NEDARIM (Heb. נְדָרִים; "Vows"), third tractate of the order Nashim, though in some editions the order varies. It is based upon Numbers 30 and deals mainly with the binding quality of the spoken vow by means of which a person may forbid the use of things to himself and his own property to others. The inclusion of this topic in the order dealing with family law arises, in part, from the right of the father to annul the vows of his daughter during her minority and the right of a husband to annul most or all of his wife's vows. The Mishnah consists of 11 chapters. Chapter 1 deals with the formulas which constitute binding vows and Chapter 2 with formulas that are not binding. Chapter 3 deals with vows not binding because of lack of serious intent, constraint, and the like, as well as the interpretation of certain vow formulas; there is an incidental digression on the importance of circumcision. Chapter 4 discusses the consequences of forbidding benefit to, or being forbidden benefit from, another person. Chapter 5 continues this subject in connection with the property of partners and of members of a community or people. Chapter 6 lays down guidelines for determining what is to be included in, and what excluded from, vows appertaining to produce. Chapter 7 continues this topic in connection with places and periods of time. Chapter 8 deals with the extension in time to be given to expressions connected with recurring events, and vows made in general language arising from some specific event. Chapter 9 deals with the absolution of vows, and the grounds on which such absolution may be granted.
It includes the following moving account (Mishnah 10): It once happened that a man vowed to have nothing to do with his niece (i.e., not to marry her because of her uncomely appearance). R. Ishmael took her into his household and had her treated cosmetically ("beautified her"). He then said to the uncle: "Was it against this woman that you took the vow?" He answered in the negative, and R. Ishmael released him from his vow. Whereupon R. Ishmael wept and said: "the daughters of Israel are comely, but poverty destroys their comeliness!" When R. Ishmael died the women of Israel lamented: "Ye women of Israel, weep for R. Ishmael."
Chapter 10 deals with revocation by both father and fiancé of the vows of an affianced maiden; women whose vows cannot be revoked; the impossibility of revoking vows in advance; and the period allowed for such revocation. Chapter 11 treats of the type of vow that a husband can revoke: those which affect their relations or involve self-denial; vows of women not requiring revocation; and of women whose vows are not subject to revocation. Nedarim is a rich source for linguistic and syntactical usages in mishnaic Hebrew and is so used by the Gemara. The oldest stratum of this tractate including 1:3; 2:4; 3:4; 5:5 dates from the Second Temple period. Mishnayot 1:1; 7:1; 9:5–6; 11:4 are apparently derived from the mishnayot of Akiva while the rest of Mishnah Nedarim originated in the mishnayot of his disciples, Meir, Judah, and Yose. Chapter 4 belongs to Meir; 1:1; 3:6–10; 6:1; 7:5; 8:5–7; 9:1–8 belong to R. Judah, and the passages 3:1–5, 11; chapters 5; 1:1–7 belong to Yose who actually states that Elijah the Prophet taught him the section on Nedarim (Songs Zuta, ed. Schachter, 44; Buber 39; Epstein, Tanna'im 140–1). Mishnah 11:8 to the end of the tractate consists of supplements and glosses on the laws concerning vows. Mishnah 1:2 mentions several terms for vows about which the amoraim debate whether they were borrowed from foreign languages or were coined by the rabbis (10a). One of these terms, "konam," was found in the Punic inscription of Ashmanezer, king of Sidon (4:20), meaning "curse" or "vow," but it is not certain whether this Phoenician word is connected with the mishnaic term (S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 129 n. 106). Many of the laws in Nedarim should be seen in light of the Hellenistic practices of that period (ibid., 115–43).
The Tosefta consists of only seven chapters and many of the mishnayot of Nedarim have no corresponding comments in the Tosefta, nor does the order of the laws in this Tosefta always follow that of the Mishnah. On the other hand, the Tosefta gives several laws not included in the Mishnah.
There is a Gemara to Nedarim in both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds. The Babylonian Gemara, as is the case with regard to the tractate Nazir, is written in a peculiar dialect and various theories have been propounded to explain it. Epstein is of the opinion that it originates in the academy of Maḥoza, and since very little of the Talmud of Maḥoza reached Sura or Pumbedita, the geonim overlooked this tractate. In fact, during the whole of the geonic period the study of Nedarim was neglected in the Babylonian academies (Yehudai Gaon; B.M. Lewin, Oẓar ha-Ge'onim, 11 (1942), 23; cf. Adler Ms. no. 2639. See A. Marmorstein, in mgwj, 67 (1923), 134ff.). A. Weiss maintains that the differences are due solely to its neglect in the academies in later ages, and that it therefore lacked the benefits of final polishing given to the other tractates in the post-amoraic period, though he adds that it contains a certain amount of post-amoraic material, and regards the first two discussions as entirely savoraic. The Babylonian Talmud is usually printed with the commentary of Nissim Gerondi (the Ran) in addition to one attributed to Rashi, and with tosafot and the commentary of Jacob b. Asher. The text is not in very good condition and the commentaries contain many variant readings.
Both Talmuds, especially the Babylonian, are rich in aggadic material as exemplified by the following sayings: "The ancestors of the arrogant never stood on Mount Sinai" (20a); "If the people of Israel had not sinned, they would have been given only the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua" (22b); "Why have scholars very often no learned children? In order that knowledge may not be thought transmissible by inheritance and that scholars may not pride themselves on an aristocracy of mind" (81a). Biblical scholars find interest in the Talmud's remarks on the masoretic division of the Bible into verses and on the keri and ketiv which do not entirely coincide with the existing masoretic text (37b–38a). The Jerusalem Talmud tells of letters which Judah ha-Nasi addressed to Hananiah, the nephew of Joshua b. Hananiah, to dissuade him from decreeing leap years abroad. The discussion that followed ends with the saying that "a small group in Ereẓ Israel is more precious to me than a Great Sanhedrin in the Diaspora" (6:13, 40a).
The talmudic tractate was translated into English in the Soncino edition by H. Freedman (1936).
Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Nashim (1954), 137–46; idem, Mavo la-Mishnah (1959), 266; S. Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine (1942), 115–43; Epstein, Tanna'im, 376–82; Epstein, Amora'im, 54–71; Halevy, Dorot, 3 (1923), 48f.; A. Weiss, Al ha-Mishnah (1969), 155–68; idem, Hithavvut ha-Talmud bi-Shelemuto (1943), 57–128; D. Halivni, Mekorot u-Masorot (1968), 263–352; Z.W. Rabinowitz, Sha'arei Torat Bavel (1961), 299ff.