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THE PARALLEL INSTANCE OF • VOWS.'
how Jesus could not have assumed merely an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. For, even if such sentiments were represented as a later development, they are the outcome of a direction, of which that of Jesus was the very opposite, and to which it was antagonistic. But, if Jesus was not sent of God-not the Messiahwhence this wonderful contrast of highest spirituality in what He taught of God as our Father, and of His Kingdom as that over the hearts of all men ? The attitude of antagonism to traditionalism was never more pronounced than in what He said in reply to the charge of neglect of the ordinance about the washing of hands. Here it must be remembered, that it was an admitted Rabbinic principle that, while the ordinances of Scripture required no confirmation, those of the Scribes needed such, and that no Halachah (traditional Jer. Taan. law) might contradict Scripture. When Christ, therefore, next pro- the middle ceeded to show, that in a very important point-nay, in many such like things '--the Halachah was utterly incompatible with Scripture, that, indeed, they made 'void the Word of God' by their traditions which they had received, He dealt the heaviest blow to tradition- St. Matt. alism. Rabbinism stood self-condemned; on its own showing, it St. Mark vii. was to be rejected as incompatible with the Word of God.
It is n so easy to understand, why the Lord should, out of many such things,' have selected in illustration the Rabbinic ordinance concerning vows, as, in certain circumstances, contravening the fifth commandment. Of course, the “Ten Words' were the Holy of Holies of the Law; nor was there any obligation more rigidly observed—indeed, carried in practice almost to the verge of absurdity 2-than that of honour to parents. In both respects, then, this was a specially vulnerable point, and it might well be argued that, if in this Law Rabbinic ordinances came into conflict with the demands of God's Word, the essential contrariety between them must, indeed, be great. Still, we feel as if this were not all. Was there any special instance in view, in which the Rabbinic law about votive offerings had led to such abuse? Or was it only, that at this festive season the Galilean pilgrims would carry with them to Jerusalem their votive offerings? Or, could the Rabbinic ordinances about the sanctification of the hands' (Yadayim) have recalled to the Lord another Rabbinic application of the word 'band' (yad) in connection with votive offerings ? It is at least sufficiently
It was, however, admitted that the ? See the remarks on this point in
• Ab. iii. 13
curious to find mention of it here, and it will afford the opportunity of briefly explaining, what to a candid reader may seem almost inexplicable in the Jewish legal practice to which Christ refers.
At the outset it must be admitted, that Rabbinism did not encourage the practice of promiscuous vowing. As we view it, it belongs, at best, to a lower and legal standpoint. In this respect Rabbi Akiba put it concisely, in one of his truest sayings : Vows are a hedge to abstinence. On the other hand, if regarded as a kind of return for benefits received, or as a promise attaching to our prayers, a vow-unless it form part of our absolute and entire self-surrender -partakes either of work-righteousness, or appears almost a kind of
religious gambling. And so the Jewish proverb had it: 'In the Ber. R. 81 hour of need a vow; in time of ease excess. Towards such work
righteousness and religious gambling the Eastern, and especially the Rabbinic Jew, would be particularly inclined. But even the Rabbis saw that its encouragement would lead to the profanation of what was holy; to rash, idle, and wrong vows; and to the worst and most demoralising kind of perjury, as inconvenient consequences made themselves felt. Of many sayings, condemnatory of the
practice, one will suffice to mark the general feeling: "He who Nedar, 9a; makes a vow, even if he keep it, deserves the name of wicked.'c
Nevertheless, the practice must have attained terrible proportions, whether as regards the number of vows, the lightness with which they were made, or the kind of things which became their object. The larger part of the Mishnic Tractate on 'Vows' (Nedarim, in eleven chapters) describes what expressions were to be regarded as equivalent to vows, and what would either legally invalidate and annul a vow, or leave it binding. And here we learn, that those who were of full age, and not in a position of dependence (such as wives) would make almost any kind of vows, such as that they would not lie down to sleep, not speak to their wives or children, not have intercourse with their brethren, and even things more wrong or foolish-all of which were solemnly treated as binding on the conscience. Similarly, it was not necessary to use the express words of vowing. Not only the word “ Korban'-'given to God—but any similar expression, such as Konach, or Konam' (the latter probably an equivalent for ‘Let it be established !') would suffice; the mention of anything laid upon the altar (though not of the altar itself), such as the wood, or the fire, would constitute a vow,d nay, the repetition
d Nedar. i. 1-3
| According to Nedar. 10 a, the Rabbis invented this word instead of Korban to
the Lord' (Lev. i. 2), in order that the Name of God might not be idly taken.
