Mr. Nadel decided he would daven vasikin every morning. For a number of months he upheld this practice scrupulously. However, as time wore on, he found himself exhausted during the day and unable to concentrate properly while learning and at work.
Mr. Nadel approached Rabbi Dayan for advice. “I’m in a quandary,” he said. “I accepted the practice of davening vasikin, but it is negatively impacting my learning and work.”
“Davening vasikin is very commendable,” said Rabbi Dayan. “A vow is also a significant issue. The Torah states in Parashas Matos: ‘He should not violate his word’ (Bamidbar 30:3). Here, however, the gain results in greater spiritual loss.”
“What can I do?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“Chazal teach (Berachos 32a) that although a person may not violate his word, others can annul his vow,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This is called hataras nedarim. It is commonly done on erev Rosh Hashanah but can be done throughout the year if the need arises, such as in this case” (Rema, Y.D. 228:15).
“Can you do it for me?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“A qualified expert (mumcheh) can annul a vow on his own,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, we are not in this category nowadays, so that we need a panel of three, like a beis din.”
“Should I make an appointment with the secretary of the beis din?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“No, there is no need for that,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “I can get two others to join me right now. Let’s see who is here.”
In the room were Rabbi Dayan’s oldest son and Mr. Nadel’s brother. “My son and your brother can join me and will serve as the ‘beis din’ for the hataras nedarim,” said Rabbi Dayan.
“Excuse me for asking,” said Mr. Nadel, “but I don’t understand. How can my brother serve on the beis din for hataras nedarim? A relative cannot serve as a dayan!”
“Hataras nedarim requires a panel of three, like a beis din, but it is not exactly a beis din,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “There are several practical ramifications.
“For example, even relatives who are most scrupulous, such as Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen, cannot serve as dayanim for each other or together on a beis din for others,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, the Gemara (Nedarim 77a) teaches that relatives can do hataras nedarim. Some even allow a husband to serve on the panel for hataras nedarim of his wife, but Shulchan Aruch rules that he may not” (C.M. 7:9; Y.D. 228:3, 234:57).
“What about other people who are not qualified to judge, such as women, children, or wicked people?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“In this respect, hataras nedarim parallels judgment,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although relatives are qualified for hataras nedarim, women are not, since it says: ‘rashei ha’matos’—heads of the tribes. Similarly, children are not qualified until bar mitzvah, and it is preferable that they be visibly physically mature. It is questionable whether a thief can serve on the panel” (Aruch HaShulchan 228:10; Minchas Shlomo, Nedarim 77a).
“What other differences are there?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“The Gemara (ibid.) teaches further that although ideally adjudication should not begin at night and the dayanim should be sitting,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “hataras nedarim can be done at night or while standing. The common practice, however, is for the panel to sit, since we commonly use the mechanism of pesach (finding an ‘opening’) to render the vow mistaken, which requires more concentration” (C.M. 5:2, 28:6; Y.D. 228:4; Shach 228:9; Aruch HaShulchan 228:12).
“In what other ways are hataras nedarim and beis din similar?” asked Mr. Nadel.
“Some say that the panel should be odd-numbered, just like a beis din,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Some also maintain that a majority suffices to rule the pesach (opening) valid to annul the vow, like in judgment, while others maintain all three must agree” (Nachal Yitzchak, C.M. 3:4:1; Har Zvi, Y.D. 189; Minchas Shlomo, Nedarim 78a; see Kol Nidrei, ch. 13–15, 21).
This article is intended for learning purposes and not to be relied upon halacha l’maaseh. There are also issues of dina d’malchusa to consider in actual cases.
Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shlita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e‑mail to email@example.com.