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My Vows I Shall Fulfill #2

Question #1: Can performing a mitzvah be a liability?

Question #2: What is hataras nedarim?

Question #3: How does Kol Nidrei work?

Question #4:

Yankel asked me the following question: “When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Answer:

This week we will continue last week’s article on the topic of vows, oaths, and pledges. As we mentioned there, someone who recites a vow, an oath or a pledge is required to fulfill it (see Bamidbar 30:3). By virtue of the vow, oath or pledge, he now has a Torah obligation to observe something that he is otherwise not required to do. We also discovered that, for reasons discussed in last week’s article, one should be careful not to make vows or pledges. Here is a review of the six main ways to create an obligation upon oneself, either to fulfill something or to abstain from doing something:

(1) Nedarimvows

(2) Shevuosoaths

(3) Kabbalas mitzvah, declaring that one will perform a good deed

(4) Pledges to tzedakah, intending to donate charity

(5) Stringencies – performing a halachic chumra

(6) Doing something three times

The details of how these various activities become halachic responsibilities vary from category to category, and the outline of these rules was discussed in last week’s article. There we were taught that to avoid creating these commitments, someone expressing intent to perform a good deed should be careful to say that he/she is acting bli neder, without accepting it as an obligation. Similarly, someone who begins practicing a halachic hiddur should say, or at least think, that he is not accepting it as an obligation.

In addition, we presented last week how to release ourselves from vows and pledges via aprocess called hataras nedarim, which removes the continuing obligation to fulfill the vow. We noted that someone who violated his vow prior to performing hataras nedarim has sinned and is required to perform teshuvah for his or her infraction. In the case of a pledge to tzedakah¸ there is an additional requirement to pay it as soon as possible; otherwise, someone might violate the prohibition of bal te’acheir leshalmo – “Do not delay paying it” (Devarim 23:22).

If one contemplates making a vow or an oath, at what point has an oath been created? In most instances, thinking about making an oath or vow, or even deciding to do so without expressing it, does not create an oath. The vow or oath is created only by enunciating it.

If someone states the words of an oath or vow, but has no intention to accept an obligation upon himself, no oath or vow has been created. This is referred to by the Gemara as piv velibo shavim – his mouth and his heart are equal. In other words, his intent and his statement are both required in order to create an oath or vow. If he did not intend to create an oath or vow, the words alone do not create one because libo, his heart, meaning, his intention, was not to make an oath or vow.

What is the halacha if he wanted to make an oath or vow and began expressing it, but said something that is not a correct formula for either an oath or a vow? The halacha is that there are times when this is not a valid oath or vow, because what he said is insufficient to qualify, and there are other times when it is valid. Although the details are more complex than we will deal with in this article, we will discuss two instances in which the oath or vow is valid and must be kept.

  1. Yad nedarim – when the statement is incomplete. The word yad means a hand, but also can mean a handle. In this instance, it means that, although the vow was not fully expressed, enough of it was said to understand the person’s intent. He provided a “handle” with which the verbalization of the vow can be “held.” For example, if someone declared muderani mimcha, “I vow from you,” the person who states this is prohibited to talk to the other person until he has hataras nedarim performed (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 206:1).
  2. Nickname nedarim – when the neder is expressed in a colloquial fashion. The words themselves are not meaningful, but colloquially this is understood to be a neder. The halachic term used in the Mishnah for these nedarim is kinuyim, which means a nickname (Nedarim 2a). An example of this is someone declaring, “This loaf of bread is konam to me,” who is now prohibited to eat the loaf of bread.

The Gemara quotes a dispute between early amora’im why kinuyim are valid. According to one amora, this was an attempt by non-Jews to imitate Hebrew, but because of their native accents, the words ended up sounding very strange. Nevertheless, once these words became accepted to mean what was intended, they will now create an oath or vow. In other words, language in general is what people mean and is conventionally accepted. Every spoken language is constantly in flux, and, as people use the language, dialects and colloquialisms develop. These are all acceptable uses of the language. For our halachic purposes, these peculiar usages for expressions, such as “oath,” “vow” and the like, are considered part of the language – and, therefore, the oath or vow was stated. According to this approach, the word konam was originally a slang word of non-Jews meaning korban.

