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Truth Or Consequences
‘Consecrating The Non-Existent’
(Nedarim 85b)



Our Daf discusses the possibility of consecrating [donating to the sanctified domain] something that one does not presently own. Can someone promise to donate a field that he hopes to acquire? Can someone donate a field that he presently owns but which is mortgaged? Can such a donor [of a possession in the future] have his vow revoked?


So Great is Charity

According to biblical law, a debt that remains outstanding at the end of the shemitta (Sabbatical) year is null and void, and creditors cannot demand payment. Even if a borrower wants to repay his loan, the lender is commanded to decline and say, “I hereby waive the loan.”

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 67:28), however, rules that shemitta does not affect money owed to a charity fund. The source for this halacha is the Talmud (Bava Kamma 36b), which states that the bet din is considered the representative of the orphans and the poor (see Rashba). Since the loan in this case is owed to the bet din, the laws of the Sabbatical year do not apply, similar to the way a prosbul transfers to the beth din the right to claim a debt. The borrower must then pay the debt after the conclusion of the Sabbatical year.


Lost His Case

A debtor who sought to avoid paying his creditor lost his case due to this halacha. The debtor admitted that he owed the creditor money, but did not want to deal with him directly. To solve the problem of lack of communication, an arrangement was made to transfer the money to the bet din, which would then hand it over to the creditor. The debtor had not yet repaid the loan when a Sabbatical year came and passed. Holding a calendar in his hand, the debtor claimed that the loan had been cancelled by the shemitta. However, the bet din, acting as the creditor’s agent, ruled that the debt was still due and payable (Piskei Din Yerushalayim, Dinei Mamonos U’Birurei Yahadus III).

According to Rashba (Responsum 1:656), when someone utters a vow to donate money to a charity fund, he can later revoke his vow through the authority of a Sage. However, if he transfers the money to a third party, he can no longer cancel his vow even though the money has not yet been given to the fund’s trustees (the gabba’im). (See Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah 258:22.)


An Insightful Explanation

The Noda B’Yehuda (Mahadura Tanina, Yoreh De’ah 154 s.v. ad kan) provides an insightful explanation for the reasoning behind Rashba’s ruling: When someone asks a Sage to revoke a vow, he must declare that had he known the consequences, he would never have uttered that vow. Although the person attempting to have his vow revoked might be lying, the Sage must accept his declaration and annul the vow since people are usually trusted in the matter of prohibitions.

In our case, however, if the Sage accepted such a declaration, he would be depriving the poor (the beneficiaries of the charity fund) of money that would otherwise be given to them. Therefore, the Sage does not have the authority to believe the donor, and the money must remain in the hands of the third party for the benefit of the poor. The vow remains in effect and the donor must instruct the third party to give the money to charity.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.