כ״ד בתמוז ה׳תשע״ה (July 11, 2015)

Nedarim 48a-b: The Loophole

The Mishna on our daf shows sensitivity to the fact that a neder forbidding one person to derive benefit from another is potentially dangerous. What if that person has nothing to eat? How can his friend, who at one time took a vow, assist him in his moment of need? The Mishna suggests a type of legal fiction: he can give a third party food to eat with the tacit understanding that it will be transferred to the person who is suffering from hunger.

Although the language of the Mishna appears to grant broad powers that allow a person to avoid fulfilling his oath in times of need, the Gemara understands that the continuation of the Mishna, which tells a story about a wedding party in Beit Horon, effectively limits this loophole to situations where the trickery is not obvious. The Mishna discusses a person in Beit Horon whose father had taken an oath not to derive any benefit from him. When he was preparing a wedding feast for his son, he turned to his friend and told him that he was turning over the entire feast to him, with the understanding that now his father could be invited. The man was taken aback by this request, and indicated that he wanted no part of such chicanery.

di map of beit horonBeit Horon, where this story took place, is in the northern area of the Tribe of Judah and is divided into two sister cities – Beit Horon Elyon (upper) and Beit Horon Tahton (lower). These cities are already mentioned in the Bible, and their proximity to the main road to Jerusalem led to a number of historic battles being fought nearby – for example, Judah Maccabee’s victory during the Great Revolt. In ancient settlements like these, where the Jewish community was reestablished during the Second Temple period, there was usually great sensitivity to Jewish law and tradition, as we see illustrated in this story.

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