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An Oath in the Name of God – On Second Thought

On Second Thought: Delving Into the Sugya with Rabbanit Yafit Clymer

⁠Source Sheet⁠

Bava Kama 103 – 111



להישבע או לא להישבע?

במדבר פרק ל פסוק ג

אִישׁ֩ כִּֽי־יִדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר לַֽיהֹוָ֗ה אֽוֹ־הִשָּׁ֤בַע שְׁבֻעָה֙ לֶאְסֹ֤ר אִסָּר֙ עַל־נַפְשׁ֔וֹ לֹ֥א יַחֵ֖ל דְּבָר֑וֹ כְּכׇל־הַיֹּצֵ֥א מִפִּ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃ 

If a householder makes a vow to יהוה or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.


ויקרא ה׳:ד׳-ו׳

(ד) א֣וֹ נֶ֡פֶשׁ כִּ֣י תִשָּׁבַע֩ לְבַטֵּ֨א בִשְׂפָתַ֜יִם לְהָרַ֣ע ׀ א֣וֹ לְהֵיטִ֗יב לְ֠כֹ֠ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְבַטֵּ֧א הָאָדָ֛ם בִּשְׁבֻעָ֖ה וְנֶעְלַ֣ם מִמֶּ֑נּוּ וְהוּא־יָדַ֥ע וְאָשֵׁ֖ם לְאַחַ֥ת מֵאֵֽלֶּה׃ 

Leviticus 5:4-6

(4) Or when a person utters an oath for bad or good purpose (whatever a human being may utter in an oath) and it was hidden from them, but later that person realizes guilt in any of these matters.


תהילים קיט קו

נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתִּי וָאֲקַיֵּ֑מָה לִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר מִשְׁפְּטֵ֥י צִדְקֶֽךָ׃ 

I have firmly sworn to keep Your just rules.


Nedarim 7b:9-8a:3

And Rav Giddel said that Rav said: From where is it derived that one may take an oath to fulfill a mitzva? It is as it is stated: “I have sworn and I have confirmed it, to observe Your righteous ordinances” (Psalms 119:106). The Gemara asks: Are they not already under oath from Mount Sinai? Rather, it teaches us this: It is permitted for a person to motivate themselves.


שמות כ ז

 לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא׃ {פ}


You shall not swear falsely by the name of your God יהוה; for יהוה will not clear one who swears falsely by God’s name.

ויקרא יט

יב וְלֹֽא־תִשָּׁבְע֥וּ בִשְׁמִ֖י לַשָּׁ֑קֶר וְחִלַּלְתָּ֛ אֶת־שֵׁ֥ם אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃ 

You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God: I am יהוה.


תנחומא קדושים, ג׳

(Lev. 19:2:) “Speak unto the whole congregation of the Children of Israel, and say unto them, ‘You shall be holy.’” What reason did He have to speak this parashah in an assembly? Why did He not say, “Speak unto the Children of Israel,” as in the rest of the parashiot, rather than “[Speak] unto the whole congregation of the Children of Israel?” Because all of the [ten] commandments are included within it. How? In the commandments it is written “I [am] the Lord your God”; and “I [am] the Lord your God.” In the commandments it is written “You shall have no [other gods beside Me]”; and here “Do not turn unto idols.” In the commandments it is written “You shall not take [the name of the Lord your God in vain]”; and “You shall not swear falsely by My name.”


רש”י, ויקרא י״ט:י״ב

ולא תשבעו בשמי AND YE SHALL NOT SWEAR BY MY NAME [TO A LIE] – Why is this stated at all (how does the particular form of words used here tell us more than is contained in the Third Commandment)? Since it is said (Exodus 20:7) “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord (‎’ה) thy God in vain”, I might have inferred that one is not liable except he swore by the “Proper Name” of the Lord (שם המיוחד). Whence do I know that all names that are descriptive of God’s attributes (Adonay, Rachum, Chanun etc.) are included in this prohibition? Because Scripture states “ye shall not swear by My Name to a lie”, thus implying by any Name I have (Sifra, Kedoshim, Section 2 6). 


רבי אברהם אבן עזרא

וטעם וחללת. שהנשבע לשקר מכחש השם כאשר פירשתיו: 

Scripture reads, so that thou profane the name of thy God because, as I have noted, the one who swears falsely denies God.


משנה תורה לרמב”ם, מצוות לא תעשה

שלא לעבור על שבועת ביטוי, שנאמר “וְלֹא תִשָּׁבְעוּ בִשְׁמִי לַשָּׁקֶר” (ויקרא יט, יב) 

Not to violate an oath, as [Leviticus 19:12] states: “Do not swear falsely in My name.” 

שלא ישבע לשוא, שנאמר “לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שָׁם ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא” (שמות כ, ו; דברים ה, י). 

Not to take an oath in vain, as [Exodus 20:7] states: “Do not take the name of God, your Lord, in vain.” 

שלא לחלל את שם הקדוש ברוך הוא, שנאמר “וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי” (ויקרא כב, לב). 

Not to profane the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, as [Leviticus 22:32] states: “Do not profane My holy name.” 

שלא לנסות את דבר ה’, שנאמר “לֹא תְנַסּוּ אֶת ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם” (דברים ו, טז). 

