Thursday, 25 June 2015

Nedarim 33: The Limitations of a Vow (One Will Not Benefit From Another)

The rabbis continue to debate how we understand 'benefit' when we vow not to benefit from another person (or their food, for example).  Where do we limit that benefit?  Can we borrow a utensil? A nose ring or a finger ring?  Can we walk on their land?  Or do we simply avoid being in their presence in public places?  

Two very short Mishnayot and their commentaries continue this line of questioning.  One Mishna asks about paying the annual half-shekel to the Temple on their behalf.  Can we pay their debts or lend them money?  What is considered to be 'benefitting' from someone?

Amud (b) examines the repayment of loans.  Must such a loan be repaid in this circumstance of vowing not to benefit from another person?  The rabbis quote Chanan, who ruled that a husband whose wife was supported by another man when the husband went overseas need not repay that man. Without a contract, there is no need to repay that debt.  However, the wife could have asked to borrow money.  In that case, the husband would be responsible for that loan when he returned.  The High Priests* argued that the man lending money to the wife should take an oath on how much he spent and that that amount should be repaid by the husband on his return.

On a side note, nose rings must have been ubiquitous - why else would they be lent and borrowed with ease?  Did they denote status, or fashion sense, or physical power, for example?  How were they used and why were such personal items shared?  

* We learn in a note that the High Priests were, at the time of the Second Temple, appointed from among several prominent families, sometimes through bribes.  In earlier times the High Priest was chosen according to inheritance.

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