והשביע הכהן את האשה...ואמרה האשה אמן אמן ה:כא-כב
When it comes to becoming bound by a shvuah (oath) by dint of answering amen to someone else’s utterance of the shvuah, the Rambam makes a point to say that even if the one who uttered the shvuah was a non-Jew or a child, the shvuah is binding (Hilchos Shvuos 2:1). However, when it comes to becoming bound by a neder (vow) by dint of answering amen to someone’s else’s utterance of the neder, the Rambam does not make any mention of this being the case if the one who uttered the neder was a non-Jew or a child (Hilchos Nedarim 2:1).
It is possible to posit that, really, the Rambam holds that the halacha is the same for a neder as it is for a shvuah – namely, that in both cases saying amen to the utterance of a non-Jew or a child is binding – just that the Rambam either did not need to mention it in Hilchos Nedarim because he already mentioned it in Hilchos Shvuos (and the reader can make the extrapolation on his own), or he needed to mention it specifically by a shvuah because that is where one might have been less inclined to think that it is so. Alternatively, one could posit that the Rambam’s omission regarding neder was quite deliberate, and that it is only by a shvuah that answering amen to the utterance of a non-Jew or a child is effective, but by a neder this is not the case.
To explain this approach, we will begin by contrasting the halacha of a shvuah with that of a bracha. Regarding fulfilling one’s obligation to make a bracha by answering amen when someone else said the bracha, the Rambam explicitly says that it only works if the one who made the bracha is on the same level of obligation as the one answering amen (Hilchos Brachos 1:11). So, we see clearly that if the bracha was uttered by a non-Jew or a child, one would not fulfill his obligation by answering amen to their utterance, unlike a shvuah where the Rambam says explicitly that answering amen to a shvuah uttered by a non-Jew or a child does take effect and is fully binding.
And there is another difference between shvuah and bracha. By a shvuah, it is not necessary, says the Rambam, to actually say the word amen. As long as he says anything that clearly indicates acceptance of the shvuah, it takes effect and becomes fully binding. By a bracha, though, it is saying the specific word amen that makes it as though the amen-answerer said the bracha himself.
The explanation of this difference between bracha and shvuah is quite straightforward. When it comes to answering amen to a shvuah uttered by someone else, we are not talking about a case where one person made a shvuah for himself and another person is trying to make the shvuah effective for him as well by answering amen. Rather, what we are talking about is when one person is being mashbia another person. In numerous sources, we find the idea of someone becoming bound by answering amen to someone else’s utterance of a shvuah called “mushba”.
What that means is that when it comes to shvuah, there exists a concept of one person imposing an oath on another. Even though the one accepting the shvuah says amen, and that makes it as though he himself uttered the shvuah; nevertheless, the legal mechanism at work is that the one uttering the shvuah is imposing the oath, and the one answering amen is accepting the oath.
In order for this to work, the one uttering the shvuah cannot say something like, “By an oath, I shall not eat such-and-such”. If that would be the case, then answering amen would not cause the shvuah to become binding on the amen-answerer as though he himself made the shvuah (but it would be subject to the machlokes of matfis b’shvuah). Rather, for this to work, the one uttering the shvuah has to say something like, “By an oath, you shall not eat such-and-such” or “I hereby impose an oath on you that you will not eat such-and-such”. He has to utter an expression of oath that clearly directs the shvuah towards the one who is answering amen. When he does that, he is engaging in the act of imposing an oath, and it is therefore possible for the listener to accept the oath.
Accordingly, we understand why the Rambam says that it is not necessary for the listener to specifically say the word amen, and that any expression of acceptance suffices. Because that is what he is doing; he is accepting the oath that is being imposed on him.
When it comes to brachos, though, of course there is no such thing as “imposing” a bracha on someone else. What there is, is that someone who has his own obligation to make a bracha can of course utter that bracha – and it is a fully valid bracha by dint of the fact that he himself is obligated to make it – and it is possible for the listener to make that bracha “his” as well by answering amen. By answering amen, the listener makes it as if he himself said the bracha as well. But the bracha, when it is being uttered, is the bracha of the one uttering it; therefore, the legal status of the bracha and its ability to take effect and be considered valid can be determined only by the one who actually said it. And the listener can only make it as though he himself said the bracha as well by answering the specific word amen. He cannot simply utter any expression of acceptance, because there is no such thing as “accepting” a bracha on oneself. Rather, there is a halacha that by answering the specific word amen it makes it as though he himself said it.
