Is There Any Obligation If Someone Vows to Bring a Sacrifice in Onias’s Temple?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

We discussed this issue on Tuesday’s daf (109a) this week. The Mishnah there issues a surprising ruling: If someone vows, “It is upon me to bring an Olah in the temple of Chonyo (Onias),” he should bring his Olah in the Beis Hamikdash. However if he brings it in Chonyo’s Temple, he has no further obligation.” It seems inconceivable that there could be any validity whatsoever to an offering brought in the temple that Chonyo built in Alexandria, Egypt, given the fact that a sacrifice may only be brought in the Beis Hamikdash. What could the Mishnah mean?

The Gemara suggests two possible interpretations of the Mishnah. The first is offered by Rava who explains that we actually assume that this person was never really serious about bringing on offering at all. Rather, with a bit of wishful thinking, this person was really saying: “If the Halacha allows me to bring this offering more locally here in Alexandria, I’ll bring it; otherwise I’m not really committing to anything.” Thus it is clear that if he chooses to slaughter an animal in Chonyo’s temple, he has nothing further to do, given that there wasn’t a sacrificial vow here to begin with.

Rav Hamnuna suggests a different interpretation. Really, Rav Hamnuna asserts, we do assume that this person was making a real vow to bring an Olah. Yet if the animal is ultimately not brought as a valid Olah, he is “exempt.” The reason for this is that we interpret the second part of his statement (“ bring it in Chonyo’s Temple.”) as a statement of removal from personal liability in the event that the Olah isn’t offered. The basic idea is that since it is a fact that slaughtering a sacrifice in Chonyo’s temple is the equivalent of strangling the animal to death (i.e. it isn’t deemed a valid act of offering it as a sacrifice), we understand that the purpose of referring to this in the vow is to in effect say, “even if the Olah isn’t brought properly, I’m free of liability.”

Rav Hamnuna’s concept would be relatively simple for us to understand if the point of his argument is that we assume that the above was the vower’s actual intent. The plot thickens however once we read the words of Rashi (heading “in the desert”). Rashi is explaining a case presented in the Braissa where a person vows, “It is upon me to bring an Olah in the Sinai Desert (which is obviously far from the Beis Hamikdash).” Concurring with Rav Hamnuna, the Braissa rules that if he slaughters the Olah somewhere outside the Beis Hamikdash, he has no further obligation. We see that the Braissa agrees with Rav Hamnuna that when the person vows to bring the Olah in an invalid manner, the understanding is that the person has exempted himself from personal liability should the animal not be properly brought.

But Rashi on this Braissa tells us why this person vowed to bring the Olah in the Sinai: He thought that since the Mishkan was there, it remains a valid place to bring offerings. Rav Hamnuna’s argument is now no longer obvious at all. For it can no longer be suggested that when the person mentioned bringing the offering in an invalid way that this was essentially code for: “I have no personal liability.” This is not a person who was using code words, but a person who really thought he could bring the sacrifice outside of the Beis Hamikdash. It would therefore appear that this person was actually accepting full personal responsibility to bring this offering, contrary to Rav Hamnuna’s opinion!

Perhaps the understanding is this. Since of course this person was mistaken and in fact the offering cannot be brought in the Sinai Desert or Chonyo’s Temple, we now need to ponder: What would this person have said he he known that the offering can only be brought in the Beis Hamikdash? Now clearly Rav Hamnuna does not embrace Rava’s answer to this question, i.e. that we interpret this as a completely invalid vow, for Rav Hamnuna says that a real offering is created here. At the same time, it can be suggested that Rav Hamnuna does to an extent agree with Rava’s reasoning. That is, we do presume on this person’s behalf that had he known that the Halacha requires him to bring the Olah only in the Beis Hamikdash, he at least would not have committed to a full neder-vow of personal liability, rather, only to have this animal consecrated as an Olah.