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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Hatarat Nedarim for Promise Toward Another

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: If someone committed to a certain amount of Torah study to win a special aliya, may he do hatarat nedarim on it (with a good excuse)? (I assume there is no problem of nidrei mitzva.)


Answer: First, we urge the beit knesset to consider favorably stipulating that these commitments will not have the status of neder. Generally, we are to avoid nedarim (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 203:1-5). Although making a neder regarding Torah learning goals, among other mitzvot, is an exception (ibid. 6), it is different when there is particular concern he will not abide by the neder (see Kol Nidrei 3:2).

It is problematic to undo a neder to fulfill a mitzva in which one is anyway obligated, including accepting an amount of Torah learning (Aruch Hashulchan, YD 228:128-133). However, it can be done when there is enough need, and in certain cases of very great difficulty one may not even need hatarat nedarim (ibid.).

Is there is an added problem if there is a neder that was made as a means of acquiring something from his counterpart? According to the understanding of most Rishonim (see Beit Yosef, YD 228) the gemara (Nedarim 65a) says that such a neder can only be undone in the presence of and with the agreement of the counterpart (Rama, YD 228:20; the Shulchan Aruch apparently agrees- Shach and Taz ad loc.).

The gemara cites relevant stories from Tanach. Hashem told Moshe he required permission from Yitro to return to Egypt because of Moshe’s oath to stay with him, even though hatarat nedarim would have had obvious justification (i.e., to orchestrate yetziat Mitzrayim).  King Tzidkiyahu was punished for not keeping his oath to Nevuchadnetzar to keep an embarrassing secret quiet, even though he too had a good reason for hatarat nedarim.

Rishonim deal with many complicated questions, including whether the hatarat nedarim works b’dieved if done improperly. On the one hand, Tzidkiyahu was a righteous king, so he ostensibly would not have relied on an invalid hatarat nedarim. On the other hand, perhaps his punishment is a sign the hatarat nedarim did not work (see Ran ad loc. and two opinions in the Shulchan Aruch, YD 228:20).

In our case, it would seem clear that one needs permission as the noder (the one making the neder) did get something (the honor) because of his learning pledge. (While it is a complicated matter, we will work with the assumption that the pledge is considered a neder.) There is an opinion that if there is a mitzva need for the hatarat nedarim, it is permitted without permission (Tosafot, Nedarim ibid., cited by the Rama, YD 228:20). One example of mitzva need is when the load of learning the person accepted is taking away from his more important/appropriate service of Hashem. It is far from clear that this leniency is accepted, (see Taz 228:33, who denies the Rama meant to rely on it).

However, the Noda B’Yehuda (II, Orach Chayim 117, cited by Pitchei Teshuva, YD 228:13) says that when there is a mitzva and no one loses out by his not keeping the neder, all permit hatarat nedarim. The analysis of our case, in terms of a loss to others, is tricky. On the one hand, if people can receive kibbudim by making pledges they will not keep, the system will not work. Additionally, the one who would otherwise have received the honor might be considered to lose out retroactively. On the other hand, if the pledge was sincere and realistic at the time, and the circumstances changed, does anyone gain by holding him to it?

In practice, our standard halachic advice would be that if there is a serious need, the noder should ask permission from an appropriate representative of the congregation (preferably the rabbi). It also makes sense for him to change the pledge for which he won the kibbud to another one of parallel seriousness that he can still handle. However, the specifics of each case need to be considered. We again urge congregations to consider explicitly making such bidding bli neder.

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