With this background, we can now explain the difference between a shvuah and a neder. Note, that when it comes to a shvuah, the Rambam says that answering amen (or uttering any other expression of acceptance) renders it as though he himself said the shvuah; whereas by a neder, all the Rambam says is that answering amen (or uttering any other expression of acceptance) is an acceptance of the neder.
The Gemara (Shvuos 36) says “amen bo shvuah bo kabalas devarim”. My grandfather, Rav Yosef Dov Ha’Levi Soloveitchik, explained that, according to the Rambam, the meaning of this Gemara is that there are two distinct legal mechanisms to answering amen. When it comes to a shvuah, the halacha is “bo shvuah”, meaning that answering amen (or saying any other expression of acceptance) renders it as though he himself made the shvuah. But when it comes to neder, the halacha is “bo kabalas devarim”, meaning that answering amen (or uttering any other expression of acceptance) only serves as an acceptance of the neder, but does not make it as if the amen-answerer himself uttered the neder.
Accordingly, it now makes perfect sense why it is that only by shvuah did the Rambam say that it takes effect even if the one who uttered the shvuah was a non-Jew or a child. Because by a shvuah, answering amen (or saying any other expression of acceptance) constitutes an essentially independent maaseh haflaah (act of making a shvuah). Therefore, who the original person was that uttered the shvuah is immaterial.
However, by a neder, answering amen (or saying any other expression of acceptance) does not constitute an act of making a neder; all it is, is an acceptance of the neder uttered by someone else. It follows, therefore, that that someone else who uttered the neder has to be someone who possesses the full-fledged legal status to do so. That is how my grandfather explained it, and there is a proof for this from what the Rambam writes in Hilchos Nedarim 5:3.
There, the Rambam writes, “If Reuvein says to Shimon, ‘the produce of so-and-so is hereby forbidden to you’ or ‘you are hereby forbidden to get benefit from so-and-so’, this is meaningless, for one cannot make some else forbidden from something that does not belong to him unless Shimon answers amen, as we explained.” What you see from these words of the Rambam is that if Shimon does in fact answer amen, it is Reuvein who is making Shimon forbidden from the produce or benefit of the third party. But if Shimon’s act of answering amen would be considered as if he himself made the neder, then it would make no sense to say such a thing!
Think about it. Would it make sense to say, “Reuvein cannot cause a transfer of ownership of Shimon’s property unless Shimon transfers the property”? Obviously not. You could say, “Reuvein cannot cause a transfer of Shimon’s property. Only Shimon can cause a transfer of the property that belongs to him”. But you can’t say “Reuvein cannot cause a transfer of Shimon’s property unless Shimon transfers his property,” because that would be implying that when Shimon transfers his property, it is Reuvein that transferred the property, which is obviously a completely inane statement.
So, if the Rambam says, “Reuvein cannot make Shimon forbidden by force of neder from a third-party’s benefit/produce unless Shimon answers amen,” clearly, what he is saying is that, at the end of the day, it is Reuvein who is making Shimon forbidden by having uttered the neder to which Shimon answered amen. Obviously, then, Shimon’s answering amen is not making it as if Shimon himself made the neder. Rather, it is Reuvein – the neder utterer – who is generating the koach ha’haflaah (the vow’s legal force), and Shimon is merely accepting it. It follows, of course, that Reuvein has to be someone who has the legal standing to do such a thing, and that if it would have been a non-Jew or a child who uttered the neder, it would not take effect despite Shimon answering amen.
(From Kisvei Yad published in Tiferes Tzvi and Kovetz Zikaron)
“When you know that you’re going to have a window of time to spend on something meaningful, like learning Torah, don’t wait until it comes, to decide how you are going to utilize it. Plan in advance. Especially if that time is auspicious.”
“My father once drove with me to the pharmacy to purchase a thermometer. The thermometer that we had, broke, so we needed to get a new one. My father parked the car, and waited while I went in to buy the thermometer. A few minutes later, I returned empty-handed. ‘What happened?’ my father asked me. What happened is that the thermometer that we had had was the electronic type that tells you the person’s temperature within a few seconds, and the pharmacy we went to only had the old type of thermometers that you have to sometimes keep in your mouth for a full minute or two. ‘They only had the slow type of thermometer,’ I responded, ‘so I didn’t get it’. My father looked at me, incredulous, and exclaimed, ‘You’re such a masmid?’ Of course, what he meant by that was, ‘You’re such a masmid that you can’t take the minute or two that it requires to take your temperature from time to time?’ But he didn’t leave it at that. He immediately added, ‘You should indeed be such a masmid! But you can nevertheless use such a thermometer because you can think in learning!” (Reb Avrohom Twersky)