Nedarim 66: For the Children

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

"One may use as an opening [to annul a vow] one's own honour or the honour of one's children" (Nedarim 66a). Our relationship towards our parents is different, often much different,  than that which we have towards our children. Our relationship to our parents is, at least from a Jewish perspective, based on kavod, (generally translated as honour but more accurately defined as service[1]) and morah, awe, aspects that are absent from our relationship towards our children. Our relationship with them is based on unconditional love and what we would not do for our parents we will gladly do for our children. 


In our last post we discussed the ruling that one may not nullify a vow based on a retroactive claim that one was unaware of the anguish such a vow might cause one's parents. We fear that a claim of concern of honour due to a parent may be insincere and not truly felt. Such is not the case regarding our children. Being made aware that a vow is bringing dishonor to oneself or one's children is grounds for nullification. In such an instance we can rest assured that such concern for honour is most sincere.

The Mishnaic example of this principle sheds much light on changing societal views of the family. "We say to him, if you would have known that tomorrow they will say about you that it is your wont to divorce your wife, and regarding your daughters they will say they are the daughters of divorced parents, what did he see in his wife to divorce her? If he says had I known such I would not have vowed it is permitted" (Nedarim 66a).

Marriage in Judaism is sacrosanct - and while there are people for whom marriage is not appropriate and there are times when divorce is called for - it is a sad day when a couple divorces. "Rabbi Elazar said: whoever divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears" (Gittin 90b). For better or worse (no doubt most today would say for worse) in Talmudic times people looked askance at those who divorced. It was not uncommon for rumours of infidelity to be cast about impacting not only the husband and wife but also the children. Yet oftentimes we do not realize what others may be saying about us.

If one takes a vow to divorce[2] his wife he may neglect to take into account the full impact such a vow may have on his children. Reading the Mishna carefully one notes that we are not dealing with the direct impact on the children not having two loving parents raising them together in the same home. Presumably this was taken into account and cannot be used as a basis for annulment. What he did not realize is the damage it would do to their reputation - and to his own. Perhaps he was a bit too open-minded and thought that there would be little stigma attached to divorce, only to discover that such is not the case at all. Had he realized his kids would suffer - above and beyond the divorce itself - he would never have made such a vow. And that lack of clarity at the time of the vow can now be used as a means to annul the vow. 


"I have placed G-d before me always" (Tehillim 16:8). For those who find that hard (most likely most of us but I speak only of myself) perhaps we can avoid sin by having our families before us. While not politically correct to say so acting in a way that avoids causing embarrassment to others - even if one could care less - is something well worth trying. 


[1] The Talmud defines kavod as "to give them food and drink, clothe and cover them, lead them in and out" (Kiddushin 31b). Ironically these are activities we generally do for our children and not necessarily for our parents.

[2] Such a vow is a most odd one - why not just divorce without the vow? Perhaps such a vow was said in a moment of anger or reflects ambivalence and hence the surprise that rumours have spread before the divorce itself. Furthermore he may not have actually taken such a direct vow. The Mishna in the 7th Chapter of Ketubot lists a series of vows for which the inevitable result is divorce. These include forbidding one's wife from attending a wedding or funeral or forbidding her from wearing perfumes and makeup.