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Nedarim, 10


QUESTION: Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish argue about the definition of Kinuyim. Rebbi Yochanan says that Kinuyim are words that mean "Neder" in foreign languages, while Reish Lakish says that Kinuyim are words that the Chachamim invented to use when making Nedarim.

The Mishnayos in Sotah list all of the Halachos which require Lashon ha'Kodesh and for which no other language may be used. Nedarim and Shevu'os are not included in that list, because there is no verse in the Torah that says that they take effect only in Lashon ha'Kodesh. Accordingly, it is obvious that any language may be used for making a Neder, and if so, why does the Mishnah mention that these three specific Kinuyim ("Konam, Konach, Konas") may be used? According to Rebbi Yochanan, the Mishnah should have said simply that a Neder may be made in any foreign language!

Also, since Reish Lakish must also agree that a Neder can be made in a foreign language, there does not seem to be any Machlokes between Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish with regard to the Halachah; they only argue about the source for these words mentioned in the Mishnah. But both agree that the word "Konam," or any word that means "Neder" in any language, may be used to make a valid Neder. Why, then, does the RAN (beginning of 10b) find it necessary to say that the Halachah follows the view of Rebbi Yochanan, who says that Kinuyim are foreign languages, if there is no difference whatsoever in practice between Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish?

(According to those Rishonim who say that Reish Lakish considers a Neder made with a Kinuy to be a Neder mid'Rabanan and not mid'Oraisa (see Rabeinu Yechiel cited by Tosfos 3a), there is an obvious practical difference between Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish: whether the Neder takes effect mid'Oraisa or only mid'Rabanan. However, the Ran himself (2a) learns that even according to Reish Lakish, a Neder made with a Kinuy is a Neder *mid'Oraisa*, because "a language invented by the Chachamim is no less than any foreign language." Why, then, does the Ran have to rule like Rebbi Yochanan?)


(a) The RAN (2a, in the name of Rebbi Yehudah bar'Rebbi Chasda'i) explains that even according to Rebbi Yochanan, the words "Konam" and "Konach" are not formal words in a foreign language. Rather, they are colloquialized versions of words taken from Hebrew, which came about when various nations adopted Hebrew words to express the concept of Neder but they mispronounce those words and instead of saying "Korban," they say "Konam" or "Konach." Since those words are not actually part of a foreign language, perhaps they should not work to create a Neder, because on one hand they are not authentic words in a foreign language, while on the other hand they are not the original Hebrew words either. Rebbi Yochanan teaches that once the foreigners adopted these words, even though they mispronounce them, they are acceptable expressions for making a Neder in a foreign language. That is why the Mishnah mentions only these words (which sound similar to the original Hebrew version) according to Rebbi Yochanan. It is possible that Reish Lakish argues with Rebbi Yochanan and does not consider such words to be valid, but rather he says that these words were created by the Chachamim. This is why the Ran must rule like Rebbi Yochanan -- only according to Rebbi Yochanan will a word that was taken from Hebrew and corrupted by the foreign nation be valid for a Neder, but not according to Reish Lakish.

(b) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Nedarim 1:16), who rules like Rebbi Yochanan, explains that Kinuyim are words used by unsophisticated people who mispronounce the words of their own language. He rules that even though the Neder they make is meaningless to someone who speaks the language properly, nevertheless if -- in their particular region and time period -- the mispronunciation is understood, it creates a valid Neder. (According to the Rambam, when Rebbi Yochanan says that Kinuyim are "Lashon Umos," he means that they are the "language of unsophisticated people" and not that they are "foreign languages." The Kinuyim mentioned in the Mishnah are actually Hebrew words spoken by Hebrew speakers who do not speak the language well.)

According to the Rambam, it is possible that Reish Lakish argues and holds that a mispronounced term is not considered speech, even in a place where such a mispronounced word is understood. The Rambam rules like Rebbi Yochanan that such a word does serve to create a Neder.

