ל׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ה (June 17, 2015)

Nedarim 24a-b: Vows of Exaggeration

We learned previously on daf 21 that there are four types of vows that are not seen as taking effect at all. One example was nidrei havai – vows of exaggeration. The Mishna on our daf offers two examples of nidrei havai:

  • Saying, “If I did not see on this road as many people as those who ascended from Egypt.”
  • Saying, “If I did not see a snake as large as the beam of an olive press.”

One approach to these cases is that they are two examples of expressions that are hyperbole to demonstrate a point, and are understood not to be taken literally. According to this approach, Tosafot explain that such utterances will only be considered to be nidrei havai if the person actually did see something that he then refers to in an exaggerated manner. If, however, he did not see anything, the neder will be considered to be a full, proper vow. This explanation helps us understand why the Gemara does not bring a case that is discussed in Massekhet Shevuot – that if a person claims to have seen a flying camel it is considered to be a shevu’at shav, or an oath taken for no purpose. Since such a case is impossible, it would not be classified as nidrei havai.

Another approach is presented by the Ran, who understands that the two cases presented by the Gemara are actually two separate rules. One is the case of an exaggeration, but the second – as is explained by the Gemara – is a total falsehood. Nevertheless, the Gemara also refers to this case as nidrei havai.

This image was taken from the Hebrew edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, page 108.

The case of an olive press pole is where one end of a large, heavy pole is placed in a hole in a wall above a basket of olives and weighted down on the other side in such a way that it presses down on them. The olive oil that is squeezed out is collected in a hole in the ground or in special utensils prepared for it.

The image of an olive press pole was taken from the Hebrew edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, page 108.

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