THE RABBINIC ORDINANCES CONCERNING VOWS.
a Jer. Nedar. 36 d,
of the form which generally followed on the votive Konam or Korban had binding force, even though not preceded by these terms. Thus, if a man said : "That I eat or taste of such a thing,' it constituted a vow, which bound him not to eat or taste it, because the common formula was: “Korban (or Konam) that I eat or drink, or do such a thing,' and the omission of the votive word did not invalidate a vow, if it were otherwise regularly expressed.
It is in explaining this strange provision, intended both to uphold line 20 from the solemnity of vows, and to discourage the rash use of words, that the Talmud b makes use of the word “hand' in a connection which u. S. we have supposed might, by association of ideas, have suggested to Christ the contrast between what the Bible and what the Rabbis regarded as "sanctified hands,' and hence between the commands of God and the traditions of the Elders. For the Talmud explains that, when a man simply says: “That (or if) I eat or taste such a thing,' it is imputed as a vow, he may not eat nor taste of it, “because the hand is on the Korban'c—the mere touch of Korban had 7 oup sanctified it, and put it beyond his reach, just as if it had been laid on the altar itself. Here, then, was a contrast. According to the Rabbis, the touch of a common hand defiled God's good gift of meat, while the touch of a sanctified' hand in rash or wicked words might render it impossible to give anything to a parent, and so involve the grossest breach of the Fifth Commandment! Such, according to Rabbinic Law, was the common' and such the sanctifying' touch of the hands--and did such traditionalism not truly make void the Word of God '?
A few further particulars may serve to set this in clearer light. It must not be thought that the pronunciation of the votive word Korban,' although meaning a gift,' or 'given to God,' necessarily dedicated a thing to the Temple. The meaning might simply be, and generally was, that it was to be regarded like Korban—that is, that in regard to the person or persons named, the thing termed was to be considered as if it were Korban, laid on the altar, and put entirely out of their reach. For, although included under the one name, there were really two kinds of vows: those of consecration to God, and those of personal obligation and the latter were the most frequent.
To continue. The legal distinction between a vow, an oath, and “the ban,' are clearly marked both in reason and in Jewish Law. The oath was an absolute, the vow a conditional undertaking—their
I See Maimonides, Yad haChas., Hilc. Nedar. i. 1, 2.
8 שאני אוכל
• Jer. Ned. u. S.
difference being marked even by this, that the language of a vow ran thus : “That' or 'if''I or another do such a thing,' 'if I eat;'a while that of the oath was a simple affirmation or negation, 'I
shall not eat.'c On the other hand, the 'ban' might refer to one of Sau 55 three things : those dedicated for the use of the priesthood, those
dedicated to God, or else to a sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin.d In any case it was not lawful to · ban’ the whole of one's property, nor even one class of one's property (such as all one's sheep), nor yet what could not, in the fullest sense, be called one's property, such as a child, a Hebrew slave, or a purchased field, which had to be restored in the Year of Jubilee; while an inherited field, if banned,
in perpetuity for the use of the priesthood. Similarly, the Law limited vows. Those intended to incite to an act (as on the part of one who sold a thing), or by way of exaggeration, or in cases of mistake, and, lastly, vows which circumstances rendered impossible, were declared null. To these four classes the Mishnah added those
made to escape murder, robbery, and the exactions of the publican. annis. If a vow was regarded as rash or wrong, attempts were made e they open a to open a door for repentance. Absolutions from a vow might be Nedar. ix. obtained before a 'sage,' or, in his absence, before three laymen,
when all obligations became null and void. At the same time the Mishnah & admits, that this power of absolving from vows was a tradition hanging, as it were, in the air, since it received little (or, as Maimonides puts it, no) support from Scripture.3
There can be no doubt, that the words of Christ referred to such vows of personal obligation. By these a person might bind himself in regard to men or things, or else put that which was another's out of his own reach, or that which was his own out of the reach of another, and this as completely as if the thing or things had been Korban, a gift given to God. Thus, by simply saying, “Konam,' or • Korban, that by which I might be profited by thee,' a person bound himself never to touch, taste, or have anything that belonged to the person so addressed. Similarly, by saying “Korban, that by which thou mightest be profited by me, he would prevent the person so addressed from ever deriving any benefit from that which belonged
* Chag. i. 8
i Maimonides u. s. Hilc. Shev, vi. 1.
