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
Is there any situation in which someone can declare another person to be a nazir?
The Mishnah (28b) teaches that a father (and only a father, not a mother) can make his son a nazir. The source for this law is a point of disagreement between Rabbi Yochanan, who simply says halacha hee be-nazir – there is an oral tradition regarding the laws of nezirut that permits this, and Reish Lakish, who says kedei le- chancho be-mitzvot – that it is permitted so that the father can educate his son with regard to the commandments.
It appears that the concept of kedei le-chancho be-mitzvot is a rabbinic commandment upon a father to teach his child and help prepare him to fulfill mitzvot when he becomes an adult. According to this, the father in our Mishnah is preparing his son to keep the mitzvah of nezirut, should he choose to accept nezirut upon himself when he grows up. This approach presents several problems that are hinted to by the rishonim and spelled out by the Sefat Emet. From several statements in the Gemara it is clear that people were not encouraged to become nezirim and that a nazir was considered in some way to be a sinner. If so, how can we consider it obligatory upon a father to prepare his son for nezirut?
The Sefat Emet responds to this question by pointing out that the Gemara does acknowledge that nezirut is considered positive under certain circumstances (namely, when it is done for the sake of heaven) and in such a case, it would certainly be considered a mitzvah. In a situation where a father recognizes that his son needs to be more careful than the average person, he may feel it appropriate to prepare him for nezirut in its positive sense.
According to the Tanna Kamma, the case referred to by the Mishnah is one in which the father was a nazir and set aside money for his end-of-nezirut sacrifices without specifying which they were for, but he died before completing his nezirut. Should his son say “I accept upon myself nezirut and will use his money for my sacrifices,” he is allowed to do so. Rabbi Yossi argues that in such a case, the money cannot be used by the son and must go instead toward voluntary sacrifices. He suggests that the case of ha-ish megale’ach al nezirut aviv is one in which a father and son are nezirim together, and the father sets aside money to pay for the sacrifices that he needs to bring upon completing his nezirut without specifying which korbanot they are for. In such a case, if he dies before the period of nezirut is over, his son can make use of the sacrifices for himself.
The explanation for this appears to be that in the first case, according to Rabbi Yossi, there is no connection whatsoever between the nezirut of the father and that of his son, since the son’s nezirut begins only after the father’s has ended. In the second case, however, the fact that father and son are experiencing nezirut together allows the son to make use of his father’s money.
There is an alternative reading to this Mishnah which offers a very different approach to the case of ha-ish megale’ach al nezirut aviv. According to the alternative reading, all agree that in a case where the son accepts nezirut in the wake of his father’s death, the son can use his father’s money for the sacrifices; the argument is in the case in which the father and son are nezirim at the same time. The explanation according to this reading is that when the father and son are nezirim at the same time, the son has an independent obligation and cannot use his father’s money. When he accepts nezirut and states that it will be based on his father’s obligation, he has the right to do so.
The first Mishnah in the fifth perek of Masechet Nazir deals with mistakes made when declaring something to be a sacrifice. The example brought – about which Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagree – is a case in which a man declares shor shachor she-yetze mi-beti rishon, harei hu hekdesh – that he is prepared to sacrifice “the black ox that comes out of my house first.” If a white ox comes out first, Bet Hillel believes that it becomes hekdesh (holy), while Bet Hillel rules that it does not.
This disagreement leads the Gemara to discuss the advantages and disadvantages connected with white animals and black animals. Rav Hisda teaches that “black among white is a deficiency,” and at the same time that “white among black is a deficiency.”
These statements are understood by the commentaries as follows: According to the Me’iri, “black among white is a deficiency” refers to a situation in which there is a row of white animals, and black ones appear among them. In such a case, the black animals lower the value of the group, and a potential buyer may choose to look elsewhere to purchase his animals. The case of “white among black is a deficiency” refers to a white spot on a black animal. If an animal is from a particular breed that is ordinarily black, rather than pointing to a mixed breed, a white spot may very well indicate an injury or some other deficiency in the animal. Sometimes such a spot can show that the animal suffered a serious blow to that particular part of the body that caused the hair roots to lose their natural pigment. Even if there are no other physical manifestations of this blow, it is possible that the animal also suffered internal damage.
From the perspective of the Mishnah, the sacrifices that are brought at the end of nezirut are so critical to the nezirut itself that if a person accepts nezirut and then discovers that the animal he had intended to bring as a korban has been stolen, he is not a nazir. This is only the case, however, if the theft had already taken place when he accepted nezirut. If he accepts nezirut and the animal is stolen thereafter, his nezirut does take effect, since this is considered nolad – a situation that developed after the vow of nezirut was made – and ein pot’hin be-nolad (we do not undo a vow based on an event that takes place after the vow was taken).
The Rambam teaches that in the case where the animal had been stolen before nezirut was accepted, there is no need to have the vow annulled by a rabbi, since it turns out to have been made in error from the start. Thus, even in the case where the animal was stolen later, the Mishnah is simply saying that the vow was valid, but leaves open the possibility that the man can approach a rabbi and appeal to have his nezirut annulled on other grounds.
The Mishnah points to a disturbing – and interesting – case in which the tanna Nahum ha-Madi erred with regard to this halacha. After the second Temple was destroyed, nezirim who arrived in Jerusalem with the intention of bringing their sacrifices discovered that they would be unable to do so, thus creating a situation in which they would never be able to complete their nezirut. Nahum ha-Madi asked these nezirim whether they would have accepted nezirut had they known that the Temple would be destroyed and that they would be unable to bring their sacrifices. Upon hearing their answer that they would not have accepted nezirut, Nahum ha-Madi released them from their nezirut. Upon hearing of his ruling, the Sages proclaimed that this would only work for those people who accepted nezirut after the destruction had taken place. If they had accepted nezirut while the mikdash was still standing, the situation would be considered nolad and they could not have their vows removed so easily.
