By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
A contractor verbally committed to do work for free in the house of one in need, but later had a change of heart and regretted his offer. Is he obligated to honor the verbal commitment or may he retract it?
In general, in order for a statement to be considered a neder or shevuah, it is necessary to use an added expression of obligation. However, a vow made towards tzedakah, is binding unless one explicitly states otherwise by saying bli neder or the like. Even a resolution of the mind to donate to tzedakah must be carried out.
In fact, Beis Din has the right to force a person to fulfill his pledges to tzedakah, and if needed, they may confiscate possessions in the amount of the pledge. This is despite the fact that the person accepted this upon himself out of his own good will.
When a vow concerns a mitzvah, one can only nullify the vow via hatoras nedarim if he is in a situation of great duress and is unable to fulfill his vow. Though a gift to someone in need is considered tzedakah, and a pledge to give a gift to one in need is considered nidrei tzedakah, the conditions required to nullify such a vow are less severe.
Often, such as in our case, an earlier posek would have suggested a din tentatively, while later poskim accept that as the decisive ruling. The Maharik surmises that unlike pledges of money, committing to do work or exert effort on behalf of one in need is not necessarily considered a vow. Later poskim write clearly that such a commitment is not a vow, and some understand this to be the position the Tzemach Tzedek takes as well. It would be wise to consult one’s own posek for a final ruling on this matter.
This discussion is regarding the legal obligation incurred by verbal commitments, which applies only to nidrei tzedakah. However the Shulchan Aruch strongly cautions a person to be faithful to all verbal commitments, even when they include no mitzvah.
In conclusion: Since there are those poskim who do not consider such a commitment a form of nidrei tzedakah, the contractor cannot be obligated to follow through with his offer.
ר”ה ו’ ע”א, רמב”ם ריש פ”ח מהל’ מתנת עניים, שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רנ”ז סעי’ ג’, רנ”ח ס”ו וסי”ב, ר”ג ס”ג, רמ”ח ס”א, ש”ך חו”מ סי’ רמ”ג ס”ק א בשם מהרי”ק שורש קלג, נתיבות המשפט סי’ ר”צ ס”ק יב, שו”ת צ”צ חו”מ ח”ב סי’ פ”ב סעי’ ה, שו”ת משיב בהלכה יו”ד ח”ב סי’ ק”צ.
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com