Neder

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"Nedarim" redirects here. For the tractate, see Nedarim (tractate).

In Judaism, a neder[pronunciation?] (נדר, plural nedarim[pronunciation?]) is a declaration, using the name of God, of the acceptance of a self-made pledge, stating that the pledge must be fulfilled with the same importance as a halakha.[1] The neder may be to fulfill some act in the future (either once or regularly) or to refrain from a particular type of activity of the person's choice. The concept of the neder and the surrounded Jewish law is described at the beginning of the parsha of Matot.

The word neder is often translated into English and other languages as a vow, but this is inaccurate: a neder is neither a vow nor an oath (known in Hebrew as "shevuah"). The simple recitation of a vow is not considered swearing an oath. There is no single word in English to describe a neder.[2] The word "neder" is mentioned 33 times in the Pentatuach, 19 of which occur in the Book of Numbers.[3]

Judaism views the power of speech as very strong.[4] It is speech that distinguishes humans from animals, and has the power to accomplish a lot for better or for worse. Due to the strength of a neder, and the fact that one must absolutely be fulfilled if made, many pious Jews engage in the practice of saying "b'li neder" after a statement that they will do something, meaning that their statement is not a binding neder in the event they cannot fulfill their pledge due to unforeseen circumstances.[5]

The most common way a neder is made is through verbal pronunciation. But according to some opinions, the performance of an act on three consecutive occasions is akin to a neder.[6]

Reasons for nedarim[edit]

Jewish people traditionally have made nedarim for a variety of reasons (some of which are cited below, for added illustration).

Personal piety[edit]

Some nedarim are made out of closeness to God and one's personal dedication. The neder is a way of making a commitment to the Torah and mitzvot and the practice of religion.[7] For example, it is common for a tzaddik who is at a very high level of Torah practice to set new guidelines in his life.

Gratitude[edit]

Nedarim are sometimes made out of gratitude toward God for having been the beneficiary of some form of kindness from God's hand, such as a miracle. For example, one whose life has been saved from near-death might make a new neder as a commitment toward God.

Personal improvement[edit]

One who wishes to improve oneself might make a neder in order to change one's behavior for the better.[8]

In times of need[edit]

Some Jews in times of desperation have made nedarim in hopes that God will answer their prayers in exchange for making a commitment. Essentially, they are "bargaining" with God to have their needs met.[9] For example, a woman who is unable to have children might make a neder to give a certain amount of charity if she is blessed with children.

The Nazirite neder[edit]

A common type of neder is that of the Nazirite. A neder to be a nazirite for a period of time or sometimes for life for either of the above-described reasons.[10] The Nazirite is required to refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages or grape products, cutting one's hair, or exposure to dead bodies, including one's closest relatives.

Annulment[edit]

Generally, a neder is so strong, that it cannot be broken, and doing so constitutes an aveira (sin). For this reason, it is better not to make a neder at all, than to make a neder and not to keep it.[11] But there are times when halakha permits a neder to be broken.

A neder may be annulled by either a beit din (court of Jewish law, composed of at least three adult men), or singlehandedly by a Talmid chacham (Torah scholar). Either one must ask the individual whom originally made the neder why they now wish to have their neder annulled.

Nedarim by women[edit]

According to the Torah, a neder pronounced by a married woman or a female "still living in her father's house" can be "disallowed" by her husband or her father, respectively, if they so choose, but only on the day that they hear the vow.[12] Otherwise, the neder may not be broken. The neder of a widow or a divorcee is also binding once uttered.[12]

The fact that a neder by a woman can so easily be invalidated by a man has been criticized by some contemporary feminists, though others see it as a kindness in Judaism toward women. Under the latter view, in a marriage, it is a means of keeping marital partners in harmony by requiring women to discuss a neder with her husband before taking it on.[13]

High Holidays[edit]

Traditionally, around the High Holidays, all nederim are annulled in order to free all persons of the liability in the event they are not fulfilled. They first are annulled on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and then by the recitation of Kol Nidre at the beginning of Yom Kippur.[14]

The common practice is for groups of people, such as family members or a minyan to ask for the annulment together. But one who is unable to do this can rely on the Kol Nidre of the community, which is recited on behalf of all Jews.[15]

Through the High Holiday annulment, the following types of nedarim can be annulled:[16]

  • The fulfillment of a voluntary commandment
  • A practice beyond Torah commandments in which the plan was to fulfill the neder indefinitely
  • A practice that was performed on three consecutive occasions
  • A neder to give tzedaka

All nedarim that are annulled must be those one cannot remember having made. If one can remember having made a neder, he must recite it to at least three adult men who are familiar with the laws of the specific type of neder.[17]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Women's Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 ... edited by Elyse Goldstein, page 316
  2. ^ The Living Torah By Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Parshat Matot
  3. ^ Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined ... By Eugene E. Carpenter, Philip Wesley Comfort, page 200
  4. ^ Treasure from Sinai By Nachman Zakon, page 182
  5. ^ The Women's Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 ... edited by Elyse Goldstein, page 317
  6. ^ Guidelines: three hundred of the most commonly asked questions about the Yomim Noraim By Elozor Barclay, Yitzchok Jaeger, page 23
  7. ^ Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East By Tony W. Cartledge, pages 27-28
  8. ^ Treasure from Sinai By Nachman Zakon, page 183
  9. ^ Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East By Tony W. Cartledge, pages 25-26
  10. ^ Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East By Tony W. Cartledge, pages 18-23
  11. ^ Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined ... By Eugene E. Carpenter, Philip Wesley Comfort, page 200
  12. ^ a b Numbers 30:4-6
  13. ^ The Women's Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 ... edited by Elyse Goldstein, page 318-20
  14. ^ Guidelines: three hundred of the most commonly asked questions about the Yomim Noraim By Elozor Barclay, Yitzchok Jaeger, page 21
  15. ^ Guidelines: three hundred of the most commonly asked questions about the Yomim Noraim By Elozor Barclay, Yitzchok Jaeger, page 22
  16. ^ Guidelines: three hundred of the most commonly asked questions about the Yomim Noraim By Elozor Barclay, Yitzchok Jaeger, page 23
  17. ^ Guidelines: three hundred of the most commonly asked questions about the Yomim Noraim By Elozor Barclay, Yitzchok Jaeger, page 24