Introduction to Masechet Nazir and 2a-7b

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No Wine
20 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

Introduction to Masechet Nazir

Standard collections of the Mishnah include Masechet Nazir after Nedarim and before Sotah in Seder Nashim, even though Nazir has no direct connection to marital issues or family law. Nevertheless, since the parashah that discusses the laws of Nazir appears in close proximity with that of Sotah – a wife suspected of adultery (see Bamidbar chapters 56), they were placed next to each other in the Mishnah, as well. The entire masechet focuses on the laws of a Nazir, although some of these laws were already discussed in Masechet Nedarim and others find their place in the laws of sacrifices and ritual purity.

Nezirut is a unique type of vow (neder) in which a person obligates himself to follow the laws of a Nazirite as delineated in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:1-21). A person may choose to accept this status for any one of a number of reasons: as part of his penitence, as an expression of thanksgiving to God, as a method of prayer and beseeching, and, on occasion, out of anger. When nezirut is accepted for purely positive reasons, it is viewed as an attempt to reach higher levels of holiness (see Bamidbar 6:8).

The expression “nezirut”  refers to a person who removes himself from the pleasure of society on some level, yet we find that the expression also refers specifically to the long hair which serves as a crown of sorts (see Bamidbar 6:7). The Torah does not demand that people restrict their intake of wine, or keep from coming into contact with the dead, yet these restrictions can be seen as representative of a level of holiness, as indicated by the fact that a kohen cannot enter the precincts of the Temple when he is drunk or in a state of ritual defilement. Thus, the person who accepts nezirut upon him himself has effectively donned the mantle of a kohen for a temporary period.

The Talmudic Sages were of different minds regarding the value of nezirut. As we have noted, refraining from drinking wine and coming into contact with the dead are seen as positive things; nevertheless, some Sages viewed it as sinful for a person to obligate himself with these restrictions, particularly because of the fear that accepting this status may have been done for the wrong reasons.

The rules of nezirut are clearly stated in the Torah. A nazir cannot:

  1. Cut his hair
  2. Eat grapes or drink any grape products
  3. Come into contact with the body of a dead person

Once the individual has completed his period as a nazir he is obligated to bring a series of sacrifices, after which time his nezirut has ended.

Should the individual become tameh (ritually defiled by contact with a dead body) while he is a nazir, he must undergo the normal week-long purification process, after which time he has all of his hair cut off and brings a number of sacrifices. At that point he must begin his nezirut over again.

Although nezirut is a type of neder, it differs from other vows in that the details of the neder are not defined by the person who accepts the

nezirut, but rather by the rules as stated in the Torah and understood by the Sages. The only part that is controlled by the individual is the length of the nezirut, as long as it is not shorter than 30 days. The 30-day minimum is not mentioned in the Torah, but the Sages had a tradition that stam nezirut sheloshim yom – the standard length of time for nezirut is 30 days. Similarly, the Sages had a tradition that a person could accept upon himself nezirut olam (nezirut that would remain in force for the person’s entire life) and nezirut Shimshon (nezirut that mimics that kept by Shimshon – see Shoftim chapters 1316), which forbids drinking wine and cutting hair, but permits ritual defilement.

Nazir 2a-b

One of the most basic requirements of nedarim – becoming obligated by making a vow – is that the person have clear intent; he must express himself in a clear manner. This is true not only for nedarim in general, but for nezirut as well. Nevertheless, as our Mishnah makes clear, there is no set formula for taking on nezirut. Substitutes (referred to by the Mishnah as kinuyei nezirut) or abbreviated formulations (referred to by the Gemara as yadot nezirut) also create a full obligation.

The Gemara on our daf discusses the order in which kinuyei nezirut and yadot nezirut are presented by the Mishnah and suggests that kinuyei nezirut are mentioned first because they are mi-d’oraita (from the Torah), while yadot nezirut, which are learned mi-derasha (derived from a homiletic teaching) are taught afterwards.

Tosafot point out that, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi, kinuyei nezirut are expressions developed by the Sages for use when making vows, and that effectively both kinuyei nezirut and yadot nezirut are of rabbinic origin. Based on this approach, even though the Gemara finds passages in the Torah to which the concept of kinuyei nedarim is connected, someone who uses such an expression to accept nezirut upon himself would not bring the sacrifices that a nazir ordinarily brings, even though he will receive the punishment of malkot – lashes – if he breaks the rules of nezirut, albeit only on a rabbinic level.