The other approach of the Gemara explains that the terms called kiyunim by the Mishnah were deliberate creations of Chazal. Chazal realized that since the posuk refers to a korban laShem, the most common way someone will refer to a vow not to use an item will be to say, “this item is a korban for G-d,” meaning that the item may not be used just as a korban may not be used. When doing so, the person may use Hashem’s name as we express it in Hebrew. Although halachically doing this it is not considered taking Hashem’s name in vain, it can easily lead to someone using Hashem’s name inappropriately and violating the Torah prohibition of lo sisa es sheim Hashem Elokecha lashav (Shemos 20:7). In order to avoid and discourage this, Chazal instituted a different nomenclature, specifically for the purpose of oaths and vows, whose purpose is to discourage people from using Hashem’s name without purpose.

According to both approaches that I have presented, the statement, “This loaf of bread is konam to me”means that he has made a vow that the loaf of bread is prohibited for him to eat, just as he is prohibited from eating a korban.

May I appoint an agent to perform hataras nedarim for me?

No, one must ask the beis din directly to release himself from vows (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:16). If the members of the beis din do not understand the language that the nodeir speaks, they may use an interpreter to facilitate communication (Rema ad loc.).

There is one instance in which someone may make another person an agent to release nedarim. Sometimes, a husband may act as an agent for his wife to annul her nedarim. If a husband finds three people already gathered together – for example, they were performing hataras nedarim for him or for someone else – he may act as his wife’s agent to ask them to release her neder at the same time, if she appointed him to do so (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56). However, he may not gather three people together to become a beis din for the purpose of hataras nedarim.

How does a woman perform hataras nedarim?

A woman who has a specific oath, vow, or practice from which she wishes release should arrange to perform hataras nedarim with a talmid chacham or beis din. As mentioned above, if she is married, she may ask her husband to be her agent to perform hataras nedarim, according to the instructions I wrote above (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

Hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashanah

At this point, we can address Yankel’s question:

“When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Indeed, Yankel’s question is valid: hataras nedarim requires mentioning specifically the vow that one desires to release, and the beis din must deliberate whether this particular neder can be revoked. Thus, it is unclear whether the generic hataras nedarim recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah, indeed, releases one from any commitments. The proper thing to do is to mention to an appropriate beis din every specific neder or practice for which one seeks annulment. What, then, is the purpose of hataras nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Mesiras moda’ah

The Gemara mentions that a declaration at the beginning of the year that all vows one will make in the course of the year are invalid has some value. This declaration is called a mesiras moda’ah.The Gemara concludes that this statement has only limited value, and one should not intentionally rely upon it. In point of fact, the standard hataras nedarim procedure performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah includes a mesiras moda’ah.

Kol Nidrei

The rishonim dispute whether the purpose of Kol Nidrei that we recite at the beginning of our Yom Kippur service is also meant to be a form of hataras nedarim, performed at a time when virtually everyone is in shul to include the maximum number of people, or whether it is a mesiras modaah. It is for this reason that there are three different versions of the text: one that has Kol Nidrei refer to the past year’s declarations, which means that it is hataras nedarim; one that refers to the coming year’s declarations, which means that it is a mesiras modaah; and one that mentions both the past and the future years, which means that it is meant to accomplish both. From my experience, most congregations today follow the third approach.

There is another interesting difference in halachic practice that results from this last dispute: Should the congregation recite Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan? If it is a mesiras modaah, then one must declare it oneself, and each individual should read the Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan. On the other hand, if it is a form of hataras nedarim, then it should be declared by the chazzan, alone, accompanied by the two honored men alongside him who hold the sifrei Torah, so that they form a beis din that is annulling everyone’s nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (619: 2) rules that we should consider it a mesiras modaah, and therefore concludes that each individual should recite Kol Nidrei softly along with the chazzan.

