Masechet Nazir 57a-63b

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No Wine
15 May 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

To dedicate future editions of Steinsaltz Daf Yomi, perhaps in honor of a special occasion or in memory of a loved one, click here.

Nazir 57a-b

As we have learned (see daf 41) Jewish law forbids a man from removing the hair around his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekhah (see Vayikra 19:27). These prohibitions do not apply to women, since they do not have beards, nor do they apply to children. Nevertheless, Rav Huna teaches that an adult who cuts a child’s hair will be held liable for performing a forbidden act.

In a rather disturbing passage, the Gemara relates that Rav Ada bar Ahavah asked Rav Huna who cuts his children’s hair in such a manner, to which he replied that Hovah – his wife – was the one who did it. Rav Ada bar Ahavah responded “Hovah will bury her children!” Following this exchange the Gemara concludes that as long as Rav Ada bar Ahavah lived, Rav Huna’s children passed away at a young age.

According to Tosafot, Rav Ada bar Ahavah actually saw that Rav Huna’s children had their hair cut in a forbidden manner, while Rashi suggests that it was simply common practice to cut children’s hair this way after they recovered from an illness. The Me’iri understands Rav Ada bar Ahavah’s caustic statement as being based on Rav Huna’s ruling that adults cannot cut children’s hair in a forbidden manner, which created a situation according to which his wife was purposefully performing a prohibited activity. The Rosh suggests that Rav Ada bar Ahavah’s statement was simply one of surprise – “according to your opinion, how can Hovah do this? Does she want to bury her children?”

Not only according to the Rosh, but even according to the other rishonim, Rav Ada bar Ahavah certainly did not intend to curse Rav Huna’s children. The Sages believed, however, that even an innocent statement made by a person as pious as Rav Ada bar Ahavah would have significance, based on the passage ki-shegagah ha-yotzeh mi-pi ha-shalit – “like a mistaken word uttered by the ruler [that must be followed]” (see Kohelet 10:5).

Nazir 58a-b

Although the Torah forbids a man from removing the hair around his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekhah (see Vayikra 19:27), nevertheless, in the case of a nazir who has completed his nezirut and must remove all of his hair, he is permitted to do so. The underlying principle that allows him to do this is the rule that aseh doheh lo ta’aseh – fulfillment of a positive commandment “pushes aside” a negative commandment.

One of the sources offered by the Gemara for the idea of aseh doheh lo ta’aseh is the commandment of tzitzit. Although the Torah forbids sha’atnez (a mixture of wool and linen fibers – see Devarim 22:11), immediately following we find the commandment to place gedilim (tzitzit) on one’s clothing (see verse 12). This is understood by the Sages to permit sha’atnez when placing tzitzit on a garment.

The Shitah Mekubetzet offers two explanations for this case. One is simply that wool tzitzit are placed on a linen garment, which is permitted for the mitzvah even though the two fibers will be connected. The second suggestion is that the strand of tekhelet – the blue strand – which is always made of wool, can be combined with strands of linen when tying the tzitzit.

Another lesson that the Gemara suggests may be derived from this pasuk (=verse) is that ordinarily tzitzit should be made from the same material as the garment. The exceptions are wool and linen, which can be used to make tzitzit no matter what the garment is made of. Rava derives this from the fact that the Torah teaches that tzitzit are placed on the corners of the garment (see Bamidbar 15:38) which is understood to mean that the tzitzit should match the corner – i.e. they should be made from the same material – yet the passage in Devarim that places the prohibition of sha’atnez and the commandment of tzitzit in the same context implies that tzitzit should be made of either linen or wool.

Nazir 59a-b

When the Torah forbids a man to dress in women’s clothing (see Devarim 22:5) what is its intention? Is every situation of cross-dressing forbidden by the Torah, or is it only when there is a specific intent to mingle with members of the opposite sex for inappropriate purposes?

This question appears to be a point of disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov and the Tanna Kamma (=first). Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov forbids any situation in which a man dresses like a woman or a woman dresses like a man, while the Tanna Kamma objects that the Torah only forbids this in a situation of to’eva (a repugnant act), which would only occur if the purpose was to allow a man to sit among women or a woman to sit among men.

The Rambam seems to follow the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov, since he rules that this prohibition is not based on a concern with sexual impropriety, but rather is connected with issues of avodah zara (idol worship), which is the to’eva referred to in the Torah (see Rambam Sefer ha-Mitzvot Lo Ta’aseh 40).

One situation that the Gemara states specifically as being considered “women’s clothing” is shaving parts of the body like the underarms or pubic area. In fact, Rabbi Chiya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yochanan as ruling that such behavior is forbidden by the Torah and would make the man who shaved those areas of his body liable for malkot (lashes).

Still it should be noted that in the Gaonic responsa the position is put forward that the definition of what is considered “men’s clothing” or “women’s clothing” is subjective, and therefore is dependent on time and place. Thus, if the accepted norms of a given community are for men to dress a certain way (to wear kilts, for example) or to act a certain way (to shave their underarms, for example), those behaviors would no longer be considered “women’s dress.”

Nazir 60a-b

The Mishnah (59b) discusses the case of a nazir who may have come into contact with a dead body, who also may be a metzorah (one who suffers from biblical leprosy). In both of these cases (the nazir tamei and the metzorah) there is a biblical commandment requiring the person with these conditions to cut his/her hair. The Mishnah works to set priorities on which hair cutting takes precedence.