Some commentaries suggest that, according to our Gemara, both kinuyei nezirut and yadot nezirut are treated as creating biblical obligations. According to this approach, when our Gemara presented yadot nedarim as being derived mi-derasha, it does not indicate that yadot are rabbinic, but rather that they are not clearly written in the Torah. This approach is similar to that of the Rambam, who uses the expression mi-divrei soferim (“from the words of the scribes”) when referring to laws that have biblical weight but are derived from the words of the Torah rather than being written explicitly there.

Nazir 3a-b

On yesterday’s daf  we learned that one way for a person to express that he wants to become a nazir is by use of yadot nezirut – abbreviated formulations. Expressions such as hareini mesalsel or hareini mekhalkel are examples of such expressions, and in both cases the amora Shmu’el rules that they only have significance if the person pulls at his hair when he says them.

What do these expressions mean? Although the term silsul appears in Tanach (Mishlei 4:8, mentioned by the Gemara, is one example) and is not uncommon, its original definition remains unclear. Some suggest that it means “to be raised,” as appears to be the meaning in the passage in Mishlei. Another meaning suggested for the word is “to make pretty” or “to beautify.” The word is also used in the context of making something in the shape of a circle. All of these can be understood as relating to growing and styling one’s hair.

The word kilkul appears relatively often in the Mishnah and refers specifically to the hair above the temples, although it can be used to refer to an overgrowth of hair on other parts of the body as well (like on Niddah 52b). While it is not clear that this is the source, we find a similar word – kakul – in Persian, and in Syriac another similar word is used to mean “a head full of hair.”

In illustrating the Mishnaic use of the word, the Gemara quotes a passage in Shabbat (88b) which describes that the amount of sid (lime) that is considered significant with regard to the laws of carrying on Shabbat is kedei lasood kilkul – enough to use as depilatory cream on the hair above the temples. In virtually every generation, women have viewed body hair as aesthetically undesirable and have utilized various methods for removing it. During Talmudic times, one method – usually used by poor women – was the use of lime. This technique demanded great care, as it could lead to burning of the skin, and, on rare occasions, even death.

Nazir 4a-b

Does the Torah consider someone who accepts nezirut upon himself to be a holy person who aspires to higher levels of spirituality, or is he in some way a sinner?

The Gemara tells of Shimon ha-Tzaddik who testified that only on one occasion did he agree to partake of the sacrifice of a nazir who became tamei (i.e. he was bringing a sacrifice because he accidentally became ritually defiled and broke his nezirut. The Talmud Yerushalmi suggests that he refused to partake of any sacrifices brought by nezirim – even from those who successfully completed their obligations). Once a nazir came to the Temple who was particularly attractive and had beautiful curly hair. Shimon ha-Tzaddik asked him why he chose to become a nazir and obligate himself to cut off his hair at the end of his nezirut. The man explained that he was a shepherd and he chanced to see his reflection in a pool. Taken with his own beauty, the evil inclination tried to overpower him. To protect himself, he accepted a vow of nezirut in order to donate his hair to God. Shimon ha-Tzaddik accepted this as a legitimate explanation, but otherwise rejected the value of nezirut.

The “evil inclination” alluded to by the nazir is understood in a variety of different ways. The Rivan suggests that realizing how good looking he was made him think that he could have his way with women. The Arukh also connects it with sexual behavior, suggesting that seeing how attractive he was made him desirous of homosexual relations. The Maharsha and others argue that this is not necessarily an issue of sensuality, but rather that his appearance gave him the idea that he should abandon his father’s flocks since someone of his talents should not remain a simple shepherd.

Shimon ha-Tzaddik is the first sage mentioned in Masechet Avot. Although we have little information about him, it appears that he was the High Priest at the beginning of Greek rule in Israel and that it was he who welcomed Alexander Mokdon, who conquered the land. He is mentioned in both Josephus and Sefer Ben-Sira, which describes how glorious he appeared upon leaving the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

Nazir 5a-b

Someone who accepts nezirut without specifying the amount of time remains a nazir for 30 days (in the language of the Mishnahstam nezirut sheloshim yom”). This law appears in the Mishnah on our page with no explanation.

The Gemara demands a source for this rule. Rav Matana suggests that the source is a gematria – that it is based on the numerical value of the letters of the word yihiyeh. Gematria assigns a numeric value to each of the Hebrew letters. The first ten letters (alef through yod) are valued at 1-10. The next nine letters (kaf through kuf) are valued at 20-100. The final three letters (resh through taf) are the numbers 200, 300 and 400.

The Torah teaches (Bamidbar 6:5) that someone who accepts nezirut “will be holy” – kadosh yihiyeh. Taking the value of the letters:

we arrive at a total of 30.

