The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 2 February 2008 / 26 Shevat 5768

Nedarim 47 - 53

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Who Keeps the Kerchief?

In order for any transaction or commitment to be finalized halachically, a kinyan must be made. A kinyan serves as the legal instrument of acquisition or obligation from which there is no backing out.

The most common form of kinyan is chalipin. First mentioned in the Book of Ruth, this kinyan consists of the party wishing to acquire an object or a commitment from another party giving him some useful item; this in turn obligates the other party to transfer ownership of the object being sold or given, or to fulfill the commitment.

The item mentioned in the Book of Ruth is a shoe, but the most common item used throughout history has been the sudar -- the kerchief -- and the kinyan of chalipin is frequently referred to in the Talmud as kinyan sudar. Most everyone has seen such a kerchief kinyan performed at a wedding when the groom assumes the responsibility to his bride for all of the financial obligations recorded in the ketubah. It is also a familiar sight before Pesach when we use this as an instrument for transferring to the rabbi the right to sell our chametz to a non-Jew.

What happens to the kerchief after the kinyan is complete?

Anyone who has participated in such a kinyan or observed one knows that it always ends up back in the possession of its original owner. Is this because it was intended only as an instrument of kinyan and therefore must be returned, or does the one making the transfer or commitment have the right to keep it?

There seems to be a dispute on this point between Rabbi Nachman and Rabbi Ashi. Rabbi Nachman contends that the seller cannot keep the kerchief, and he cites this as support for his view that something can be transferred to someone solely for the purpose of momentarily serving as an instrument of kinyan. Rabbi Ashi challenges this support by contending that if the seller wishes to keep the kerchief, it is not certain that he would not have the right to do so.

Ran points out that even Rabbi Ashi concurs that the kerchief cannot be kept, and that he was only offering a challenge to Rabbi Nachman as regards the conclusiveness of his premise. He bases this on a statement made by Rabbi Ashi himself in another gemara (Mesechta Kiddushin 6b). Even though Tosefot there disagrees with this interpretation of Rabbi Ashi's statement, Tosefot does agree that it is the universal custom for the kerchief to be returned to its original owner.

  • Nedarim 48b

The Secrets of the Sage's Wealth

From a humble beginning as an ignorant shepherd, Rabbi Akiva developed into a Torah giant and a very wealthy man. His Torah scholarship made him the teacher of 24,000 disciples. To dispel any notion that his wealth resulted from having so large a student body, points out Maharsha, the gemara informs us that he received no payment for teaching Torah but became wealthy from six different sources.

In connection with two of these sources there are fascinating stories only hinted at in our gemara.

One is about the Roman noblewoman from whom Rabbi Akiva borrowed money to support his disciples. She insisted that Hashem and the sea serve as guarantors for the loan. When the due date arrived, Rabbi Akiva was ill and did not appear to make the payment. She thereupon went to the seashore and said: "Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed to You that Rabbi Akiva is sick and was unable to pay his debt. You are the guarantor of his loan."

At that moment the emperor's daughter went mad and threw a chest filled with jewels and gold coins into the sea. The chest was then washed ashore at the very spot where the noblewoman sat and she took it home with her. After a while Rabbi Akiva recovered and went to the noblewoman with money to pay his debt. " I have already turned to the guarantor," she informed him, "and He paid the entire debt. Here is the amount which exceeded the debt," she said, whereupon she gave him the remaining treasure.

Another woman connected with Rabbi Akiva's wealth was the wife of the Roman nobleman, Turnus Rufus. One day he came home extremely upset because Rabbi Akiva had embarrassed him in a theological debate before the emperor. She thereupon offered to incur Hashem's anger towards the sage by tempting him. When she appeared before Rabbi Akiva in all her finery, Rabbi Akiva spat, laughed and cried. In reply to her request for an explanation of his actions he agreed to reveal the reason for only two of them. He spat because she was the product of a putrid seminal drop, and cried because such beauty was destined to eventually rot in the earth. The reason for his laughter, which he did not reveal to her, was that he had a Divine revelation that she would convert and become his wife. She was so moved by what he did tell her that she asked if there was a way for her to repent. When he said there was, she took the initiative of converting, married Rabbi Akiva and brought along her great wealth.

  • Nedarim 52a

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