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Vows. Promises or commitments to undertake, or abstain from, particular actions, lifestyles, etc. All religions offer the opportunity to formalize one's intentions in this way, to such an extent that there can be uncertainty about whether a vow once made can be revoked. Thus in Judaism vows are not required of Jews in the Bible, but once made they have to be carried out with precision (Deuteronomy 23. 22–4). Vows are thus inviolable (1 Samuel 14. 24 ff.; Judges 11. 30 ff.), but the rabbis evolved an elaborate system for the annulment of vows in the tractate Nedarim. Jewish law uses three terms for vows, neder (general), nedavah (freewill offering), and shebuʿah (to pursue or not to pursue a course of action).

Some early Christians followed the practice of taking vows ( Paul, e.g., taking the temporary vow of a Nazirite, Acts 21. 22–6), although Jesus had warned against letting a dedication of something to God through qorban take precedence over more fundamental obligations (Mark 7. 11). Vows came to be understood as a social act through which a person donates himself or herself to another (marriage vows), or to God in a religious community.

For examples of vows in other religions, see BODHISATTVA VOW; FIVE GREAT VOWS (among Jains); SHIGUSEIGAN (the four great vows in Zen); VRATA;

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