Masechet Nazir 15a-21b

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No Wine
03 Apr 2008

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

Nazir 15a-b

The Mishna on our daf teaches about a person who accepts nezirut upon himself twice. First he says “When my son is born, I will become a nazir.” Then he says “I accept upon myself to be a nazir for 100 days.” It is clear to the Mishnah that he must keep the laws of nezirut immediately. The question that arises is what to do if his son is born in the course of the next 100 days. The Mishnah says that if his son is born any time up until the seventieth day, lo hifsid kelum – he does not lose anything. If he is born after the seventieth day, soter shivim – he has lost seventy.

There are two basic approaches to the rule taught in the Mishnah.

According to Rashi, if the son is born before the seventieth day, the man interrupts his 100-day nezirut and keeps the standard 30-day nezirut that he accepted upon himself in celebration of his son’s birth – the nezirut that he accepted first. Upon completion of those 30 days, he can return to the 100-day nezirut that he had begun earlier. Should the son be born later than the seventieth day, since no nezirut can last less than 30 days all of the previous days are lost and the man must begin his 100-day nezirut over again.

Tosafot and the Rosh offer a different approach. Should the son be born prior to the seventieth day, then the 30-day nezirut in honor of the son’s birth can be included within the 100 day nezirut, and the man can fulfill both of his obligations during that period; he will bring two sets of sacrifices at the end of that period. If the son was born after the seventieth day, then the father must begin a separate 30-day nezirut to honor his son, and when that is over, he should return to and complete his original nezirut.

Nazir 16a-b

The third perek of Masechet Nazir that begins on today’s daf deals with issues having to do with the exact length of time of nezirut and when it ends. The complications occur less in cases of simple nezirut and more often in situations where two or more instances of nezirut occur one after another, or where the nezirut is interrupted if the nazir become tamei (ritually defiled).

As we have learned, the standard length of nezirut is 30 days. While this is ideally kept as thirty full days, if someone cut his hair on the thirtieth day, we view him as having fulfilled his obligation (this is either because biblically the obligation is only 29 days, or because we apply the rule of miktzat ha-yom k’kulo – we count part of the day as a full day – see the opinions of Rav Matana and bar Pada on daf 5). What happens when a person accepts two consecutive neziruyot? Can the thirtieth day count as both the last day of one nezirut and the first day of another?

With regard to the nazir who becomes tamei, the rule is clearly stated in the Torah that tum’ah “undoes” the days that have been kept and the nezirut must begin anew. What if a person has completed the days of his nezirut but becomes tamei before bringing the sacrifices that indicate the end of his nezirut? Must he begin his nezirut over again, or can we view the nezirut as having been fulfilled?

The Mishnah on our daf raises the case of a person who accepts nezirut upon himself while standing in a cemetery. The Gemara quotes Reish Lakish as ruling that no nezirut can take effect in such a case, and even when he leaves the cemetery he will not become a nazir unless he repeats his desire to do so. Rabbi Yochanan argues that the nezirut will take effect. Not only does he become a nazir as soon as he becomes tahor (ritually pure), but even while in the cemetery he is not allowed to drink wine or cut his hair.

Nazir 17a-b

On yesterday’s daf we were introduced to the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan, who says that if a person accepts nezirut upon himself while standing in a cemetery, he does become a nazir, his status as tamei (ritually defiled) notwithstanding. The Gemara on our daf accepts Rabbi Yochanan’s position and concludes that a person who is warned that he should not accept nezirut given his situation (he is standing in a cemetery and will immediately become tamei) will be punished with malkot (lashes) if he does so.

This ruling leads Rava to ask whether there is a minimum length of time that a nazir must remain in the cemetery in order to be liable for malkot. This question is based on a parallel law that we find regarding the Temple. Just as a nazir cannot enter a cemetery, it is forbidden for a person who is tamei (ritually defiled) to enter the precincts of the Temple. With regard to a tamei person in the Temple, the law is that unless he is there for a length of time that is considered “significant” – defined as the amount of time that it takes to bow down – he is not liable for punishment. Rava’s question is whether the law would be the same for a nazir. The Me’iri points out that Rava does not anticipate that the requirement would be identical for the nazir and the tamei person entering the mikdash; nevertheless, the concept of a minimum stay might be applied here as it is in the case of the Temple.

Since the rule requiring a minimum stay in the Temple is a law whose source is a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – an oral tradition from Mount Sinai – it is not clear whether it can be applied to other halakhot as well. The conclusion of the Gemara is teiku – the question remains standing with no final decision.

Nazir 18a-b

Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Isidore Scheikowitz (2 Nisan).

We have been discussing a case where someone accepts nezirut upon himself while standing in a cemetery, creating a situation where the nezirut begins in a problematic situation of tumah (ritual defilement). Which is a greater defilement – a situation where a nazir comes into contact with a dead body, or one in which the actual nezirut begins in a state of tumah?

The Gemara explains that we may have thought that the latter was the greater defilement and that just as a nazir who becomes tamei must have his hair cut off and bring sacrifices (see Bamidbar 6:9-10), so too would someone who established his nezirut under forbidden circumstances be obligated.  However, examination of the passage v’timei rosh nizro – “…and the head of his nezirut was defiled” (Bamidbar 6:9) leads the Gemara to conclude that this is not the case.  In fact, only the nazir who actively becomes tamei needs to cut his hair and bring sacrifices; the individual who was never a nazir tahor (a ritually pure nazir) is not subject to these requirements.

