Nedarim, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four
This mishnah deals with cases where it is unclear whether the person vowing used something which can be dedicated to the Temple in the vow formula, in which case the vow is binding, or whether he used something else, in which case the vow is not binding.
1) Unspecified vows are interpreted strictly, but if specified [they are interpreted] leniently.
2) If one says, Behold! This is to me as salted meat; or As wine of libation
a) If he vowed by that which is to Heaven, his vow is valid.
b) If by that which is idolatrous, his vow is invalid.
c) And if it was unspecified, his vow is valid.
3) [If he says], Behold! This is to me as herem
a) If as a herem to Heaven, his vow is valid;
b) If as a herem to the priests, his vow is invalid.
c) If it was unspecified, his vow is valid.
4) Behold! This is to me as a tithe
a) If he vowed, as tithes of beasts, his vow is valid.
b) If as grain tithes, his vow is invalid.
c) If unspecified, his vow is valid.
5) Behold! This is to me as terumah
a) If he vowed, as the terumah of the Temple-chamber, his vow is valid.
b) If as the terumah of the threshing-floor, his vow is invalid.
c) If unspecified, his vow is valid.
i) The words of Rabbi Meir.
6) Rabbi Judah says: An unspecified reference to terumah in Judea is a valid vow, but not in Galilee, because the Galileans are unfamiliar with the terumah of the Temple-chamber.
a) Unspecified references to haramim in Judea are not binding but in Galilee they are, because the Galileans are unfamiliar with priestly haramim.
Section one: This is an introductory rule which will guide the entire mishnah. If a person takes a vow and he himself is unclear what his intention was, whether it was to make a valid or invalid vow, we rule strictly and the vow is valid. However, if he states that his intention was to make an invalid vow, the vow is ruled invalid.
The mishnah now lists several examples where it is unclear whether he made a valid vow by referring to something that may be donated to the Temple, or whether he referred to something which may not be donated to the Temple.
Section two: The first example is where a person says that a certain thing should either be to him like salted meat or wine of libation. Either could refer to something which could be put onto the altar. Salted meat could refer to a sacrifice and wine could refer to one of the libations offered at the Temple altar. Therefore, if his intention was to refer to something which was for Heaven, i.e. for the Temple, then his vow is valid. However, if his intention was that the object should be prohibited to him as is meat sacrificed for idols or wine offered to idols, his vow is invalid. As we have learned before, using a prohibited item in the vow formula does not make a vow work. If he didnt know what his intention was, then the vow is ruled valid.
Section three: A herem can either refer to an offering in the Temple, or it can refer to things that are given to the priests (see Numbers 18:14). If his intention was the former, the vow is valid, if the latter his vow is invalid. The reason is that once the herem was given to the priest, it is no longer forbidden for general consumption. Again, if he is unsure, the rule is strict.
Section four: There are several kinds of tithes. When a person vows that something should be like tithe to him, it could refer to animal tithes. If so, his vow is valid for animal tithes are sacrificed on the altar. However, if he refers to grain tithes, his vow is not valid, for anyone may eat grain tithes and they are not sacrificed but rather given to Levites.
Section five: There are several kinds of terumah. If he refers to terumah of the Temple-chamber his vow is invalid, for these were donations used to buy sacrifices. However, if he refers to the regular terumah given to priests, his vow is invalid, for this terumah is not offered to the Temple, but rather is for priests and forbidden to non-priests.
Section six: The previous section was according to Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Judah says that there are regional differences in our interpretation of vows. If he makes an unspecified vow using terumah, in Judea he may be referring to terumah of the Temple-chamber, and therefore his vow is valid. However, those of the Galilee, who live further away from the Temple, would not know as much about terumah of the Temple-chamber and hence we can assume that they were referring to the terumah given to priests.
Similarly, unspecified vows using herem are interpreted leniently in Judea because they may refer to the herem of the priests, for many priests lived in Judea. In contrast, in the Galilee, herem would more typically refer to a sacrifice and therefore the vow is valid.
We see here that Rabbi Judah assumes that the interpretation of the vow depends on the commonly used language of the one who vows. Since commonly used language will depend on geographical origin, it too must be taken into account.