Annulling Pesach Vows

I have certain chumros that I adopted which are extremely difficult to keep under the current circumstances. What should I do?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.

The Torah places much weight on fulfilling any vow that a person verbalizes. If one began performing a hiddur which is based in halacha— knowing that it isn’t obligatory—with the intent to observe it regularly, or performed it three times, even without specific intention to permanently observe it, the practice acquires the status of a vow and he is required to continue doing so.

When beginning a good custom (e.g. tzedaka before davening, or chitas), it is important to specify that it is “bli neder,” not binding as a vow. (The Rebbe advised someone who struggled with the daily commitment to annul the neder and then continue bli neder.) It is also imperative to specify bli neder when accepting various Pesach customs and hiddurim; otherwise they become a neder.

If one wishes to discontinue a practice that became a neder, even for a very good cause (e.g. he would stop working on Friday at chatzos and now he needs to work longer), hataras nedarim is required. Hatara entails specifying the reason for which one wishes to annul the vow and why he would not have made that vow in the first place if he would have known this at that time.

The hatara is performed by three fully mature men who form a beis din, and it is preferable that one of them should be knowledgeable in the laws of nedarim. Since this isn’t a court case, relatives—other than one’s husband—may serve on the beis din, but not those who are invalid due to conduct (i.e. chilul Shabbos or dishonesty).

Ideally, the person should appear personally before the beis din, since this way they can better determine if his reason for hatara is sufficient. In difficult circumstances, some poskim allow sending a messenger or letter to beis din (or husband on behalf of his wife). When needed, one can do the hatara over the telephone or zoom and this is possibly better than the above methods, since the person can be questioned directly. Obviously, the three dayanim need to be together.

If extenuating circumstances prevent him from fulfilling his practice, and he wishes to forgo it on a one-time basis, the consensus of the poskim is to allow it without hataras nedarim. One reason given is that an irregular situation was never intended to begin with. Discontinuing permanently, however, would require hataras nedarim.

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