Conclusion

Now that we realize how serious our speech can be, we should reflect not only on the ideas of nedarim, but also on all the ramifications of our speech. As the pasuk (Mishlei 18:21) states, Ma’vess ve’chayim be’yad lashon – Life and death are controlled by our tongues!




My Vows I Shall Fulfill

Question #1: Quiz question

Can performing a mitzvah become a liability?

Question #2: Is this a “klutz question?”

What does it mean that I am doing something “bli neder”?

Question #3: A frum question

“My friend Billy Nader says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?

Answer:

What is a neder?

It is rather obvious why we are studying this topic this week – since Parshas Matos begins with the laws pertaining to vows.

Someone who recites a vow, an oath or a pledge is required to fulfill it (see Bamidbar 30:3). By virtue of the vow, oath or pledge, one creates a Torah obligation that he is otherwise not required to observe. For example, someone who declares that he will begin studying daf yomi every day is now obligated to do so, even on a day when it is inconvenient. Similarly, one who pledges tzedakah at yizkor or pledges a contribution to a shul upon receiving an aliyah becomes fully obligated, min haTorah, to pay the donation. In the case of a pledge to tzedakah¸ one must redeem it as soon as practical; otherwise, he risks violating an additional prohibition, bal te’acheir leshalmo, “Do not delay paying it” (see Devarim 23:22).

In general, one should be careful not to make vows or pledges. For one thing, one who does so has now created a stumbling block for himself, since he runs the risk that he will not observe his commitment (see Nedarim 20a, 22a). Furthermore, he has created an accusation against himself, for by committing to observe something that the Torah did not require, he implies that he is so skilled at observing mitzvos that he can add a few of his own. The satan can now level accusations against his occasional laxities in a much stronger fashion (see Nedarim 22a, based on Mishlei 20:25). (There are a few circumstances in which one is encouraged to make vows, but we will leave that topic for a different time.) For this reason, it is better not to pledge to contribute to tzedakah: if you have the money available, donate it; if it is not currently available, don’t pledge it! (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 203:4). It is very important that gaba’im be in the habit of declaring that people’s pledges are bli neder, and a similar wording should appear on pledge cards.

Different types of obligations

There are six main ways to create an obligation upon oneself, either to fulfill something or to abstain from doing something.

(1) Nedarim – vows

A neder – a vow, in which one declares that something otherwise permitted is now prohibited – such as declaring that certain foods are prohibited.

Example:

In her desire to keep to her diet, Yaffah states: “I am going to prohibit all chocolate on myself.” Yaffah has now created a neder, which prohibits her, min haTorah, from eating chocolate.

(2) Shevuos – oaths

A shevuah – an oath, in which one swears to fulfill or refrain from some activity – such as swearing that one will fast on a certain day, or that one will say Tehillim every day.

Example:

To repair his somewhat sloppy record at making it to minyan every morning, Shachar makes a shevuah that he will be in shul for shacharis for the next three days. Should he fail to make it to shacharis any of those days, he would be breaking his shevuah, which contravenes a Torah prohibition.

Whether a specific declaration constitutes a neder or a shevuah depends on halachic technicalities, usually contingent on how one makes the declaration. Several halachic differences result from whether someone made a neder or a shevuah, including that violating a shevuah is a more serious infraction (Ran, Nedarim 20a). Later in this article I will mention another important difference between them.

(3) Kabbalas mitzvah, declaring that one will perform a good deed

Someone who declares: I will arise early and study this chapter or that mesechta has declared a great vow to the G-d of Israel (Nedarim 8a). Someone who expresses these plans, intending to perform an exemplary act, has now obligated himself, even though he did not use the terms “vow,” “oath,” or “pledge” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 213:2).

Example:

Asking others to say certain chapters of Tehillim can create a stumbling block. Specify that it is being done bli neder.