Tosafot explain that the Gemara derives this from the words v’timei rosh nizro because those words are superfluous – the entire law could have been taught without them. Thus the Gemara concludes that they are written in order to emphasize that it is only someone who had been a nazir and became tamei who has to have his hair cut and is obligated to bring the sacrifices of a nazir tamei.

When referring to the sacrifices of the nazir, the Gemara specifically mentions tzipporim – the doves that are brought by the nazir who becomes tamei. Tosafot and other rishonim point out that the Gemara is bringing the tzipporim as an example, but the rule would be the same for all of the sacrifices of a nazir tamei.

Nazir 19a-b

We find an argument between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai regarding a person who completes a lengthy nezirut in the Diaspora and comes to Israel to bring the obligatory sacrifices when his nezirut is complete. Bet Shammai rules that such a person must complete a 30-day nezirut in Israel before bringing the sacrifices, while Bet Hillel rules that such a person must begin his nezirut from the beginning – no matter how long it is.

The Mishnah on our daf tells the story of Queen Heleni, who took upon herself to become a nezirah for seven years should her son return safely from war. Upon his safe arrival at home, she began her nezirut, and upon completion of the seven years she went to bring her sacrifices in Israel, where she was told by Bet Hillel that she was obligated to begin her nezirut over again. The Mishnah relates that at the very end of those seven years she became teme’ah (ritually defiled) and was forced to begin her nezirut a third time.

Heleni was the queen of Adiabene, a small kingdom in the north of Syria on the banks of the Euphrates.  In the generation prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, Heleni, together with her sons Monbaz and Izates, began to study Torah with Jews who traveled through their kingdom, and eventually converted to Judaism. It appears that other members of the ruling elite did so as well. Heleni visited Jerusalem a number of times and made donations both to the Temple and to the destitute people living in Israel. Her children followed in her footsteps, and even sent troops to support the Jewish uprising during the Great Revolt.

It appears that she and other members of her royal family are buried in some of the ornate burial chambers in Jerusalem. As is mentioned in several places in the Talmud, Heleni was a giyoret tzedek – a sincere convert to Judaism -who accepted upon herself the constraints of Halacha as taught by the Sages.

Nazir 20a-b

Choosing to become a nazir is essentially a type of neder (vow). Thus, a woman who accepts upon herself to be a nezirah can have her statement annulled by her father or husband if they object to it on the day that they hear of it, just like any other case of neder. The first Mishnah in the fourth perek rules that in a case where a woman says hareini nezirah – “I accept upon myself the rules of a nazir” – and her husband says in response va-ani – “I am, as well,” the husband can no longer annul his wife’s vow of nezirut.

The Gemara in Nedarim (70a) initially tries to use this ruling to conclude that once the woman’s neder has been approved by her husband, he cannot change his mind and do hafarah on the neder (annul the vow) later that day, since a hakamah (a statement of support for the vow) that has been made cannot be changed. The Gemara explains, however, that there is a different rule that is applicable in this case. In fact, we do not consider the husband’s statement as merely accepting nezirut himself; rather we understand it to be an emphatic approval of his wife’s statement.

The Ran in Masechet Nedarim explains that the statement that he made – va-ani – is seen as a statement of approval, as if he said “I approve of your neder forever.” In this case, it appears that his statement expresses his approval. By accepting nezirut himself we understand him to be saying that he is so comfortable with the idea of nezirut that he is willing to accept it upon himself. Had he, in fact, desired to reject his wife’s vow, we anticipate that he would have clearly said that he was accepting nezirut upon himself even as he was forbidding his wife from keeping her vow.

Nazir 21a-b

The Mishnah (20b) teaches that when a person accepts nezirut upon himself, others who hear him can join by saying va-ani – “me, too.” Reish Lakish limits this to a situation where the statement of va-ani is made toch kedei dibur – within the amount of time it takes to say something – which the Gemara interprets to mean within the amount of time that it takes for a student to greet his teacher.

In an attempt to offer support to Reish Lakish’s position, the Gemara points out that our Mishnah appears to limit the number of people who can join the nazir by saying va-ani to just two individuals, since it says va-ani just two times. The suggestion is that since a third person would not be able to say va-ani within the time limit, it appears that we are limited by the time restraint. This reading of the Mishnah is rejected by the Gemara, which uses an interesting phrase – tana ki rukhla lihshiv ve-lezil!? – “is the author of the Mishnah a peddler that he must list all cases?” In other words, the Mishnah may believe that even more people responding va-ani can become nezirim; it did not feel obligated to repeat the word over and over again.

The rukhla mentioned by the Gemara is a type of peddler who traditionally traveled from one community to another, servicing small villages or, in larger cities, going from house to house with his wares. The peddler usually traveled with his peddler’s basket, a box that contained many compartments holding perfumes, jewelry, and small utensils like thread, pins and needles. Since he carried many items, upon engaging the interest of a potential customer the peddler would recite a list of things that he had for sale. The ability of peddlers to recite this list led to the expression used by the Gemara relating to a detailed repetition of a list of things.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.