Masechet Nazir 8a-14b

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No Wine
27 Mar 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 8a-b

We have been discussing the expressions that a person might use to accept nezirut for longer than the standard 30 days. One case presented by the Mishnah on today’s daf is the person who says “I will be a nazir like a full house” or “…like a full box.” In such a situation the person will be asked what his intention was. If he simply meant that he was taking a serious responsibility upon himself, his nezirut will be the standard 30 days. If, however, he says stam nadarti – I meant to take the nezirut that this indicates – then we view the house or the box as if it was filled with mustard seeds and he will be a nazir until the day he dies. Tosafot point out that this is only true if the house or the box was empty. If they were full, however, we will count the objects and the length of his nezirut will be based on the amount of objects in the house or the box.

Edible mustard is extracted from a number of different plants – Sinapis nigra (white mustard) or Brassica nigra (black mustard) and similar plants. Often it is a mixture of these plants that are used to make mustard. These plants belong to the Cruciferae family, and grow wild in Israel. The black cabbage, a leafy vegetable, is a related plant whose seeds are used to make the mustard spice. This cabbage is the largest plant from the Cruciferae family that grows in Israel. Normally it grows up to two meters in size, although there are unusual cases where it can grow as large as five meters in height. Since these seeds are very tiny (1.5-2 millimeters), they are often used by the Talmud as an example of something that is small.

Nazir 9a-b

The second perek of Masechet Nazir continues with a discussion of how we understand expressions that appear to relate to nezirut. The first Mishnah in the perek brings a disagreement between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai with regard to a person who says “I accept nezirut to refrain from eating gerogarot and deveilah.” Gerogarot are dried figs and a deveilah is a collection of dried figs that are pressed together. Although nezirut prohibits specifically grape products, Bet Shammai rules that this person becomes a nazir, while Bet Hillel says that he does not. The Mishnah concludes with the teaching of Rabbi Yehuda, who says that even according to Bet Shammai the individual will not become a nazir, rather that the man’s statement must be taken seriously and we understand him as having taking a neder – a vow – to refrain from eating figs.

Without Rabbi Yehuda’s explanation, Bet Shammai’s position seems difficult to understand, since the person did not accept any prohibitions that relate to nezirut. Several suggestions are raised by our Gemara, with the general approach being that Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagree about whether we can discount the person’s statement entirely or if we should accept that part of his statement has validity, even as we reject another part of his statement.

A different approach appears in the Tosefta, and is quoted in the Talmud Yerushalmi in the name of Reish Lakish. The suggestion is that Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagree about whether we can see the statement about figs as being an example of kinuyei kinuyim. The first Mishnah in the Masechet (2a) taught that substitute expressions could be used to accept nezirut; is it possible that even the substitute expressions can have other words that can substitute for them? Specifically, can a reference to gerogarot – which are similar to grapes in that they were also called tirosh (in Modern Hebrew tirosh means grape juice) – be considered kinuyei kinuyim of nezirut? Rabbi Yaakov Emden adds another consideration. Since eating large amounts of figs leads to a sense of intoxication, perhaps they should be considered kinuyei kinuyim of nezirut.

Nazir 10a-b

The Mishnah on our daf presents a very strange case – a person who proclaims: “This cow said ‘I am a nezirah if I stand up’.”

Just as we found in yesterday’s Mishnah, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagree in this case, with Bet Shammai ruling that the person becomes a nazir and Bet Hillel ruling that he does not.

The Gemara opens with the obvious questions – how can we possibly understand the suggestion that the cow spoke? Rami bar Hama explains that the cow was lying down and a person who was trying to get the cow to stand up said “this cow thinks that no one can get her to stand up? I will be a nazir from her meat if she gets up on her own (i.e. I will succeed in making her stand).”

Tosafot and other rishonim point out that it is not uncommon to find people who project thought and speech on animals – or even on inanimate objects. One example that is brought is the passage in Yonah (1:4) that “the boat thought that it would break apart.” The general approach of the rishonim to our Mishnah is that it is describing a colloquial statement made by a person, which is not made with the clarity of meaning and purpose that we ordinarily expect from a halakhic statement.

In his responsa, the Rashba brings an explanation in the name of Rabbeinu Baruch that we view the statement as follows. According to the person’s statement, we view the behavior of the cow as a declaration of a vow of nezirut not to stand. The person follows this by announcing that if the cow “stands” (i.e. sticks to the “vow”) then he will accept nezirut.  The Rosh offers the approach of Rav Yosef ish Yerushalayim who says that the cow’s behavior appears to be announcing that she is presenting herself as a nezirah – that she is forbidden to all. The person’s statement essentially agrees – if he cannot rouse her, her meat will be forbidden to him like a nazir.

Nazir 11a-b

As we have seen in Masechet Nedarim, it is essential that we understand the intent of the person when they accept a vow upon themselves. The Mishnah on our daf teaches that if a person is offered a cup of wine and says “I am a nazir from that,” we assume that he truly intends to accept nezirut. Nevertheless, the Mishnah continues with a story about a woman who was drunk and refused another cup of wine, saying “I am a nezirah from that,” where the sages ruled that she was merely refusing that drink, but she was not accepting nezirut on herself. The Gemara explains that the Mishnah is essentially teaching that we must distinguish between cases where the person’s intent must be assumed to have the standard meaning, and cases where circumstantial evidence points to a different interpretation.

Clearly, the point that the Mishnah is making is that a person who has drunk enough to recognize that he should not be drinking more may “swear off” another drink, but we cannot assume that he is accepting true nezirut. Should a person be drunk enough to have lost control of his senses – in the language of the Gemara, “as drunk as Lot” – his statements will not be taken seriously in any case.

