Saturday, 25 July 2015

Nedarim 63: Helping Us to Limit Our Vows

The Rabbis actually tell us when rain is going to fall.  Not just the month but the actual dates of the rainfall.  This information is not used as prediction, however - it is used to suggest when vows should expire if one has vowed "until the rainfall".  The rabbis have set up a system to ensure that vows end at reasonable times, even if the rain does not cooperate.

A new Mishna teaches us about unusual years.  If a person makes a vow that ends at the end of the year and it is a leap-year,  the second month of Adar is included in his/her vow.  If that person specifies Adar, then vows end at the end of the first month of Adar.  Again we learn that the rabbis demand specificity when we are making vows.

A note teaches us about the intercalation of the Jewish calendar.  Elements of the solar and lunar calendar are combined to ensure that the Festivals fall at their intended times of year.  It seems that before the fourth century, when the calendar was set, the Sanhedrin would meet and set the calendar each year based on their observations of the calendar, the harvests, and the needs of the community.  It is hard to imagine the debate that would be required to evaluate that data and then accurately set the calendar.  Another indication of the genius of our rabbis.

Another new Mishna clarifies a number of limitations on vows:

  • wine is konam until Pesach means until the eve of Pesach
  • meat is konam until Yom Kippur means until the last meal before Yom Kippur
  • garlic is konam until Shabbat means until erev Shabbat
  • if one refuses to benefit from another unless he accepts a gift, the vow can be dissolved by referring to one's honour
  • if one refuses to benefit from another unless he gives a gift, the vow can be dissolved by saying that the gift has already been received
  • if one vows that a woman cannot benefit from him forever because he is avoiding pressure to marry her, she is able to benefit from him in some ways
  • if one vows that eating or drinking cold water is konam when being invited into one's home, the vow is limited to meals; snacks and drinks are permitted
In these instances we wee that the rabbis are attempting to help us limit our vows.  Even when our intentions are good, we might overshoot.  We are offered opportunities to turn back.  As well, the rabbis assume that we are intending to eat are regular times in regular ways when we make vows to deprive ourselves from food or drink.  They do not wish for us to sacrifice ourselves, but to keep our promises.

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