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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Promises made under religious sanction. In Talmudic law distinction is made between two principal kinds of vows: (1) A voluntary promise to bring a sacrifice which he who makes the vow is not otherwise in duty bound to bring; or a promise to give a certain sum to purposes of common charity or education. Such vows are called "nidre heḳdesh" (= "dedications"), and of these there are two specific kinds. (a) When he who promises points toward the object which he intends to give, and says, "This I dedicate to suchand such a holy or charitable cause," then he is not bound to replace the thing if it is lost. (b) If, on the other hand, he says, "I promise such and such an object, or such and such a sum of money, to be devoted to that purpose," then he is bound to replace it if it becomes lost. The former kind of vows are called "nedabah" (= "gift"); the latter kind "neder" (= "promise"). (2) The second chief kind of vows consists in promises made to abstain from the enjoyment of certain things, he who promises saying: "I deny myself the enjoyment of this thing, as of a thing sanctified." Such vows are called "nidre issar" (= "promises of prohibition or deprivation"). Such a vow is valid even if a second party imposes it upon the votary, he answering with an "Amen" and thereby accepting it.

Validity of Vows.

A vow is valid only if made voluntarily, without any compulsion from without; and the votary must also be conscious of the scope or character of his vow. A promise made by mistake, or one exacted by compulsory measures, is invalid. The age of discretion with reference to promises is for men the beginning of the thirteenth year, for women the beginning of the twelfth, at which ages the votaries are supposed to understand the importance of a vow (Maimonides, "Yad," Nedarim, 11:1). A father may annul the vows made by his daughter; and a husband may annul those of his wife, if they be of such a nature that the keeping of them would cause distress to the wife. The father or the husband may, however, annul such vows only on the very day when he is informed of their having been given (Numbers 30:2-17; Ned. 10:8; Maimonides, c. 12:1 et seq.).

Any vow, be it a dedication ("neder heḳdesh"), or a promise of prohibition or deprivation ("neder issar"), can, in case the promisor regrets it, be declared void by an ordained teacher, or by three unordained teachers (Maimonides, "Yad," Shebu'ot,; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 228, where the conditions are specified on which a vow can be annulled). To impose vows on oneself was discouraged by the sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud: "Do not form a habit of making vows," says an old baraita (Ned. 20a). Samuel said: "He who makes a vow, even though he fulfil it, commits a sin" (ib. 22a). The making of vows was tolerated only when it was done in order to rid oneself of bad habits, or in order to encourage oneself to do good; but even in such cases one should strive for the desired end without the aid of vows (Yoreh De'ah, 203, 207). More specific rules regarding vows are contained in Maimonides' "Yad," Nedarim, and in Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 203-235. See also Nedarim.

W. B.
J. Z. L.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Vows'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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