(4) Kabbalas tzedakah, intending to donate charity

In the specific instance of contributing tzedakah funds, even deciding to give tzedakah without verbalizing one’s intention creates an obligation to donate tzedakah (Rema, Yoreh Deah 259:13; see also Choshen Mishpat 212:8; based on Shevuos 26b).

(5) Performing a stringency

Someone who is aware that performing a certain hiddur in halacha is not obligatory, and begins to keep it with the intention of observing it regularly, becomes required to continue the practice as a form of vow. It becomes a binding obligation, requiring hataras nedarim, annulling vows – even if the individual fulfilled the practice only one time, and even if he did not declare that he intends to continue the practice (Nedarim 15a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:1).

Examples:

Someone who begins standing during kerias haTorah, intending to continue the practice, becomes obligated to do so, unless he specified that he is doing so bli neder. He should perform hataras nedarim at the first opportunity, so as to avoid violating the prohibition of abrogating observance of a vow. After performing hataras nedarim, he may continue the practice of standing during kerias haTorah, but should have in mind that he is doing it bli neder.

A woman began lighting a third Shabbos candle in her own home after her first child was born. This practice might now become an obligation. She then did so the first time she visited her parents’ house; most women who kindle more than two lights before Shabbos do so only in their own home, but kindle only two when they are guests in someone else’s home. She asked a shaylah whether she should have hataras nedarim on the practice of kindling a third light, and she was told to do so.

(6) Three times

Someone who performs a stringent practice three times without saying bli neder must continue to fulfill the hiddur, even if he had not planned to observe it always (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:7).

Saying “bli neder

Should I not observe hiddurim? I want to do these mitzvos, but I certainly do not want to be punished if I fail to continue performing them! How do I avoid becoming obligated?

To avoid creating this commitment, someone expressing intent to perform a good deed should be careful to say that he/she is acting bli neder, without accepting it as an obligation (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4). Similarly, someone who begins practicing a halachic hiddur should say that he is not accepting it as an obligation.

Example:

Hadassah decides that she will eat only glatt kosher meat or will use only chalav Yisroel products, both meritorious activities. She should state that she is doing it “bli neder.”

Similarly, when pledging money during yizkor, while making a mishebeirach or making any other oral commitment to donate charity, one should be careful to say bli neder. When others are pledging to tzedakah and one feels pressured to participate, specify that the pledge is bli neder (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:4). It is still proper to donate the money, but stating that it is prevents bli neder a mishap should one forget or later be unable to do so.

Saying “bli neder” even for a non-mitzvah

Some authorities recommend saying bli neder on all one’s activities, even those that do not fulfill a mitzvah, so that the habit helps prevent one from inadvertently creating nedarim (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4).

Example:

Chavah tells her husband, “I am going to exercise class this morning, bli neder.” Although the statement that she plans to exercise does not create any obligation on her part, habituating herself to say bli neder is a good practice to develop.

We can now answer one of the questions asked above. “I have a friend who says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?” The answer is that your friend is being astutely cautious and following the advice of halachic authorities.

Don’t delay paying

In addition to the abovementioned concerns involved in pledging tzedakah, the Gemara rules that the mitzvah of bal te’achar, not to delay the donation of a korban, applies also to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a). This means that someone who pledges money to a charitable cause is required to pay the pledge as soon as he can.

To quote the Rambam: Tzedakah is included in the laws of vows. Therefore, someone saying, “I am obligated to provide a sela coin to tzedakah,” or, “This sela shall go to tzedakah,” must give it to poor people immediately. If he subsequently delays redeeming the pledge, he violates bal te’acher, since he could have given it immediately, as there are poor people around. If there are no poor people, he should set aside the money until he finds a poor person. However, if, at the time of his pledge, he specified that he is not intending to redeem the pledge until he locates a poor person, he is not required to set aside the money (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:1).

Someone who declares that he will give tzedakah to a certain poor person is not required to give the money until he sees that person (Rema, Yoreh Deah 257:3). However, someone who pledged to contribute to destitute people, without qualifying which poor people he meant, is required to fulfill his pledge immediately (Mordechai, Bava Basra 491).

