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Can a vow be annulled?

by Rabbi Ari Shishler

  

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For a start, our Sages advise you not to make vows in the first place.1

If you have made a vow, there is a process available to annul it. We call this “Hatarat Nedarim”. As each Rosh Hashanah marks a fresh start on a new year, it is customary to perform Hatarat Nedarim on the morning before the festival for any vows you had made in the preceding year.

The full Hatarat Nedarim process can be found in most ordinary prayer books or in your special High Holidays prayer book.

You don't have to wait until Rosh Hashanah. If you regret ever having made a vow,Footnote4 you can assemble an "annulment team" immediately and follow the Hatarat Nedarim process
You cannot annul your own vow. Technically, you could call on an “expert” Torah scholar to do that. An easier way (after all, it’s tricky to determine who qualifies as “expert”) is to have three Jewish men annul the vow.2

You begin the process by making a declaration that you regret having made the vow(s) in the first place. To absolve you, the three “judges” need to declare three times that your vow is annulled.

Ideally, you should mention the details of the vow to at least one person on the panel.3 The standardised pre-Rosh Hashanah version allows for annulment of vows that you can no longer remember.

You don’t have to wait until Rosh Hashanah. If you regret ever having made a vow,4 you can assemble an “annulment team” immediately and follow the Hatarat Nedarim process.

Also see Is it better not to make a vow than to not fulfill it?

Footnotes

  • 1. Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 203:1; Maimonides, Hilchot Nedarim 13:25; Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22b.
  • 2. Code of Jewish Law, ibid 228:1.
  • 3. Ibid 14.
  • 4. Ibid 7.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year. An early autumn two day holiday marking the creation of Adam and Eve. On this day we hear the blasts of the ram's horn and accept G-d's sovereignty upon ourselves and the world. On Rosh Hashanah we pray that G-d should grant us all a sweet New Year.