ז׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ב (January 31, 2012)

Arakhin 18a-b – Timing the meaning of a vow

As we have learned (see the introduction to Masechet Arakhin) there are two separate ways of committing to make a gift to the Temple based on a person’s value. Nidrei arakhin – the main discussion of the current tractate – is an established set of values for vows, which fluctuate depending on the age and gender of the person (see Vayikra 27:1-7). In contrast, nidrei damim refer to the worth of a person as determined based on how much that person would be sold for on the open slave market.

These two separate tracks – nidrei arakhin and nidrei damim – are mentioned on today’s daf (=page) in the context of determining what time is significant with regard to these vows. Since there will always be a time-lapse between taking the vow and paying the vow, which time will be significant in determining what is owed?

The Mishnah teaches that if someone vows to pay nidrei arakhin:

–          on a child less than five years old (a five shekel commitment), but comes to the Temple to fulfill his vow only after the child turns five (theoretically a 20 shekel payment), or

–          on a young man less than 20 years old (a 20 shekel commitment), but comes to the Temple to fulfill his vow only after the young man turns 20 (theoretically a 50 shekel payment)

he will pay the value based on the time that the vow was made.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that it was necessary to teach this law, since it stands in contrast with the law regarding nidrei damim, where the valuation is based on the later time, when the person’s worth is established and payment is made.

While the baraita offers a source for the law regarding nidrei arakhin (the passage in 27:17), no source is offered for the fact that nidrei damim are evaluated at the time of payment. Rashi suggests that it is simply based on logic, for how can we determine the change in a person’s worth between the time of the vow and the time that he is taken to be evaluated at the slave market? Tosafot argues that this logic cannot be applied consistently, since there may be cases where the person suffered an obvious accident and loss of value, yet we make no attempt to determine what his original value may have been. According to Tosafot, there must be a biblical source for this law, but we do not know what it is.