What is hataras nedarim?

Now that we realize that creating obligations is rather extensive, we want to find out, quickly, how to release ourselves from these vows.

Chazal derive from the Torah that one can be absolved from a vow, pledge or other such commitment, by a process called hataras nedarim. Hataras nedarim does not, in the slightest way, diminish the reward that one receives for the good deeds performed. It simply removes the continuing obligation to fulfill the vow from the individual who created that vow. Therefore, in the vast majority of circumstances, someone who made a neder should undergo hataras nedarim, so that he releases the obligation from himself and therefore does not violate the neder (see Nedarim 22a).

How does one undergo hataras nedarim?

The person who made the vow or other commitment goes to three Jewish men who understand the logic of halacha and know the basics of how hataras nedarim operates (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:1 and commentaries). These three form a type of ad hoc beis din for the purpose of releasing vows. One of the three should be a talmid chacham, proficient in the laws of hataras nedarim – and he should be knowledgeable concerning which vows one may not annul (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:8).

The nodeir, the person who made the vow, shares with the three (or, at least, with the talmid chacham who is proficient in the laws of nedarim) the content of the vow, oath, or good practice from which he desires release and why he seeks relief. The talmid chacham asks the nodeir several questions that must be answered truthfully. The talmid chacham thereby determines whether there are valid grounds to release the nodeir from the commitment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14). Only a talmid chacham who understands the very complicated laws of vows should undertake hataras nedarim, because many details must be met for the hataras nedarim to be valid. (The details of what constitutes an adequate basis for hataras nedarim are beyond the scope of this article.)

Once the talmid chacham feels that there are adequate grounds for hataras nedarim, the beis din declares the neder or other commitment annulled by declaring, “mutar lach, mutar lach, mutar lach” – the activities prohibited by the vow are now permitted. Of course, in the case of a vow to do something, the words mutar lach mean the reverse – the person is no longer obligated to carry out the vow.

Someone who violated his vow prior to performing hataras nedarim has sinned, and is required to perform teshuvah for his or her infraction.

The difference between a neder and a shevuah

There is a halachic difference between performing hataras nedarim to release someone from the obligation he created with a neder, and performing hatarah after someone recited a shevuah. Whereas, in most instances, one should arrange to release someone from a neder, one annuls a shevuah only under extenuating circumstances (Rema, Yoreh Deah 203:3; Rambam end of Hilchos Shavuos). Explaining why this is so will need to wait for a future article.

When has a vow or an oath been created? We’ll discuss that in part 2 of this article.




My Vows I Shall Fulfill

It is rather obvious why we are studying this topic this week – since the laws pertaining to vows are the first subject mentioned in Parshas Matos.

Question #1: Quiz question

Can performing a mitzvah become a liability?

Question #2: Is this a “klutz question?”

What does it mean that I am doing something “bli neder?”

Question #3: A sixty-thousand-dollar question

Yankel asks: “When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Question #4: A frum question

“My friend Billy Nader* says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?

Answer: What Is a Neder?

Someone who recites a vow, an oath or a pledge is required to fulfill it (see Bamidbar 30:3). By virtue of the vow, oath or pledge, one creates a Torah obligation on oneself that one is, otherwise, not required to observe. For example, someone who declares that he will begin studying daf yomi every day is now obligated to do so, even on a day when it is inconvenient. Similarly, one who pledges tzedakah at yizkor or pledges a contribution to a shul upon receiving an aliyah becomes fully obligated min haTorah to pay the donation. In the case of a pledge to tzedakah¸ one must redeem it as soon as practical; otherwise, one risks violating an additional prohibition, bal te’acheir leshalmo, do not delay paying it (Devarim 23:22), as I will soon explain.

