leader of Spanish Jewry in the 13th century. During his time there was a movement to transform Judaism from a religion based on the performance of mitzvoth into a religion based on philosophical/theological contemplation. The leaders of this movement based their program on passages from the Rambam’s   מורה הנבוכים. In order to stem this rebellion the Rashba issued a series of bans. He forbade (for a period of 50 years) the study of Greek philosophy by anyone beneath the age of 25. He also issued a ban on possessing books which teach heretical ideas and excommunicated anyone who violated these prohibitions. I do not know how effective the Rashba’s bans were. They were opposed by the Rabbis of Southern France where this movement had the most adherents. In any event this philosophical movement did eventually peter out. This was because of various political ( the expulsion of the Jews from Southern France and eventually Spain as well) and cultural ( the rise of Kabbalistic teachings) reasons.

Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated by the community of Amsterdam for teaching heretical ideas. While this חרם may have had the desired effect in its time of stopping people from being led astray by Spinoza’s teachings, over the course of history it has given Spinoza the status of a martyr ( somewhat similar to the reputation enjoyed by Galileo). In the middle of the twentieth century there was call by several prominent people (including Ben-Gurion) to retract the excommunication of Spinoza. These people (secular Jews for the most part) felt that it is a sign of shame that the Jewish people officially distance themselves from one of the foremost philosophers of the modern era.

I mentioned during the shiur that the French philosopher Emmnauel Levinas wrote an essay defending Spinoza’s excommunication. For all that Spinoza achieved great things as a secular philosopher he betrayed Judaism. The essay can be found in the English translation of his essays which is titled Difficult Freedom.

Rav Herzog zt”l wrote that because Spinoza is dead the prohibition of having any contact with him is no longer in force; therefore there is no point in annulling the חרם. Rav Herzog did acknowledge that if the original excommunication would have included those who read his books there would be a need to examine this issue. However, the text of the חרם does not excommunicate the readers of his books. Since his books are heretical they may not be read in any event, but those who do read his books are not excommunicated.

At the end of the shiur we studied a מחלוקת  between the Rema and the Taz. The Rema holds like the תרומת הדשן  in that when there is a need to excommunicate someone we do so, even if the excommunication may lead to the person abandoning Judaism altogether. The Taz (author of a standard commentary to שלחן ערוך) disagrees strongly with this approach. The Taz asks, if we are so concerned with the violation of the Halacha that we are willing to go ahead and issue a חרם how can we not be concerned with the potential apostasy of the person being excommunicated?

The objection of the Taz to the use of  חרם was of course duly noted and this disagreement is relevant in our time as we witness debates within the Jewish community about the subject of “Open Orthodoxy.”

The פתחי תשובה  sums up the debate with these words of the Radbaz:

פתחי תשובה יורה דעה סימן שלד ס”ק א

…צריך למנהיג הדור להיות מתון בדברים כאלה לפי שאין כל האנשים שוים ולא כל העבירות שוות ויהיו כל מעשיו לשם שמים ע”ש.

July 21, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 11
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday was our final shiur in the Laws of Vows series and we completed the discussion of the institution of excommunication.

We saw last week that excommunication was a tool for punishing the recalcitrant or for isolating people whose ideas are dangerous. Yesterday we saw that חרם could be used to enforce decrees of injunctions of the rabbinate.

Shortly after the Holocaust, one of the leading Halachic authorities in Israel, Rav Meshullam Rath zt”l, was asked if a חרם should be decreed forbidding travel to Germany.

Rav Meshuulam Rath replied that this would be a bad idea for two reasons.

First, he explained that no rabbinic body has the authority to legislate for the entire Jewish people. The Talmudic era was the final time in Jewish history that the rulings of any institution (in this case the Yeshivot of Babylon) were binding on Jews everywhere. This was the view of medieval authorities such as the רמב”ם , רא”ש וריב”ש. Following the end of the Talmudic period, rabbis could issue decrees only for the areas where they served. This state of affairs will change with the coming of the Messiah and the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin.

The second reason for not issuing such a ban is that it would not be practical. Rav Rath wrote that certainly no Jew with any sort of conscience would ever willingly travel to Germany. However there are Jews who have legitimate reasons for travelling there. For example, refugees need to travel back to Germany in order to reclaim lost property. There is a rule in the Gemarah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף לו עמוד א

אין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אא”כ רוב צבור יכולין לעמוד בה

Before any rabbinic body issues a decree the rabbis need to study the issue and ascertain if the community is capable of observing it. Rav Rath felt that a decree forbidding Jews from travelling to Germany could not be observed. Jews who need to travel to Germany will do so despite a rabbinic ban. The violation of the ban will lead to ridicule of the ban and of the rabbis who issued it.