(c) TOSFOS (2a) explains that according to Rebbi Yochanan, the Mishnah singles out these particular Kinuyim because, normally, words in a foreign language may be used to make a Neder only when the person making the Neder understands that language. The words listed in the Mishnah, however, can be used to create a Neder even when the person uttering them does not understand what they mean (as long as he knows that he is making a Neder by pronouncing these words; Tosfos Yeshanim 10b). Why, though, should these words be different than words of any other language? (RASHBA and SHITAH MEKUBETZES)

Some explain that Tosfos rules that Lashon ha'Kodesh differs from other languages in that Lashon ha'Kodesh is a language *inherently* -- the words themselves have intrinsic meaning beyond the objects that they represent; it is not simply a language by consensus like every other language. Hence, when a person utters words in Lashon ha'Kodesh, they have a meaning even if he does not understand them, while words of foreign languages have meaning only if the speaker understands them. The Kinuyim listed in the Mishnah are so similar to Lashon ha'Kodesh that they clearly were adopted by other nations from Lashon ha'Kodesh, like the Ran says, and therefore they retain the inherent power of words of Lashon ha'Kodesh.

However, it is not clear that a term which has been altered from its original form in Lashon ha'Kodesh still retains the unique status of Lashon ha'Kodesh. Also, Tosfos does not mention anything about Lashon ha'Kodesh being different than other languages in this regard.

Rather, it appears that Tosfos means to say like the TOSFOS YESHANIM (10b) that any language that is spoken locally can create a Neder even if the person who speaks it does not understand what the word means (as long as he understands that he is making a Neder). The words that the Mishnah lists were spoken in Eretz Yisrael where those languages were spoken, and therefore they can be used to make a Neder even if the person using them does not understand them. Other languages, though, must be understood in order to make a Neder in a place where they are not spoken locally.

This is also the opinion of the RITVA (2a).? (See also TOSFOS in Bava Basra 164b, DH Hina.)

According to these Rishonim, Reish Lakish might be ruling that even in a place where the language is spoken, the Neder takes effect only if the person speaking it understands the language. Rebbi Yochanan, on the other hand, says that the Neder takes effect even when the person does not understand the language, as long as it is commonly spoken in that place. Both Reish Lakish and Rebbi Yochanan agree, though, that a language that is not spoken locally is still a valid language for making a Neder as long as the speaker understands what he is saying. The SHITAH MEKUBETZES in the name of the RE'EM also emphasizes this.

The RITVA also differentiates between a language spoken locally and one not spoken locally. However, he writes that a language not spoken locally cannot be used as a Neder at all and he does not mention that it could be used if the speaker understands it. According to the Ritva, the practical difference between Reish Lakish and Rebbi Yochanan is that according to Reish Lakish, the Kinuyim mentioned in the Mishnah may be used even where they are not spoken locally, since the Chachamim established that they may be used.

Based on this, the BI'UR HALACHAH (OC 62) rules that words in a foreign language other than Lashon ha'Kodesh are *not* effective except in the place where it is spoken locally, and only if the person using that language understands what he is saying (i.e. both conditions are necessary). From the other Rishonim, though, it seems that either one of these conditions suffices -- either that the speaker understands what he is saying, or he is speaking in a place where that language is spoken locally.

It is possible that the Ritva is not arguing with the other Rishonim and he also agrees that a language not spoken locally is effective if the speaker understands what he is saying. However, the Ritva is discussing a situation where the speaker does not understand what he is saying, and that is why he says that Rebbi Yochanan holds that Kinuyim work only in a place where they are spoken locally. The reason he is discussing such a situation, where the speaker does not understand the words, is because if the person does understand the words, then Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish would not argue and they would both agree that Kinuyim could be used even in places where that language is not spoken. The argument between Rebbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish is only where someone uses this words in a place where the language is not commonly spoken and nor does the speaker understand what they mean.


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