In general, one should be careful not to make vows or pledges. For one thing, he has now created a stumbling block for himself; since he runs the risk that he will not observe his commitment (see Nedarim 20a, 22a). Furthermore, one has created an accusation against himself, for by committing to observe something that the Torah did not require, he implies that he is so skilled at observing mitzvos that he can add a few of his own. The Satan can now level accusations against his occasional laxities in a much stronger fashion (see Nedarim 22a, based on Mishlei 20:25). (There are a few circumstances in which one is encouraged to make vows, but we will leave that topic for a different time.) For this reason, it is better not to pledge to contribute to tzedakah — if you have the money available, donate it; if it is not currently available, don’t pledge it! (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 203:4). It is very important that gabayim be in the habit of declaring that people’s pledges are bli neder, and a similar wording should appear on pledge cards.

Different Types of Obligations

There are six main ways that one may create an obligation upon oneself either to fulfill something or to abstain from doing something.

(1) Nedarim, vows

A neder, a vow, in which one declares that something otherwise permitted is now prohibited — such as, declaring that certain foods are prohibited.

Example:

In her desire to keep to her diet, Yaffah states: “I am going to prohibit all chocolate on myself.” Yaffah has now created a neder, which prohibits her, min haTorah, from eating chocolate.

(2) Shavuos, oaths

A shavua, an oath, in which one swears to fulfill or refrain from some activity — such as swearing that one will fast on a certain day, or that one will say Tehillim every day.

Example:

To repair his somewhat sloppy record at making it to minyan every morning, Shachar swears a shavua that he will be in shul for shacharis for the next three days. Should he fail to to make it to shacharis any of those days, he will be breaking his shavua, which contravenes a Torah prohibition.

Whether a specific declaration constitutes a neder or a shavua depends on halachic technicalities, usually contingent on how one makes the declaration. Several halachic differences result from whether someone made a neder or a shavua, including that violating a shavua is a more serious infraction (Ran, Nedarim 20a). Later in this article I will mention another important difference between them.

(3) Kabbalos mitzvah, declaring that one will perform a good deed

Someone who declares: I will arise early and study this chapter or that mesechta has declared a great vow to the G-d of Israel (Nedarim 8a). Someone intending to perform an exemplary act who expresses these plans has now obligated himself, even though he did not use the terms “vow,” “oath,” or “pledge” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 213:2).

Example:

Asking others to say certain chapters of Tehillim can create a stumbling block. One should be certain to specify that they are accepting bli neder.

(4) Kabbalas tzedakah, intending to donate charity

In the specific instance of contributing tzedakah funds, even deciding to give to tzedakah without verbalizing one’s intention creates an obligation to donate tzedakah (Rama, Yoreh Deah 259:13; see also Choshen Mishpat 212:8; based on Shavuos 26b).

(5) Performing a stringency

Someone who is aware that performing a certain hiddur in halacha is not obligatory, and begins doing so, intending to observe it regularly, becomes required to continue the practice as a form of vow. It becomes a binding obligation, requiring hataras nedarim, annulling vows, even if the individual fulfilled the practice only one time, and even if he did not declare that he intends to continue the practice (Nedarim 15a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 214:1).

Examples:

Someone who begins standing during keriyas haTorah, intending to continue the practice, becomes obligated to do so, unless he specified that he is doing so bli neder. He should perform hataras nedarim at the first opportunity, so as to avoid violating the prohibition of abrogating observance of a vow.

A woman began lighting a third Shabbos candle in her own home after her first child was born, and then did so the first time she visited her parents’ house. This now became an obligation. She asked a shaylah what to do and was advised to make hataras nedarim on the practice of kindling a third light, and, certainly, when she is a guest in someone else’s home.

(6) Three times

Someone who performs a stringent practice three times without saying bli neder must continue to fulfill the hiddur, even if he did not necessarily plan to always observe it (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:7).

Saying “Bli Neder

Should I not observe hiddurim? I want to do these mitzvos, but I certainly do not want to be punished if I fail to continue performing them! How do I avoid becoming responsible?

To avoid creating this liability, someone expressing intent to perform a good deed should be careful to say that he/she is acting bli neder, without accepting it as a responsibility (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4). Similarly, someone who begins practicing a halachic hiddur should say that he is not accepting it as a responsibility.