Rav Rath, in his discussion of rabbinic authority mentioned the bans pronounced by Rabbeinu Gershom. Rabbeinu Gershom was a 10th century scholar whose authority and reputation were so great that he was known as “The Light of the Diaspora” (מאור הגולה). Rabbeinu Gershom issued many decrees, the most famous of which were his prohibition of men taking two wives and the prohibition of reading other people’s correspondence. Both of these prohibitions were accompanied by the threat of excommunication. They are known as חרם רבינו גרשם. Rav Rath pointed out that despite Rabbeinu Gershom, Sephardic Jews did not accept his prohibition against having multiple wives. Rav Rath said it follows that no rabbi or body of rabbis can decree prohibitions for the entire Jewish people.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiurim. Have a pleasant summer. Stuart Fischman

September 1, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 12
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied the laws of התרת נדרים- the annulment of vows. We learned in the previous זמן that vows can be annulled on the basis of one of two causes. One reason for annulment is חרטה –regret. A person can forbid something to himself and then realize he honestly cannot live without whatever it was that he forbade to himself. The other basis for annulment is פתח- an unforeseen circumstance may make the observance of the prohibition burdensome.

How does one obtain an annulment? Annulments can be granted either by a solitary scholar who is well-versed in הלכות נדרים or to a panel of three laymen who have a rudimentary knowledge of הלכות נדרים and are sufficiently intelligent so that when they are taught halachot they understand them. The Shulchan Aruch rules that there are no longer any scholars who are qualified to annul vows on their own. Therefore vows can only be annulled by panels of three members.

Even though panels with three members resemble courts, התרת נדרים is not a judicial procedure. It can be done at night, the members of the panel may be related to each other, and annulments may be carried out on Shabbat.

The person who seeks the annulment must inform the panel of the content of the נדר and his reason for seeking an annulment. It is sufficient however for the person seeking the annulment to explain the נדר to only one member of the panel.

On the morning of ערב ראש השנה it is customary for everyone to perform התרת נדרים. The התרת נדרים of ערב ראשונה differs from the התרת נדרים that I just described in that the התרת נדרים of ערב ראש השנה  is “standardized.” On ערב ראש השנה everyone reads the same text from the מחזור and this text makes specific mention of the fact that the person seeking annulment of his vows is not describing the vows to be annulled. Since the panel on ערב ראש השנה is not informed about the content of the vows, how can this annulment be effective?

Rav Moshe Shternbuch שליט”א [1] explains that the התרת נדרים of ערב ראש השנה is effective only to annul the נדר status of customs which we may have adopted. The Halacha is that when a person adopts a good practice ( e.g. attending a Daf Yomi class every morning) this practice acquires the status of a נדר. Should the person stop attending the class not only is this ביטול תורה but it is also a violation of a vow. According to Rav Shternbuch  if a person knows of a specific vow that he made then he must explain it to the panel in order to have it annulled. But the התרת נדרים of ערב הראש השנה is only meant to annul “customs” and they do not need to be enumerated before the panel since their status as vows is Rabbinic.

The התרת נדרים of ערב ראש השנה  is followed by the a “disclaimer” (“מסירת מודעה”). The person making the disclaimer declares that he hereby nullifies any נדרים  that he may make.

There is a debate among the Poskim if we can rely upon this disclaimer should we make a נדר.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות נדרים סימן ריא

סעיף ב

מי שהתנה ואמר: כל נדרי שאדור עד זמן פלוני יהיו בטלים, ונדר בתוך הזמן, אם הוא זוכר לתנאו בשעת הנדר, נדרו קיים שהרי מבטל תנאו בשעה שנודר; ואם אינו זוכר לתנאו בשעת הנדר, התנאי קיים והנדר בטל. ויש אומרים שאין התנאי מועיל לבטל הנדר, אלא אם כן יזכרנו תוך כדי דיבור לנדר ויאמר בלבו שהוא סומך על התנאי, ויש לחוש לדבריהם.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l was presented with the following question. There was a man was hospitalized in Hadassah Hospital. This patient had the custom of only eating food whose kashrut was certified by the reportedly stringent Badatz of Jerusalem. The Hadassah Hospital’s kashrut is supervised by the Rabbinate of Jerusalem, and the patient simply would not eat the hospital’s food. The rabbi of the hospital begged the patient to do התרת נדרים so that he could eat and regain his health but the man refused to do so. The hospital rabbi turned to Rav Ovadiah Yosef for guidance.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef explained to the patient that his practice of insisting upon a more stringent level of kashrut is praiseworthy. However this practice lacks the status of an actual נדר since he never accepted the practice with a formal נדר. Rather this practice is a “good custom” which is a Rabbinic-level נדר. This being the case the disclaimer that this gentleman doubtlessly recited on  ערב ראש השנה negates the נדר status of the custom and he therefore may eat from the hospital’s food. As soon as he recovers he can return to his former practice of eating only Badatz-certified food.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman

[1] תשובות והנהגות כרך א סימן שלז

September 8, 2015 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Laws of Vows: Lesson 13
Class description

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.