There is a variant reading of the Mishnah that has the woman who refuses the drink shekholah – having lost a child – rather than shikorah (drunk). This appears to be the reading that the Rambam had both in his Commentary to the Mishnah and in his Mishna Torah where he rules (Sefer Hafla’ah Nezirut 1:11) that a person who is in mourning or in a state of bitterness, who refuses a cup of wine that is offered to him by his comforters saying “I am a nazir from that cup” will not be considered a nazir, and will only be prohibited from drinking that particular cup. This explanation helps clarify why the Mishnah brought an example of a woman who refuses to drink (it is difficult to imagine why the Mishnah would choose as an example the unusual case of a drunk woman, but we can well understand the case of a grieving woman.)

Nazir 12a-b

Our Gemara presents the case of a man who appointed a messenger to arrange a marriage on his behalf. Rabbi Yochanan rules that if he gave no instructions, we must assume that his messenger did his bidding and that he is now married to someone. In the event that the messenger does not return and we do not know to whom the man is married, we are forced to conclude that the man cannot marry anyone, since she might be an immediate relative (a sister, daughter, mother, etc.) of the woman to whom he is married. Rava points out that he will be able to marry a woman who has absolutely no single female relatives, since we can be certain that there will be no forbidden relationships.

The question raised by the rishonim is whether this situation should affect other people as well. Perhaps we must suspect that every woman may be the unknown wife of the man in the original story – and now no one can get married! Even if we accept the word of the woman that she never accepted kiddushin from anyone, how can we be certain that her father did not accept kiddushin on her behalf when she was a child.

Several approaches are put forward to distinguish between the man who appointed the original messenger and all other men in the world.

In his Sefer ha-Yashar, Rabbeinu Tam explains that our assumption that a messenger always is assumed to fulfill his task only works on a Rabbinic level. Thus, on a biblical level the man really can marry whoever he wants. The ruling that forbids him to marry is a kenas – a penalty that the Sages placed on him for being so flippant about marriage that he sent a messenger out without specific instructions regarding who his wife was to be. Obviously this penalty applies only to the man and not to anyone else.

Another suggestion is that in this case specifically we cannot assume that the messenger fulfilled his mission because it is not totally in his hands – marriage can only be accomplished with the agreement of the woman, and we cannot be sure that he found a woman who agreed to the marriage. Thus we are in a situation of safek – of doubt – which will affect the man himself, but no one else.

Nazir 13a-b

The Mishnah at the end of the last daf discusses the individual who makes his nezirut conditional on having a son. Obviously, if the man’s wife gives birth to a son he becomes a nazir. Should his wife give birth to a daughter, a tumtum or an androgynus he will not become a nazir. Any of these offspring will suffice to obligate him in nezirut if his original condition was that he would become a nazir when he had a child. Our Gemara suggests that although these rulings appear obvious, we may have thought that the term ben – a son – might be understood as a general term for a child. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi the obvious case in the Mishnah is the case of a daughter – who is clearly not a son. The cases of tumtum and androgynus, however, may have been seen as sons because of the element of maleness that each of them have – which is why the Mishnah needs to rule in these cases.

When the Gemara discusses an androgynus, it is talking about someone who appears to have both male and female sexual organs; a tumtum is someone who does not appear to be either male or female.

Medicine recognizes two types of androgynus. A true androgynus has both male and female sexual glands, while a pseudohermaphrodite has the appearance of both male and female sexual organs, although the individual actually has only one set of sexual glands.

The Gemara describes a tumtum as someone whose gender cannot be determined. Under certain circumstances, the physical covering that hid the sexual organ may be removed (in the language of the Gemara it is nikra, or “torn” off) and the individual can be identified as male or female. Nevertheless, the likelihood that a man whose testicles have developed within his body will be able to have children is slim at best. This is certainly the case in someone who was truly a tumtum, that is to say, that their sexual organs did not develop because of a low level of hormones. In such a case, even if the person’s physical situation improves, he will not be able to father children.

Nedarim 14a-b

Two unusual cases of nezirut on mentioned on today’s dafnezirut Shimshon and someone who says “I will be like Moshe on the seventh day of Adar.”

The case of nezirut Shimshon involves a person who specifically states that he wants to accept upon himself this type of nezirut. Unlike someone who accepts standard nezirut, a nazir Shimshon is allowed to come into contact with the dead. Unlike someone who accepts nezirut for his entire life, a nazir Shimshon can never cut his hair. The Sages had a tradition that nezirut Shimshon was also unique in that the person who comes to regret having accepted this nezirut cannot be released from his obligation by the Sages. Rashi suggests that the source for this is the fact that Shimshon himself did not choose to be a nazir, rather the condition was imposed on him by a heavenly angel. Thus, Shimshon could not escape his fate as a nazir, and neither can someone who bases his own nezirut on the model of Shimshon.

According to most of the commentaries, it is not clear whether the person who says “I will be like Moshe on the seventh day of Adar” has, in fact, accepted nezirut.

We can probably assume that on the day of his death, many of his followers in the desert accepted upon themselves nezirut as a symbol of mourning for their great leader, since many of the laws of nezirut – e.g. not cutting hair or drinking wine – mirror basic laws of aveilut. On the other hand, perhaps this statement is a reference to the day that Moshe was born, which was certainly a day of celebration, or, at any rate, was not a day that he accepted upon himself nezirut or other prohibitions. Another approach suggested by Rashi is that the person may be viewed as saying that just as Moshe did not drink wine on the day of his death, similarly he is accepting upon himself nezirut.

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.