Example:

Hadassah decides that she will eat only glatt kosher meat or will use only cholov Yisroel products, both meritorious activities. She should state that she is doing it “bli neder.”

Similarly, when pledging money during Yizkor, while making a mishebeirach or making any other oral commitment to donate charity, one should be careful to say bli neder. When others are pledging to tzedakah and one feels pressured to participate, specify that the pledge is bli neder (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 257:4).

Saying “Bli Neder” Even for a Non-mitzvah

Some authorities recommend saying bli neder on all one’s activities, even those that do not fulfill a mitzvah, so that the habit helps prevent one from inadvertently creating nedarim (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:4).

Example:

Chavah tells her husband, “I am planning to go to exercise class this morning, bli neder.” Although the statement that she plans to exercise does not create any obligation on her part, habituating herself to say bli neder is a good practice to develop.

We can now answer one of the questions asked above. “I have a friend who says bli neder on almost everything. Is this being too frum?” The answer is that your friend is being astutely cautious and following the advice of halachic authorities.

Don’t Delay in Paying

In addition to the above-mentioned concerns involved in pledging tzedakah, the Gemara rules that the mitzvah of bal te’achar, not to delay the donation of a korban, applies also to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a). This means that someone who pledges money to a charitable cause is required to pay the pledge as soon as he can.

To quote the Rambam: Tzedakah is included in the laws of vows. Therefore, one who says “I am obligated to provide a sela coin to tzedakah” or “this sela shall go to tzedakah” must give it to poor people immediately. If he subsequently  delays redeeming the pledge, he violates bal te’achar, since he could have given it immediately since there are poor people around. If there are no poor people, he should set aside the money until he finds poor people. However, if, at the time of his pledge, he specified that he is not intending to redeem the pledge until he locates a poor person, he is not required to set aside the money (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:1).

Someone who declares that he will give tzedakah to a certain poor person is not required to give the money, until he sees that person (Rama, Yoreh Deah 257:3). However, someone who pledged to contribute to deprived people, without qualifying which poor people he meant, is required to fulfill his pledge immediately (Mordechai, Bava Basra 491).

What Is Hataras Nedarim?

Now that we realize that the obligations included in making vows is rather extensive, we want to find out, quickly, how to release ourselves from these vows.

Chazal derive from the Torah that there is a way one can be absolved from a vow, pledge or other such commitment, which is called hataras nedarim. Performing hataras nedarim does not in the slightest way diminish the reward that one receives for the good deeds one performed. It simply removes the continuing obligation to perform the vow from the individual who created it. Therefore, in the vast majority of circumstances, someone who made a neder should perform hataras nedarim, so that he does not violate the neder (see Nedarim 22a).

How Does One Perform Hataras Nedarim?

First, the person who made the vow or other commitment goes to three Jewish men who understand the logic of halacha and know the basics of how hataras nedarim operates (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:1 and commentaries). These three form a type of ad hoc beis din for the purpose of releasing vows. One of the three should be a talmid chacham proficient in the laws of hataras nedarim, including which vows one may not annul (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 67:8).

The nodeir, the person who made the vow, shares with the three (or, at least, the talmid chacham who is proficient in the laws of nedarim) the content of the vow, oath, or good practice from which he desires release and why he seeks relief. The talmid chacham will ask the nodeir several questions that must be answered truthfully. The talmid chacham thereby determines whether or not there are valid grounds to release the nodeir from the commitment (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:14). Only a talmid chacham who understands the very complicated laws of vows should undertake hataras nedarim, because there are many details that must be met for the hataras nedarim to be valid. (The details of what does and what does not constitute an adequate basis for hataras nedarim are beyond the scope of this article.)

Assuming that the talmid chacham feels that there are adequate grounds for hataras nedorim, the beis din declares the neder or other commitment annulled, by declaring mutar lach, mutar lach, mutar lach – the activities prohibited by the vow are now permitted. Of course, in the case of a vow to do something, the words mutar lach mean the reverse — you are no longer obligated to carry out the vow.

