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M2. Keeping Our Promises.    [Make a Comment]

We are to keep our promises.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Numbers 31:2-16(1-15) (Maimonides RP94, RP95, RN157; Meir MP39, MP40, MN184; Chinuch C406, C407, C575)
Then Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Isra'el. He said, "Here is what ADONAI has ordered: when a man makes a vow to ADONAI or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. When a woman makes a vow to ADONAI, formally obligating herself, while she is a minor living in her father's house; then, if her father has heard what she vowed or obligated herself to do and holds his peace, then all her vows remain binding - every obligation she has bound herself to will stand. But if on the day her father hears it, he expresses his disapproval, then none of her vows or obligations she has bound herself to will stand; and ADONAI will forgive her, because her father expressed his disapproval. If, having made vows or rashly committed herself to an obligation, she gets married; and her husband hears but holds his peace with her on the day he learns of it, then her vows and obligations she has bound herself to will stand. But if her husband expresses his disapproval on the day he hears it, he will void the vow which is on her and the obligation to which she has bound herself; and ADONAI will forgive her. The vow of a widow, however, or of a divorcee, including everything to which she has obligated herself, will stand against her. If a woman vowed in her husband's house or obligated herself with an oath; and her husband heard it but held his peace with her and did not express disapproval, then all her vows and obligations will stand. But if her husband makes them null and void on the day he hears them, then whatever she said, vows or binding obligation, will not stand; her husband has voided them; and ADONAI will forgive her. Her husband may let every vow and every binding obligation stand, or he may void it. But if her husband entirely holds his peace with her day after day, then he confirms all her vows and obligations; he must let them stand, because he held his peace with her on the day he heard them. If he makes them null and void after he has heard them, then he will bear the consequent guilt."

Deuteronomy 23:22-24(21-23) (Maimonides RP94; Meir MP39; Chinuch C575)
When you make a vow to ADONAI your God, you are not to delay in fulfilling it, for ADONAI your God will certainly demand it of you, and your failure to do so will be your sin. If you choose not to make a vow at all, that will not be a sin for you; but if a vow passes your lips, you must take care to perform it according to what you voluntarily vowed to ADONAI your God, what you promised in words spoken aloud.

Matthew 5:33-37
Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, 'Do not break your oath', and 'Keep your vows to ADONAI'. But I tell you not to swear at all- not 'by heaven', because it is God's throne; not 'by the earth', because it is his footstool; and not 'by Yerushalayim', because it is the city of the Great King. And don't swear by your head, because you can't make a single hair white or black. Just let your 'Yes' be a simple 'Yes', and your 'No' a simple 'No'; anything more than this has its origin in evil.

James 5:12
Above all, brothers, stop swearing oaths - not "By heaven", not "By the earth", and not by any other formula; rather, let your "Yes" be simply "Yes" and your "No" simply "No", so that you wont fall under condemnation.'

Supportive Scriptures

Psalm 56:13(12)
God, I have made vows to you; I will fulfill them with thank offerings to you.

Psalm 65:2(1)
To you, God, in Tziyon, silence is praise; and vows to you are to be fulfilled.

Psalm 76:12(11)
Make vows to ADONAI your God, and keep them; all who are around him must bring presents to the one who should be feared.

Ecclesiastes 5:5(6)
Don't let your words make you guilty, and don't tell the temple official that you made the vow by mistake. Why give God reason to be angry at what you say and destroy what you have accomplished?


This Mitzvah "Keeping Our Promises" is a generalization of several more specific mitzvot promulgated by the Classical Commentators Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch having to do with keeping oral commitments, and delaying or revoking vows.

In addition to the Torah Scriptures, our obligation to keep our promises appears to also be the message of Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12, their general rule being:

... let your 'Yes' be simply 'Yes' and your 'No' simply 'No'.

James advises against swearing oaths to emphasize one's truthfulness. The expectation is that whatever New Covenant believers say ought to be so trustworthy that, except for society's requirement of submission to judicial authorities and its laws pertaining to certain legal documents, we should avoid swearing oaths. It is part of the intensification of Torah in the New Covenant.

The literal application of Numbers 30:4-16(3-15) was operative under the Mosaic Covenant in ancient Israel when women had fewer legal rights than men, and their fathers or husbands could intercede to nullify their vows made to God and others. That may continue to be the secular law in various places of the world today, and it is the prevailing secular law today that parents can nullify contracts made by their minor children, and guardians can nullify commitments made by those who are adjudicated legally incompetent. It should not have to be said (but I will say it), that under the New Covenant (also under today's Anglo-American law), adult women are no longer legally subordinate to their fathers and husbands as they were in the past.

Daniel C. Juster

It must be said that vows affect communal and family relations. Because the Bible gives a husband headship in the marriage and family, it is my view that his authority with regard to vows, contracts and important promises still remains for the Body of believers. Although the secular courts today will not credit his authority in such situations, the courts of the Body of Believers will often do so.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch limit their mitzvot to promises made orally, although one can infer that they encompass written contracts as well. Maimonides recognizes exceptions to the general rule in the case of wives and daughters who are under the authority of their husbands and fathers respectively. Meir makes no exception for women in his mitzvot, but cites the Talmudic rule that allows an "expert scholar" or three "ordinary persons" to release a "man" from a vow that he has made and subsequently regrets.

HaChinuch cites the Talmudic rule but states that, according to Maimonides, it should not be listed among the compilation of mitzvot. He then goes on to expound the rule and describes four situations in which a man should be released from his vow. Of the three commentators mentioned, HaChinuch treats the subject far more in depth than the other two.


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