Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Nedarim 67: Betrothed Women: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Perek X introduces a new Mishna which seems simple enough:  Regarding a betrothed young woman, her father and her husband both nullify her vows.  If her father nullifies but her husband does not, her vows are not nullified.  If her husband nullifies but her father does not, her vows are not nullified.  And if one of them ratified her vows, they are not nullified.

The Gemara asks many questions about this Mishna.  Why the repetition?  Aren't some of these points obvious?  Who has authority over a betrothed young woman?  How is a betrothed woman different from a married woman when it comes to nullification of her vows?  Can a vow be nullified retroactively by more than a day?  Can a vow be nullified in advance?

The Gemara discusses and states answers to these and other questions.  However, our notes (Steinsaltz) tell us that the rabbis have some difficulty with this Gemara.  There are a number of places where the commentators question why the Gemara went in specific directions and suggested certain conclusions.  

Underlying this Mishna is the teaching (Numbers 30) that women's vows can be nullified by their fathers and husbands.  Upon learning of the vows of their daughters and wives, fathers and husbands can either ratify or nullify those vows but only on the same day that they hear of them.  

This assertion of authority over women's promises are meant, of course, to strengthen the bond between father and daughter, husband and wife.  The man is thought to be better able to protect the woman's interest than she herself might be able to protect herself.  However, as we know, men might not always be magnanimous in their dealings with the women in their lives.  In fact, if a woman's vow might cause a man inconvenience, wouldn't he be likely to nullify that vow?  And the issue of women's agency and self-determination is not even up for discussion here, as we understand that women were meant to be either the property of their fathers or their husbands.  I have a feeling that I am in for quite the Perek.

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