Someone who violated his vow prior to performing hataras nedarim has indeed sinned, and is required to perform teshuvah for his or her infraction.

The Difference between a Neder and a Shavua

There is a halachic difference between performing hataras nedarim to release someone from the obligation he created with a neder, and between performing hatarah after someone recited a shavua. Whereas in most instances one should arrange to release someone from a neder, one annuls a shavua only under extenuating circumstances (Rama, Yoreh Deah 203:3; Rambam end of Hilchos Shavuos). Explaining why this is so will need to wait for a future article.

May I appoint an agent to perform hataras nedarim for me?

No, one must ask directly to the beis din to release oneself from vows (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 228:16). If the members of the beis din do not understand the language that the nodeir speaks, they may use an interpreter to facilitate communication (Rama ad loc.).

There is one instance in which someone may make an agent to release nedarim. Sometimes, a husband may act as an agent for his wife to annul her nedarim. If a husband finds three people already gathered together — for example, they were performing hataras nedarim for him or for someone else — he may act as his wife’s agent to ask them to release her from her neder at the same time, if she appointed him to do so on her behalf (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

How does a woman perform hataras nedarim?

A woman who has a specific oath, vow, or practice from which she wishes release should arrange to perform hataras nedarim with a talmid chacham or beis din. As I mentioned above, if she is married, she may ask her husband to be her agent to perform hataras nedarim at a time when he is doing so for himself (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 234:56).

Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashanah

At this point, we can address Yankel’s question:

“When I attended a Gemara shiur on Nedarim, I got the impression that performing hataras nedarim requires having a talmid chacham deliberate over the specific neder, until he concludes that there are grounds to release the neder. This seems to have no relationship to what we do on Erev Rosh Hashanah.”

Indeed, Yankel’s question is extremely valid: hataras nedarim requires that one mention, specifically, the vow from which one seeks redress, and the beis din must deliberate whether this particular neder can be revoked. It is, therefore, unclear whether the generic hataras nedarim recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah, indeed, releases one from any commitments. The proper thing to do is to mention to an appropriate beis din every specific neder or practice that one wants annulled.

Mesiras Modaah

The Gemara mentions that should one declare at the beginning of the year that all the vows one makes in the course of the year are invalid; this pronouncement has some value. This declaration is called a mesiras modaah. The Gemara concludes that this statement has only limited value, and one should not, intentionally, rely upon it. In point of fact, the standard hataras nedarim procedure performed on Erev Rosh Hashanah includes a mesiras modaah.

Kol Nidrei

The Rishonim dispute whether the purpose of Kol Nidrei that we recite at the beginning of our Yom Kippur service is also meant to be a form of hataras nedarim, performed at a time when virtually everyone is in shul to include the maximum number of people, or whether it is a mesiras modaah. It is for this reason that there are three different versions of the text: one that has kol nidrei refer to the past year’s declarations, which means that it is hataras nedarim; one that refers to the coming year’s declarations, which means that it is a mesiras modaah; and one that mentions both the past and the future years, which means that it is meant to accomplish both.

There is another interesting difference in halachic practice that results from this last dispute: Should the congregation recite Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan? If it is a mesiras modaah, then one must declare it oneself, and each individual should read the Kol Nidrei together with the chazzan. On the other hand, if it is a form of hataras nedarim, then it should be declared by the chazzan alone accompanied by the two honored men alongside him who hold the sifrei Torah, so that they form a beis din that is annulling everyone’s nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (619: 2) rules that we should consider it a mesiras modaah, and therefore concludes that each individual should recite Kol Nidrei softly along with the chazzan.

Conclusion

Now that we realize how serious our speech can be, we should reflect not only on the ideas of nedarim, but also on all the ramifications of our speech. As the pasuk (Mishlei 18:21) states, maves vechayim beyad lashon, Life and death are controlled by our tongues!

*Obviously, this is not his real name, but a nickname.