Nedarim, 'Vows' is generally regarded as the third Tractate of Nashim, 'Women', though the order of the Tractates is not uniform in all editions. The first nine chapters have no particular connection with women, yet the tractate is included in this Order on account of the last two chapters, which treat of the husband's power to annul the vows of his wife and the father's power to annul those of his daughter. According to Maimonides in the Introduction to his commentary on the Mishnah, this Tractate immediately follows Kethuboth because once a woman has entered under the huppah (bridal canopy) and the provisions of the ketkubah (marriage settlement) are operative, her husband has the right to annul her vows.
The making of vows would appear to have been a frequent practice in ancient life. People voluntarily denied themselves permitted pleasures, though the Rabbis frowned upon unnecessary asceticism, holding it a sin to abstain from legitimate enjoyment. Again, to express anger or resentment, vows were made whereby one forbade himself to benefit from the object of his displeasure, or forbade the latter to benefit from him. It may be remarked in this connection that the Rabbis disapproved of the whole practice of vowing, so much so that one might rightly speak of the vows of the wicked, but not of the vows of the righteous (Mishnah, 9a). And in making vows of abstinence people, as a rule, did not say, 'I vow that So-and-so shall be forbidden to me,' for a definite technique of vowing had in course of time been evolved. Generally speaking, they related their vow to the Temple Service, as the religious centre of their lives, and would declare, 'Let So-and-so be to me as a Korban, sacrifice,' which meant that it was to be prohibited. Yet there was a tendency to avoid the actual use of the word Korban, and similar sounding substitutes were employed instead. The first two chapters deal with this technique of vowing: which formulas were valid (chapter 1) and which were not (chapter 2). The third chapter treats of vows which for certain reasons were not recognised as vows at all, but merely as rhetorical means of emphasizing one's determination, such as vows taken in business transactions to enhance or depress the value of merchandise. The subject-matter of chapter 4 is to define the scope of vows, such as the extent to which one is forbidden when he is under a vow not to eat aught of his neighbor. and when he is under a vow not to benefit from his neighbor. Chapter 5 deals with partners in property who subject one another to vows, and how their partnership rights are thereby affected. Chapters 6 and 7 contain a further series of definitions. As has already been stated, it is to the 10th and 11th chapters that this Tractate owes its inclusion in the present Order. The former deals with the persons who can annul a woman's vows, viz., her father and her husband, and under what conditions. Finally the last chapter discusses which vows a husband can annul. The most noteworthy passages and Aggadic sayings are those dealing with the great importance of circumcision; the emphasis that learning must be free; the enumeration of the things created before the Creation of the world; the importance of sick visiting; the story of R. Akiba's rise from a poor shepherd to a great teacher in Israel, bound up, in true romantic fashion, with a tender love-story; the warning against selfish motives in study — 'he who makes use of the crown of the law is uprooted from the world'; and the exhortation: 'Take heed of the sons of the poor, for from them cometh Torah' — a democratic assertion fitting for a cultural and religious system which always strives to assess a man's worth not by his material wealth and possessions but by the higher standard of piety and knowledge. (Adapted from the Introduction)