Females’ Far-Reaching Nedarim by Jonathan Karp


In the beginning of Parashat Mattot, the Torah discusses Nedarim, sprecifically the Nedarim of a woman.It writes that if a girl takes a Neder upon herself while she is a Na’arah living in her father’s house, her father can nullify it on the spot. However, if the father finds out about the Neder and still does not do anything about it on that day, the Neder retains its validity. The Torah proceeds to extend this concept to a married woman, with the husband this time having a chance to nullify the Neder.

The Torah here makes a clear distinction between the Nedarim of men and women, with a woman’s Nedarim being able to be nullified (at least immediately) by her father or husband, respectively, whereas a man must always go to the Beit Din to nullify his Nedarim. Why is there such a difference? Furthermore, why should a woman’s father or her husband have the right to invalidate her Nedarim? Rashi explains that when the Torah says that she has to be living in her father’s house for the Neder to be nullified, it is coming to teach that she must specifically be within his jurisdiction.

Rav Shimshon Repha’eil Hirsch offers an insightful answer to this conundrum. He explains that a man can independently choose the path of his life, so he can feel free to disrupt his ordinary life with the abnormal conditions that he takes upon himself through a Neder. However, the same is not true for a woman. A woman has a greater moral purpose in life, as it is her task to ensure the spirituality and happiness of the household that a man establishes. If she were to change her own status by making abnormal restrictions on herself through Nedarim, she would hinder her own moral obligations. Therefore, the hindering of her moral job must be accepted by the affected person, namely the woman’s father or husband. Since the father or husband has responsibilities to the woman, it is his obligation to ensure that she does not stray from her moral calling.

This fits well with Rashi’s opinion that the woman must be within her father’s jurisdiction for him to be able to invalidate her Nedarim. This is so because if the woman were not in her father’s jurisdiction, she would have no moral obligation unto his household, and he, therefore, would have no right to dictate her position in spirituality and life.

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