? This is altogether a very curious Mishnah. It adds to the remark quoted in the text this other significant admission, that the laws about the Sabbath, festive offerings, and the malversation of things devoted to God “are like moun
tains hanging by one hair,' since Scripture is scant on these subjects, while the traditional Laws are many.
3 On the subject of Vows see also “The Temple and its Services,' pp. 322-326. The student should consult Siphré, Par. Mattoth, pp. 55 b to 58 b.
POSSIBLE CONFLICT WITH THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT.
5 כבוד אביו ואמו
c Ned. ix. 1
Nedar. v. 6
2. שֶׁהָיָה אָבִיו מִבָּר הִימֶנוּ הֲנָאָה) he might be profited by him
to him. And so stringent was the ordinance, that (almost in the words of Christ) it is expressly stated that such a vow was binding, even if what was vowed involved a breach of the Law. It cannot be · Nedar. li. 2 denied that such vows, in regard to parents, would be binding, and that they were actually made. Indeed, the question is discussed in the Mishnah in so many words, whether “honour of father and mother’b constituted a ground for invalidating a vow, and decided
) in the negative against a solitary dissenting voice. And if doubt should still exist, a case is related in the Mishnah,' in which a father was thus shut out by the vow of his son from anything by which
() charge brought by Christ is in fullest accordance with the facts of the case. More than this, the manner in which it is put by St. Mark shows the most intimate knowledge of Jewish customs and law. For, the seemingly inappropriate addition to our Lord's mention of the Fifth Commandment of the words : He that revileth father or mother, he shall (let him) surely die,'e is not only explained but • Ex. xxi. 17 vindicated by the common usage of the Rabbis, to mention along with a command the penalty attaching to its breach, so as to indicate the importance which Scripture attached to it. On the other hand, the words of St. Mark: Korban (that is to say, gift (viz., to God]) that by which thou mightest be profited by me,' are a most exact transcription into Greek of the common formula of vowing, as given
(3 )* But Christ did not merely show the hypocrisy of the system of traditionalism in conjoining in the name of religion the greatest outward punctiliousness with the grossest breach of real duty. Nerer, alas ! was that aspect of prophecy, which in the present saw the future, more clearly vindicated than as the words of Isaiah to Israel now appeared in their final fulfilment: “This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit, in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of
4.(קָרְבָּן שֶׁאַתָּה נְהֶגֶה לי) in the Mishnah and Talmud
'I can only express surprise, that and confirmed --implying, that in no cir. Wünsche should throw doubt upon it. cumstances could a parent partake of It is fully admitted by Levy, Targ. anything belonging to his son, if he had
pronounced such a vow, the only relaxa. ? In this case the son, desirous that tion being that in case of actual starvation his father should share in the festivities ('if he have not what to eat') the son might at his marriage, proposed to give to a make a present to a third person, when friend the court in which the banquet the father might in turn receive of it. was to be held and the banquet itself, * Comp. Wünsche, ad loc. but only for the purpose that his father • Other translations have been promight eat and drink with him. The posed, but the above is taken from Nedar. proposal was refused as involving sin, viii. 7, with the change only of Konam and the question afterwards discussed into Korban.
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