The Mishna (32b) tells of a group of people walking together who spy a figure walking towards them:
- One person says: I will be a nazir if that is So-and-so approaching us.
- The second one says: I will be a nazir if it is not So-and-so.
- The third says: I will be a nazir if one of you is a nazir.
- The fourth says: I will be a nazir if you are both nezirim.
- The fifth says: I will be a nazir if all of you are nezirim.
Bet Shammai rules that all of these people are nezirim, based on his position which appears in the first Mishnah in the perek (30b-31a) that even a mistaken nezirut takes effect. Bet Hillel says that only those whose conditions were not fulfilled become nezirim.
Bet Hillel’s statement is obviously problematic – clearly those people whose conditions were not fulfilled should not become nezirim – and Rav Yehudah suggests amending the Mishnah to read that only those whose conditions were fulfilled should become nezirim. Abayye has another suggestion to explain Bet Hillel. He suggests that there is an additional statement attached to the original one, and the person added ee nami lav ploni hu – that also if it were not the person, he would become a nazir. Thus, the statement of Bet Hillel means that if the original condition was not fulfilled he will become a nazir, assuming that the second condition is fulfilled.
Rashi explains this to mean simply that the person says “I will be a nazir if that is So-and-so approaching us, and also if it is not So-and-so I will be a nazir.” The other rishonim point out that this obvious ruling hardly needs to be taught by the Mishnah.
The Me’iri suggests that the case is more complicated. When a man says “I will be a nazir if the man approaching us is Reuven and not Shimon” and then it turns out that it was another person entirely, although his primary statement was not fulfilled (it was not Reuven) since his secondary statement was fulfilled (it was not Shimon) he becomes a nazir.
The Mishnah on our daf references the koy – an animal that has the features of both a wild animal and a domesticated one – in the context of a person who sees such an animal and declares one of three things:
- “I am a nazir if this animal is a chayah (a wild animal)” or
- “I am a nazir if this animal is a beheima (a domesticated animal)” or
- “I am a nazir if this animal is both a chayah and a beheima.”
In all of these cases the Mishnah rules that the person becomes a nazir.
According to the conclusion of the discussion in Masechet Bikurim, the koy is recognized by the halacha for its unique status. Regarding some laws it is considered a chayah, with regard to others a beheima, and regarding some others it appears to be a unique creation. Many of the commentaries understand our Mishnah as ruling that the person in our case becomes a nazir min ha-safek – because of the doubtful status of the koy. The Rambam, however, believes that the person is not referring to the true definition of the koy, but rather to its status according to Jewish law. Since Jewish law treats the koy as a chayah with regard to some laws and as a beheima with regard to others, an element of his statement is true, thus making him a nazir.
Identifying the koy is a difficult task. Even though it is mentioned many times in the Mishnah and Talmudic literature, this is not because it is a common animal, but rather because its status between a wild and domesticated animal allows it to be a test case for many halakhot. The disagreement regarding its identification began in the time of the Mishnah, when some of the Sages argued that it is the offspring of a deer (or similar animal) and a goat. Others claim that it is a unique type of animal – an ayal ha-bar.
The Ayal ha-bar can be identified as the ovis musimon, which, according to many, is the forerunner of domesticated cattle. It is distinguished by its short hair and gray color, and it lives in mountainous regions where it is a nimble climber – today mainly in uninhabited areas of Europe. It is likely that the clear similarities between a koy and a sheep, together with its being a wild animal, led to the Sages’ confusion about its classification.
Its name – koy – and even the pronunciation of the name are themselves the subject of disagreement.
There are three prohibitions attached to the status of a nazir. A nazir cannot:
- Come into contact with the dead
- Have his hair cut
- Eat or drink any grape products
According to the first Mishnah in the perek, or chapter (34a), there is a disagreement about the definition of “products.” The Tanna Kamma of the Mishnah teaches that any part of the grape – including pits and skins – counts toward the amount that is required for the nazir to be held liable – a kezayit (the size of an olive). There was an older tradition called the Mishnah rishona that required drinking a revi’it (a quarter of a log) in order to be held liable, although Rabbi Akiva insists that if a person dipped his bread in wine, then here, too, the amount was a kezayit.
In our Gemara, Rabbi Abahu quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that the rule of a kezayit of wine for a nazir is unique in the annals of halacha. Generally speaking, when we check to see whether there is a certain amount of issur (forbidden food) we judge this based solely on the size of the forbidden food itself. The fact that there is other, permitted food mixed with it is of no consequence. The rules of nezirut are the only place in the Torah where heter mitztaref le-issur – a mixture of permissible and forbidden foods will be seen as adding together to have the full amount required for punishment. Only in the case of nazir does a piece of bread the size of an olive absorb wine and create a full-size forbidden mixture.
According to our Gemara, the source for this rule is the word mishrat (Bamidbar 6:3) in the passage forbidding a nazir to eat any wine products. Mishrat means “soaked” and is understood to forbid something that has absorbed wine. Rabbi Avraham min ha-Har has a different reading in the Gemara, which derives it from the fact that the passage reads v’chol mishrat anavim – and all liquor of grapes – which is an inclusive statement.
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 www.steinsaltz.org 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.