What is the difference between shevuos and nedarim?
Rabbi Shmuel Wise, Maggid Shiur at RealClearDaf.com
We learned about this on 25a. The baraisa there first mentions that only nedarim can go into effect on mitzvah objects. For example, if one made a neder that his sukkah should become prohibited to him, that would work, and he wouldn’t be allowed to dwell in the sukkah. However, if one made a shevua not to live in the sukkah, the oath would not go into effect. Another difference between shevuos and nedarim is where the person attempts to create a prohibition on something intangible (e.g. he seeks to prohibit himself from throwing a rock into the sea). A shevua can accomplish this whereas a neder cannot.
The underlying logic for these differences is a distinction that every yeshiva student has encountered many times is his quest for lomdus and a more profound understanding of the discussions of Shas: the classic “the person vs. the object” split. That is, the concept of a neder is one that applies to the object whereas a shevua pertains to the actions of the person. It is therefore quite understandable why someone cannot create a shevua with respect to the mitzvah of sukkah: for what he seeks to do is swear not to fulfill an action (person) that the Torah obligated him to do, surely an impossibility. However, it is entirely possible to make a neder here since the neder strictly creates a prohibition on the object, the sukkah, and therefore is not creating a prohibition that directly contravenes a mitzvah.
This distinction also explains the issue of making a shevua or neder on the act of throwing a rock into the sea. A neder cannot accomplish this simply because it only has the capacity to create prohibitions on actual objects. Prohibiting such an action would strictly be the domain of a shevua. Although this “object/person” split is found frequently in the commentaries of the great roshei yeshivos (especially in the works of R’ Chaim m’Brisk, and that of his illustrious student, R’ Boruch Ber), it is actually found in the gemara itself on Nedarim 16b. This serves as a reminder that these great Talmudic scholars achieved their brilliance by allowing the Talmud to guide them, rather than by imposing their own thoughts on the Talmud.
How does it work if someone makes multiple oaths restricting the same thing?
We learned about this on 27b. The mishnah there rules that if someone swore three times not to eat a loaf of bread and later ate the bread, he would only be liable for that first oath. The reason is that once he already prohibited himself from the bread through the first shevua, the subsequent shevuos are redundant and therefore do not create any additional prohibitions. The gemara there wonders that seemingly the mishnah could have made its point with a case of two shevuos, so why did it add a third one? The gemara explains that by adding another shevua, the mishnah is teaching us that although these additional oaths do not have any practical relevance now, they can become relevant later.
How so? Rava explains that if this person were to ask a sage to annul shevua #1, the bread would remain prohibited to him based on shevua #2 because upon the annulment of #1, “room has been made” for #2 (and the same if he were to have #2 annulled). Rashi explains the mechanics of this further by pointing out that when a sage annuls an oath or vow, legally it’s as if that oath was never made. In retrospect, therefore, shevua #2 was really the first shevua and therefore is does go into effect. The gemara attempts to lend support to the notion that the additional shevuos are still “in the air” from a baraisa that discusses a person who accepted two terms of nezirus upon himself. The result of such an acceptance would be an obligation to observe two nezirus terms with the requisite offering brought at the end of each term in order to be able to resume a non-nazir life. But what if upon observing the first term, but before beginning the second, this person had a sage annul his acceptance of the first term?
The baraisa says that in such a case that first period of observance would be considered an observance of the second term which now “goes in place” of that period originally assigned to the first term. We see from the baraisa that although in real time the second term did not have any practical impact, it was still “waiting in the wings” to replace that first term in the event of an annulment-seemingly the same idea that Rava suggested.
The gemara deflects the proof by pointing out that Rava is actually going further than the baraisa with this idea. For in the nezirus case, the second nezirus term will eventually become relevant whether the first term is annulled or not. Hence, is it pretty reasonable to say that the second term stands by, waiting to become relevant, throughout the first. As opposed to in Rava’s case, where at the moment when the second shevua is introduced it serves no apparent purpose. To say, as Rava suggests, that the second shevua still waits around in case things might change to make it relevant, is a novel idea that cannot be proven from this baraisa.
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