ד׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ג (November 18, 2012)

Shabbat 46a-b: Dissolving Vows on Shabbat

Still in the midst of its discussion of the laws of muktzeh – the rabbinic prohibition against moving objects that were “set aside” as being unusable on Shabbat – the Gemara on today’s daf raises a question based on a Mishna from Massekhet Nedarim:

One may nullify vows on Shabbat. A woman who vowed that certain food is prohibited to her, her husband can nullify her vow on Shabbat. And likewise one may request that a Sage find an opening to dissolve his vows, i.e., a factor that the one taking the vow failed to take into account or an element of regret, if that nullification or dissolution is for the purpose of Shabbat. The question arises: And why, after a man has nullified his wife’s vow, should she be permitted to eat that food? When the woman vowed not to eat that food, she consciously set it aside. Even if some way to dissolve the vow is found, the food should remain set-aside. On the basis of the same uncertainty that was raised above, say: Who says that her husband will agree to engage in nullifying her oath? Perhaps he will refuse to nullify it.

The Gemara answers:

There, in the case of vows, it can be explained in accordance with that which Rav Pineḥas said in the name of Rava, who came to explain some of the fundamentals of the halakhot of vows, as Rav Pineḥas said in the name of Rava: Every woman who takes a vow, it is from the outset contingent on her husband’s consent that she takes the vow. Since she knows that her husband has the ability to nullify it, her vows are not absolute and their final validation comes only through her husband’s agreement. When a woman vows, she does not set aside the food absolutely from potential use.

The halakhot of vows and their nullification are articulated in the Torah (Bamidbar, Chapter 30), and the entire tractate of Nedarim is devoted to those halakhot. By Torah law, a husband may nullify his wife’s vows on the day that he hears them. The Gemara explains that this applies only to those vows that affect her husband in some way. Since the verse itself states: “Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may let it stand, or her husband may make it void” (Numbers 30:14), the statement of Rav Pineḥas is readily understood. From the time she takes the vow, she is aware that it is contingent upon her husband’s consent.

In Tractate Nedarim, it is explained at length that one may dissolve a vow that he made by consulting with a Sage. There are several reasons that a Sage would agree to dissolve a vow. The simplest reason is if the one who took the vow realizes afterward that it is difficult for him to fulfill it, and, therefore, he regrets taking the vow. Since regret is a valid reason to dissolve the vow, in exigent circumstances,

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