Not to test the promises of God, as [Deuteronomy 6:16] states: “Do not test God, your Lord.”


ספר החינוך


שֶׁלֹּא לִשָּׁבַע לַשָּׁוְא – שֶׁלֹּא נִשָּׁבַע לְבַטָּלָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כ ז) לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא, 

To not swear in vain: That we not swear pointlessly, as it is stated (Exodus 20:7), “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” 

It is from the roots of this commandment [that it is] for people to know and fix in their souls and strengthen the faith in their hearts about God, blessed be He — Who is in the Heavens above and exists forever — that there is nothing else like His existence. And it is fitting and obligatory upon us when we mention His great name upon our actions and upon our words, to mention it with fear, with awe, with trembling and perspiration; and not like those that joke and speak about something light, such as the things that exist and perish and do not continue to exist — like us people, and the other things of the lowly world. Hence (it is fitting) [in order] to fix this matter in our hearts and that His awe should be in front of us to give us life and merit, we are obligated in this commandment that we not mention His holy name pointlessly; and the one who is lenient and transgresses it is punished with lashes.


And from this root itself is the matter of a false oath (shevuah), meaning to say when he swears to fulfill something and does not fulfill it. [This] is called an oath of speech, about which another separate commandment comes in the Order of Kedoshim Tehiyu, as it is stated (Leviticus 19:12), “And you shall not swear falsely by My name.” As one who swears by the great name [of God] to say something was and [yet] he knows that there is falsehood in his mouth, behold, he is acting lightly with the awe of God; as if to say in his heart that He is not true — “Let his lips be silent.” And so the one who swears to do something and afterwards does not do it is, behold, also among the rebels against light, the deniers of truth. As the understanding of “swore,” is, according to my opinion, that he concludes in his heart and says with his mouth to fulfill that thing that he swore about and that he will never change it, [just] as God, may He be blessed, exists and does not change forever and ever. And that is [why] the expression, sworn nishbaa always comes in the passive; meaning to say that he is acted upon by his words to make it exist, [just] like he said about His existence, blessed be He.


שערי תשובה ג׳:מ״ה

There are some [negative commandments] that are dependent upon the tongue, for which we give lashes. For so did our Rabbis, may their memory be blessed, say (Makkot 16a), “All the warnings in the Torah – we do not give lashes for a negative commandment that does not [involve] an action, except for one who makes an oath or curses his fellow with [God’s] name.” And even though there is no death penalty from the court with a vain oath, its punishment at the hands of the Heavens is more weighty than many sins that do have a death penalty from the court. For making an oath in vain profanes [God’s] name – as it is stated (Leviticus 19:12), “You shall not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God” – and the punishment for profaning the name is more elevated than [that of] all of the sins. And it is not written like this about any of the sins besides a false oath and idolatry, 


ספרא, קדושים ז

[ז] “וחללת את שם אלקיך” – מלמד ששבועת שוא חילול השם. דבר אחר: “וחללת” – נעשה אתה חולין לחיה ולבהמה. 

7) (Vayikra 19:12) “and (thereby) profane the name of your G d”: We are hereby taught that a vain oath is a profanation of the Name. Variantly: “and you profane” — you thereby become profane (and vulnerable to attack) to animals and beasts.


ירמיהו ד ב: 

וְנִשְׁבַּ֙עְתָּ֙ חַי־יְהֹוָ֔ה בֶּאֱמֶ֖ת בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט וּבִצְדָקָ֑ה וְהִתְבָּ֥רְכוּ ב֛וֹ גּוֹיִ֖ם וּב֥וֹ יִתְהַלָּֽלוּ׃ {ס}   


And swear, “As GOD lives,”
In sincerity, justice, and righteousness—
Nations shall bless themselves by you
And praise themselves by you.


Bamidbar Rabbah 22:1

(Numb. 30:2-3) “And Moses said to the heads of the tribes, ‘When someone makes a vow (neder) to the Lord.’” This is related to that which is written (in Jer. 4:2), “And you shall swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ [in truth, in justice, and in righteousness].” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “Do not think that you have permission to swear in My name even in truth. You are not entitled to swear by My name unless you possess all the following attributes (of Deut. 10:20), ‘The Lord your God you shall fear, Him you shall serve, to Him you shall hold fast, [and by Him you shall swear].’” That you should be like those who were called God-fearing, Abraham, Job, and Joseph.


רש”י לפסוק בירמיהו

ונשבעת חי ה’ באמת. כשתשבע בשמי תשבע באמת ולא כאשר עתה שכתוב בכם (לקמן ה) אם חי ה’ יאמרו אכן לשקר ישבעו: 

And you will swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth When you swear by My name, you will swear in truth, not as now, that it is written concerning you, “And if they say, ‘As the Lord lives,’ surely they swear falsely” (5:2).

Rabbanit Yafit Clymer

Rabbanit Yafit Clymer is a senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at the several Matan learning centers, at 'Emunah' and WebYeshiva. She is a group instructor for various programs. Rabbanit Clymer is part of the steering committee of the 'Beit Hillel' organization and answers halachic questions online as a part of their Meshivat Nefesh project.
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