Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nedarim 66 – I will not marry this girl!

Initially the rule was that if a part of a vow is annulled, one still has to fulfill the rest of it. Let's say someone vowed against drinking wine, or eating meat. They tell him, did you realize that on Shabbat and Yom Tov one is not supposed to deprive himself? He says, “Had I known that, I would never have vowed” - and he can drink on Shabbat.

However, Rabbi Akiva extended this: once is permitted to drink on Shabbat, he is also permitted to drink on other days, the vow is void. How did Rabbi Akiva derive that? – From the phrase, “The full vow that you pronounce you should fulfill.” The other side of this is: once you don't have the “full vow” obligatory on you, you don't even have a part.

If one says, “I am not marrying this girl because she is ugly” and she turns out to be beautiful, his vow is annulled, because it was a mistake. We assume that he just did not see her beauty at first.

Rabbi Ishmael takes this further: even if she was ugly and was made beautiful - so that this is something unforeseen, not something that he did not realized - his vow can still be annulled. Once a man vowed that he will not marry his niece because she was ugly (she had a bad-looking false tooth). Rabbi Ishmael paid the dentist to fix it, provided beautiful clothes to her, and then asked the man, “Is it this one that you vowed against?” The man said, “Had I known that she will be so beautiful, I would never have taken the vow!” Rabbi Ishmael cried and said, “All daughters of Israel are beautiful, it is only poverty that makes them sometimes homely.”

Art: Company drinking tea and wine in an inn by Heroman Van Der Mijn

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nedarim 65 – How to cancel (annul) a vow

One may want to annul a vow which he took hastily and which causes him inconvenience. Or, one may realize that a vow is not a good thing to do. In either case, he should go to a Sage and petition for his vow to be annulled.

The Sage will ask about the circumstances. If it transpires that the man who made the vow did not realize some special circumstance that existed when he made the vow, and had he known about it, he would never have made the vow, the vow is considered a mistake from the beginning, and the Sage annuls it.

For example, a man came to Rabbi Akiva and said that he made a vow against his wife, so that she should not be able to benefit from him. Since he is obligated to give her benefits, in order not to transgress now he had to divorce her. Rabbi Akiva told him that: “Divorce and pay the full amount of the Ketubah.” The Ketubah was 4,000 dinars. The man then said, “I inherited 8,000 dinars from my father, and half of it went to my brother. Of the remaining 4,000, couldn't my wife take half and I – also half?” But Rabbi Akiva told him that he would have to pay it all, even if he has to sell his hair. The man then said, “Had I known about this, I would never have vowed!” And this was exactly what is required for his vow to be annulled.

Art: Portrait Of The Artists Wife by Kazimir Severinovich Malevich

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nedarim 59 – Vows are bad

In trying to answer the question about an onion – whether new growth in it removes the prohibitions of the old one – the Talmud compares it to tithes, to Kohen's portion (terumah) and finally to our original ruling about vows that one takes against a fruit. In this last case, all that grows from a fruit was forbidden, which must prove that new growth does not nullify the old one.

However, even this proof does not stand. Vows are different, because they are inherently bad, and no regular laws can be derived from them. Why are vows bad? – Just like Rabbi Nathan said – one who makes a vow is like one who builds a private altar for sacrifices (which is now forbidden, there should be only one Altar in Jerusalem), and one who fulfilled his vow is as if he brought a sacrifice on this altar.

To explain, one who builds a private altar probably thinks that he does a mitzvah by worshiping in this manner. And one who makes a vow also thinks that he did a great thing by creating another prohibition for himself. In truth, the argument should be just the opposite: there are enough prohibitions already, and one should not create more.

Art: Still Life: Fruit by Gustave Courbet

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nedarim 58 – The question of an onion

Rabbi Ishmael from a village by the sea asked a question about an onion, and some say that he brought an actual onion. This onion was picked up in a Shmita year, and thus was prohibited to trade, to keep after there were no more such onions in the fields, and so on. However, it was replanted in the next year, experienced significant growth, and now the question is: does this new permitted growth nullify the prohibitions of the base onion, or does the new growth itself have the limitations of the Shmita produce.

The reason that Rabbi Ishmael asked about the complete onion and not about just the new growth is this: the answer to this question would automatically give him the answer about the new growth. So he preferred to ask one question that combined the two.

The Talmud attempts to find the answer by comparing this to other contemporary or older rulings, but finds differences; for example, in our case the onion does not completely decomposes in the ground, but other rulings may be talking about cases where a seed does decomposes.

So far the question is unresolved. The question is unrelated to vows (Nedarim), but it is discussed here because on the next page the Talmud will attempt to derive a proof from an a law of vows we just learned.

Art: Sardines suspended from twine and onions on a stone ledge by Giuseppe Recco

Monday, July 20, 2015

Talmud Illuminated Coffee Table Edition

About this project

Talmud Illuminated blog/website was started seven years ago, and by now it is almost complete, see here. It aims to provide a concise and clear summary of each page of the Talmud, illuminated by a selection from world's best art.

Many people asked about a printed edition of it, and by now we can try to print one of the tractates, which we will find most fitting for the first publication.

All money collected will go toward publishing, a la Chofetz Chaim style.

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1572306154/talmud-illuminated-coffee-table-edition

Nedarim 57 – I am not eating this fruit!

If one vows that he will not eat specific fruit, or that they are forbidden to him like a sacrifice, then even if he exchanges them for something else, or if something grows from them, this, too, is forbidden. When he compared his prohibition to sacrifice, he implied the same laws. Just as for a sacrifice – its exchange and its fruit (offspring) are forbidden – so too the fruit he forbade on himself.

However, if he vows against a specific type of fruit, then he can exchange it for something else and eat that. This is true for fruit whose seeds decompose in the ground. But those that partially remain, such as onions, are forbidden even as offshoots.

If one is upset with his wife's going to visit her family's home, and vows that any benefit from him is forbidden to her in case she does go, we need to look at time limits. If he said that his vow was until Passover, she has to watch not to go before Passover, or not to derive any benefit from him. But if he said that the benefit is forbidden untill Passover if she goes anytime this years, until Sukkot (which is seven months later), then if she still plans to go, she should be careful not to derive any benefit from him before Passover, because is she finally went, she would violate his vow retroactively.

Art: Still life with fruit bowl and lemons by Paul Gauguin

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Nedarim 56 – A bed for good fortune

If one vows not to enter a house, he can still use the attic – so says Rabbi Meir, because people think of attic as something separate from the house. But the Sages disagree, since they estimate that people mean all of the house, including the attic. However, if he specifically said that he won't enter the attic, all agree that he meant that, and he can still enter the house.

If one vowed not to sleep in a bed, he is still allowed to use a special bed called “dargash,” - which is again the opinion of Rabbi Meir. But what is dargash?

Ulla said that this is a bed of good fortune. It was customary to designate a bed specifically for a good angel protecting the home, as a way of eliciting good fortune for the house. Since this “dargash” is mentioned in many other rules, the Talmud argues that it could not be the good fortune bed, and that dargash means a bed with leather interior and with loops in which the ropes were tied, and could be untied. So the bed of good fortune is not disproved, but it must go under a different name.

Art: The Bedroom By Pieter De Hooch