Releasing A Wife’s Vows

Question

Chedva had taken upon herself to visit residents of the
local senior citizens’ home every afternoon between 5 and 6 p.m. Now
that she was about to give birth, she felt she could no longer keep up the
commitment. However, she was concerned that this commitment had the force
of a vow. This would require hatoras nedorim (releasing from a vow)
which has to take to take place in front of three adult Jewish males.
Chedva feels uncomfortable appearing in front of a group of men. Can she
ask her husband to appear on her behalf?


Answer

If a person accepts some halachic stringency upon
himself for an unlimited period of time, this is considered like a vow (Shulchan
Oruch
, Yoreh Deah, 214:1). Accordingly, if he later finds it
too difficult to keep it up, he must seek release from this vow. This
requires hatoras nedorim (release from a vow) in front of three
adult males. At least one of the members of this group has to be aware of
the content of the vow and the grounds for release (Ibid.228:1-2). The
person who made the vow must appear in person before this group. He can
not send an agent to make the request on his behalf (Ibid. 228:16).
However, if he does not speak the same language as those whom he wishes to
release him from the vow, he may communicate with them through an
interpreter.

There is an exception to this rule. A married woman
can ask her husband to gain her release from her vow (Ibid. 234:56), since
ishto k’gufo”(a man’s wife is considered part of himself).
However, there is a condition attached to this leniency. Only if he finds
three males sitting together (for whatever purpose) can he request that
they release his wife from her vow. He can not gather them together. There
are differing explanations as to the reason for this condition. The Shach
(No.71) holds that this leniency was intended to save the married woman
the embarrassment of having to appear before three men. If these men have
to be brought together, the resultant publicity will also cause her
embarrassment, making this leniency pointless. It therefore follows that
if she states that she has no objection to having them brought together,
one may do so (Levush). According to the Taz (No.47), the
reason is different. Our Sages permitted a married woman to ask for
release from her vows through the agency of her husband out of recognition
of her sensitive status. However, they were only prepared to apply this
leniency if the three men were already sitting together. To gather them
together for this purpose was felt to be too great a leniency. We follow
this stricter opinion of the Taz.

The three men required can even be relatives of the
person requesting release and related to each other. Thus, a father can be
part of a group releasing his daughter’s vows. However, a husband can
not be part of the group releasing his wife’s vows. As we have explained
above, “ishto k’gufo”. The husband is surely unable to
release his own vows!

We can therefore conclude that Chedva can send her
husband to ask for release from her vow, as long as the husband finds
three people sitting together – for any reason – and does not need to
gather them together. If he does not find such a group, she will be forced
to appear in front of such a group in person.