The Gemara on our daf presents a question that Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai‘s students asked him – why can’t we have this person shave his head once and have it count for both the requirement of the nazir and the requirement of the metzorah? Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai responds that their point would have made sense if the hair removal in both cases served the same purpose. In truth, however, the underlying purpose of the two haircuts differs, and so the same act cannot be used for both. Specifically, the nazir needs to remove his hair, while the metzorah needs to prepare to grow his hair.

The metzorah under discussion is a metzorah muhlat – one who has been examined by the kohen and deemed to be a metzorah. Such a person must remove himself from the community until he recovers from his condition. Upon recovery, he brings a sacrifice and purifies himself, returning to his home after he has removed all of his hair (see Vayikra 14:8-9). Once there, he waits another seven days outside his house, at which point he removes his hair a second time, brings another set of sacrifices and then can return to the community. Thus the metzorah cuts his hair twice; his first haircut is preparation for the second, unlike the nazir who has no further obligation to grow his hair.

Nazir 61a-b

Who can choose to become a nazir?

The Torah specifically says that both men and women can become nezirim (see Bamidbar 6:2). The first Mishnah in the ninth perek of Masechet Nazir teaches that non-Jews cannot become nezirim, although avadim – non-Jews who are slaves and owned by Jews – can, theoretically, accept nezirut upon themselves.

While Rashi says simply that a non-Jew’s acceptance of nezirut is not significant and that he can therefore continue to drink wine, cut his hair and come into contact with the dead, Tosafot and the Rosh argue that the main idea here is to teach that should a non-Jew accept nezirut, keep all of its restrictions and then desire to bring the sacrifices of a nazir in the Temple, his offerings will be rebuffed. Although a non-Jew can bring voluntary sacrifices in the Bet ha-Mikdash, he cannot bring the sacrifices of a nazir.

With regard to non-Jewish slaves, the halakhah is that a non-Jew who is sold to a Jewish person as a slave will be obligated to keep the same mitzvot that a Jewish woman is obligated to keep. The Mishnah teaches that there are differences in the levels of obligation of a woman and a slave with regard to nezirut.  While a woman’s husband cannot forbid her from keeping her commitment to nezirut (although he does have the power of hafarah – annulling her oaths, as will be discussed on tomorrow’s daf), the owner of an eved can refuse to allow the slave to keep the laws of nezirut. In the next Mishnah (62b) we will learn that even if the owner refuses to allow the eved to keep the laws of nezirut, the slave’s commitment to do so remains, and should he become a free man, he will be obligated to become a nazir.

Nazir 62a-b

Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated in honor of the yahrzeit of Marsha J. Kaplan (16 Iyyar).

Continuing the discussion that began in the first Mishnah of the perek (see yesterday’s daf) the Mishnah on our daf teaches that a husband has the right to be mefer (annul) his wife’s acceptance of nezirut – as he has the right to be mefer any oath that she takes upon herself that will affect their relationship (as we learned on yesterday’s daf, if he does not do so then she will be obligated in the laws of nezirut and he no longer has any say in the matter). The owner of a slave, however, does not have the right to be mefer his slave’s oaths

The Mishnah concludes with the statement that when a husband is mefer his wife’s acceptance of nezirut, it is annulled forever; if he does so to his eved, when he becomes free he completes his obligation.

The Rosh offers two possible approaches to understanding this Mishnah:

  1. The Mishnah is a continuation of the previous Mishnah, and it teaches that a man who is mefer his wife’s nezirut erases it completely. Thus, even if the marriage ends, either through the husband’s death or divorce, she is no longer obligated to keep her commitment to be a nazir. In the case of eved, however, the owner’s power to force him to neglect his commitment exists only as long as the eved is obligated to accept his orders. Should he become free, he will be obligated to keep his commitment and will become a nazir.
  2. Our Mishnah is teaching a new halacha that deals with the question “Can the husband or owner change his mind about the nezirut?” The Mishnah teaches that if a husband is mefer his wife’s oath of nezirut, even if he decides later on that he wants her to keep her word, she has no obligation to be a nazir. If he objects to his slave’s commitment, however, should he change his mind and decide to allow the eved to be a nazir, the obligation will take effect

Nazir 63a-b

Although many of the laws of tumah v’taharah – ritual purity and defilement – no longer apply to us since the Temple is not standing, no sacrifices are brought and tithes are no longer eaten, even today kohanim must take care to avoid cemeteries and places where bodies may be buried. Our Mishnah introduces two types of tumah:

According to the Mishnah, these two situations are treated differently. If someone enters a body of water, intending to purify himself, and a dead body is found floating in the water (i.e. tumah yedu’ah), we assume that he came into contact with it (even though he was probably paying attention to the circumstances in the mikvah) and that he will be declared tamei.  If, however, the dead body was hidden (and discovered later, i.e. tum’at ha-tehom), although we cannot say that a tamei person who entered that body of water will become purified, nevertheless, someone who entered the water in a state of ritual purity (simply for a swim or to cool off) will not be seen as having come into contact with the body and will be deemed tahor. The Mishnah’s explanation for this is she-raglayim la-davar – that given the doubt that exists in this situation, it is reasonable to allow people to remain in their status quo.

The Gemara brings suggestions for a source for these halakhot. Rabbi Elazar brings the passage in Bamidbar (6:9) that appears to emphasize the need for the person to be aware that he was in close proximity to the dead man; Reish Lakish suggests the pasuk (=verse, see Bamidbar 9:10) that uses the term derech – a path – implying that the dead should be clearly seen, like a path or road is clearly seen. Nevertheless, the Gemara concludes tum’at ha-tehom gemara gemiri lah­ – the rules of tum’at ha-tehom are oral traditions that cannot be derived from a clear biblical source.

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.