In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam argues that Rav Matana does not really suggest that the gematria is the source for this halakhah, but rather that there was a long-standing tradition – a halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai – that standard nezirut lasts for 30 days. Rav Matana points to the gematria as a reference point, but not as a true source.

Our Gemara also quotes bar Pada who says that the root word nazir appears 29 times in the Torah. In truth, this is not a source for the rule that appears in the Mishnah, as it seems to offer a position that argues with the Mishnah’s ruling.

The Talmud Yerushalmi brings these two opinions (although the authors of these opinions have different names) and adds a number of others.

  1. The Torah teaches that the nazir is to keep the rules ad melot ha-yamim – until the days are over. The yamim of the nazir are compared to the yerah yamim of an eshet yefat to’ar (see Devarim 21:13) – 30 days.
  2. The Torah teaches that the nazir is to keep the rules ad melot ha-yamim – until the days are over. We can only talk about “completion” of days in the context of a month, which, in the Jewish calendar, is sometime “lacking” (29 days) and sometimes “full” (30 days).

Nazir 6a-b

We learned on yesterday’s  daf of a disagreement between Rav Matana and bar Pada regarding the source of the idea that stam nezirut sheloshim yom – the standard length of nezirut is 30 days. Based on their different readings of the words of the Torah, only Rav Matana really believes that nezirut is 30 days; bar Pada concludes that the standard length of nezirut is 29 days. How does bar Pada – an amora – explain the clear ruling of the Mishnah, which requires 30 days?

Our Gemara explains that bar Pada interprets the 30th day as referring to the day after nezriut when the concluding sacrifices are brought and the nazir shaves his hair.

In explaining the Mishnah’s teaching (see 16a) that a nazir shaves his hair on the 31st day, but that if he shaved on the 30th day he has fulfilled his obligation, Rav Matana says that standard practice is to wait until the full 30 days are over, but that the concept of miktzat ha-yom ke-kulo – that we count part of the day as a whole day – would allow the nazir to shave even on the 30th day. Bar Pada, on the other hand, does not accept the idea of miktzat ha-yom ke-kulo. He suggests that the standard practice would allow the nazir to shave on the 30th day (since minimum nezirut is only 29 days), but that the Sages ruled that we add a rabbinic day on to the standard nezirut. The Rosh explains that since many people say round numbers – something we even find in the Torah, where the traditional 39 lashes are referred to as 40, or the 49-day count of sefirat ha-Omer from Pesach to Shavu’ot is called the 50-day counting – it was viewed as prudent to add an extra day to the standard nezirut. Nevertheless, if a person were to shave on the 30th day, he would fulfill his biblical obligation and his nezirut would be complete.

Nazir 7a-b

Today’s Daf Yomi is dedicated  in honor of the yahrzeit of May Bernstein (20 Adar II)

We have learned in the introduction to Masechet Nazir that stam nezirut sheloshim yom – the standard length of time for nezirut is 30 days – but that a person can accept a longer period of nezirut, as well. For example, the Sages had a tradition that a person could accept nezirut olam nezirut that would remain in force for a person’s entire life. The Mishnah and Gemara on our daf discuss how we interpret a person’s statement about the length of nezirut. Thus we find that statements like “I accept upon myself a large nezirut” or “I accept upon myself a small nezirut” are understood to mean simply that the individual sees his nezirut as “a big deal” or not. They do not affect the length of the nezirut, which remains the standard 30 days. Even a statement like “I accept nezirut from here until the end of the world” will be interpreted to mean that the person accepting the nezirut sees it as a serious, difficult commitment, but that statement will not affect the length of the nezirut.

In order for a person to be obligated in nezirut forever, his statement must be a clear one. A person who says that his nezirut should extend his entire life becomes a nazir olam. Similarly, statements like “I accept nezirut like the dust of the sea” or “like the sand on the oceans” will obligate the person to be a nazir olam. The Me’iri and others distinguish between these cases and the case in the Mishnah of “I accept nezirut from here until the end of the world” by pointing to the expression mi-kan – “from here” – which indicates an out-of-the-ordinary intent, as explained above. Rashi on the Mishnah, however, does not distinguish between these cases and suggests that in all cases where the implication is that a person accepted nezirut olam, he is obligated in nezirut for his entire life. The case in the Mishnah is where the individual says “I accept upon myself a large nezirut, from here until the end of the world.” Only in such a case will we interpret his intention to be simply a statement that he accepts a standard nezirut, which appears to him to be a very difficult task.

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.