Thursday, 30 July 2015

Nedarim 68: One Na'ara, One Father, One Husband, Two Olives

Again, the rabbis consider the specific rules that apply to nullification of the vows of a na'ara, a young woman who has shown signs of puberty and has been betrothed.  Must her husband and her father both nullify her vows for those vows to become ineffectual?  Will she be flogged for doing something that has been forbidden to her because she believes the vow nullified when only her father or only her husband has nullified that vow?  Or will she be only punished as transgressing a prohibition, which does not require flogging as its consequence?

And the larger question: why would the rabbis spend so much time and attention to the nullification of these specific vows?  My guess is that while these particular situations might have been rare, the determination of who held authority over a na'ara was frequently required.  Who owns this young woman?  Or in more genteel terms, who has legal authority over this young woman?

The Gemara considers the death of the betrothed or the father before the completion of their nullifications/ratifications of a young woman's vows.  They consider the importance of the concept of a partnership between the husband and the father.  Twice we learn that if a betrothed man ratified the vow and then died that day - or if he heard the vow and remained silent and then died the following day, the father cannot nullify the vow on his own.  Similarly, if the father died after his daughter was betrothed and he and the betrothed man heard her vow -- and the betrothed nullified it but the father said nothing -- the vow cannot be nullified.  IT is as if there are two portions of the vow, and both portions - the father's and the husband's - must be nullified together.    However, if the betrothed man dies, future vows can be nullified by the father.

One question I find fascinating is based on the example of a vow regarding two olives.  If a na'ara vows not to derive benefit from two olives and her husband nullifies her vow, may she eat one of the olives?  The rabbis question whether the nullification of her vow by one of these men severs or only weakens her vow.  But how is eating one of two olives actually breaking one half of her vow?  Perhaps she would raise both olives and touch them to her mouth - might that be breaking one half of her vow?  Or perhaps she could prepare both olives for eating; place them on a plate with a fork and knife ready to go.  Might that be a better example of breaking one half of her vow?

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