Nedarim, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five



This mishnah deals with a person who makes a vow using language that would normally be valid for a vow, and then subsequently claims that he had an intention which would make the vow invalid. Most of these cases involve puns.  In order to emphasize the puns, which are of course in Hebrew, I have transliterated many of the words.   


Mishnah Five

1)                     If one vows by herem, and says, “I vowed only by a herem (a net) of the sea”;

2)                     [If he says] “By a korban”, and then says, “I vowed only by korbanot (gifts) of kings”;

3)                     [If he says] “Behold! I myself (atzmi) am a korban”, and then says, “I vowed only by the etzem (bone) which I keep for the purpose of vowing”; 

4)                     [If he says,] “Konam be any benefit my wife has from me”, and then says, “I spoke only of my first wife, whom I have divorced”—

5)                     Regarding none of these [vows] should they inquire [of a sage in order to break them], but if they inquire about them, they are punished and treated strictly, the words of Rabbi Meir.

a)                                           But the Sages say: they are given an opening on other grounds, in order that they should not act lightly with vows.



Section one:  “Herem” can either refer to a type of vow, or to a fishing net.  Obviously, if his intention was to the latter, then his vow is not valid.

Section two:  The word “korban” usually means sacrifice, but it could mean gifts given to kings.

Section three:  Saying “I am a korban” is a way of obligating oneself to pay one’s worth to the Temple.  The Torah lists how much each person is worth (see Leviticus 27).  Therefore, saying “I am a korban” is a vow.  However, one cannot vow with by using a bone, the same word as “I myself”.

Section four:  Usually when a husband refers to his wife, he refers to a wife to whom he is currently married.  However, the word “wife” could refer to his previous wife.

Section five:  The mishnah now provides the rule in all of these cases.  All of these vows are not valid, for the person claims that his intention was not to make a vow.  As we learned in yesterday’s mishnah, if a person vows and then explains that his intention was not to make a valid vow, his vow is not valid.  Therefore, the person should not approach a sage to ask the sage to absolve him of his vow.  However, if he nevertheless does approach the sage, Rabbi Meir says he should be punished and not absolved of his vow.  This is because his very asking shows that he is an ignoramus, and Rabbi Meir holds that ignoramuses should not be allowed to get out of vows, so that they will not make more vows in the future.

The Sages hold that the sage who is approached to dissolve the vow should find other grounds to dissolve the vow, for the Sages hold that such a vow is actually valid.  Since the likelihood is that the person intended the vow to be valid, his claim that he intended something else is not accepted.  If the sage wishes to dissolve the vow he can only do so on other grounds, the same way that he dissolves all vows.  Furthermore, we teach him not to make frivolous vows, however he is not punished as Rabbi Meir says.