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If one states that they will do something to another person (e.g "I'll give you my favorite necklace"), and then that person no longer wants to fulfil the "promise" due to unforeseen circumstances, is that forbidden? What if the statement was only written and not verbally uttered?

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It appears indeed one should keep his promises in the context of a small gift. The Rambam writes (MT Mechira 7:9) (based on the gemara in Baba Metzia 49a)

Similarly, if a person promised to give a colleague a gift and failed to do so, he is considered to be faithless. When does the above apply? With regard to a small gift, because the recipient will depend on the promise that he was given. With regard to a large gift, by contrast, the giver is not considered to be faithless if he retracts, because the recipient does not believe that he will give him these articles until he transfers ownership through a formal kinyan.

The Shulchan Aruch codifies this in CM 204:8

dinonline (here) writes

The precise definition of which gift is considered small and which is large depends on the circumstances of the giver: For a poor individual a gift of $50 may be large, whereas for a millionaire a gift of $1,000 can be considered small.

See there at length, particularly the end section "Keeping One’s Word in Transactions".

As always, treat the above as sources, but don't make real-life decisions without speaking to your rav. There might be mitigating factors one way or another that will impact the final ruling

  • FWIW I’m not convinced that this Gemara extends to the more general case beyond the OP’s question, i.e. if one has to fulfill any promise. After all, the Gemara makes several references which limit it strictly to monetary matters (application of Mi Shepara, source from balanced scales, etc.). – DonielF Aug 13 at 15:24
  • @DonielF it certainly does not extend to business transactions (the case here is a gift) so I agree with you one cannot extrapolate from it to other situations – mbloch Aug 13 at 15:44
  • What are you talking about? The Gemara explicitly discusses הין צדק, that one shouldn’t go against one’s word in business and cannot do so if there’s been money put down. A gift, discussed in that Gemara, is just a special case of a business transaction. – DonielF Aug 13 at 15:54
  • There is a difference between a large gift and a business transaction. Compare MT Mechira 7:8 and 7:9. I understand your first comment to mean that the halacha on gifts and transactions is not exactly the same - and I meant to write that I agree - but maybe I misunderstood you – mbloch Aug 13 at 15:58
  • Correct, it’s not exactly the same, but certainly if I say I’m going to, I dunno, walk five blocks today without anything classifying it as a Neder, nothing is binding me to that. – DonielF Aug 13 at 16:00

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