Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Nazir 40: Shaving

Nazirites are commanded both to avoid shaving during their periods of nazirut, and then to shave their heads at the conclusion of their terms.  Today's daf considers both of these practices.

What should be done if a nazirite shaves his or her hair during his/her term of nazirut? Does every single hair have to be shaved in order to have transgressed they prohibition?  What if one or two hairs are left? What if the hair is cut with something other than a razor?  What if the remaining hair is long enough to bend over on itself?

The rabbis also question shaving one's hair at the end of one's term of nazirut.  Is a razor required?  What about using a plane or scissors or tweezers or a depilatory to remove the hair?   We learn that a razor is considered to be the only tool that both removes the hair and destroys the hair - removing it by its roots.  

One of the rabbis questions is how these guidelines were determined.  In order to better understand the halachot regarding nazirut and hair removal, the rabbis look to two other situations that involve hair removal.  The Levite is commanded to remove his hair.  In addition, the leper removes his/her hair as part of the purification process.  All three of these groups of people are commanded to remove their hair.  However, there are significant differences, including the imperative for the leper to remove all bodily hair and the priest is forbidden from removing hair from the corners of his head.

Through this conversation, we learn that while it is commanded to leave one's hair between the forehead and the cheek untouched by a razor, it is permitted to cut that hair with scissors.  Similarly, a beard can be trimmed with scissors but not with a razor.  

We also learn about vechazar hadin, a case where the 'derivation has reverted'.  In this type of situation, the rabbis are comparing at least two cases that have some commonality. If one case has a unique aspect to it, the other case is used to prove that the stringency is not required for the halacha to be used.  Instead, the commonality is used to prove the voracity of the halacha and any stringencies or abnormalities in each case are overlooked.

It is always fascinating to read that a halacha is not in fact required.  Men do not have to grow the sides of their hair; they do so based on a minhag, a custom, of stringency beyond the halacha.  To take on the most stringent possible interpretation reminds me of an Al Yancovich song about the Amish.  A line in the song says something like, "I'm more humble than thou art".  Do we try to one-up each other with observance in the religious Jewish community?  How might that be a longstanding tradition?  And how might it help or hinder our practice of Judaism at this point in our history?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Nazir 39: Cutting Hair, Lice, and Men Dying Their Beards

A new Mishna reminds us that nazirites who do not specify the length of their nazirut take on a nazirut of thirty days.  If they shave their own hair or if bandits shave their hair inside of that timeframe, they must repeat the thirty days.  This holds whether one uses a razor, a scissors, or one's hands to pull out the hair.

The rabbis argue over a number of details including whether or not the full thirty days should be repeated; perhaps only seven days of nazirut should be repeated like in other similar cases.  My favourite details both involve the rabbis' considerations about how the hair grows, from the top or the bottom.

After walking through a number of theories that do not conclusively prove whether or not the hair grows down from the scalp, they figure out their answer based on men who dye their beards.  A number of days after dying their beards, new hair grows in grey near their faces.  Thus the hair grows in a downward direction.  

What I find fascinating about this determination is that we learn that it was not unusual for men to dye their beards.  Specifically, men dyed their beards when their hair was growing in grey.  Clearly the obsession with a youthful appearance is not a new things, as these words were written approximately 1800 years ago.   This new information gives rise to many related questions: how did they dye their beards?  Did they dye other hair on their bodies as well?  Was this practice limited to men or did women participate as well?  How were the standards different by gender?  Was dye accessible to all or was this practice only for the wealthy?  Did rabbis take part in this practice?

The other point that I found most interesting was a theory that did not prove that hair grew in any particular direction.  The rabbis consider live and dead lice, whose nits attach themselves to the hairs of their host.  As the hair grows, don't the parasites move back toward the scalp?  Or do they remain in one place on the hair shaft?  Watching the rabbis try to understand hair growth reminds me of the myriad of differences between the times of our rabbis and now.  Would I be able to figure out from which direction hair grows if I didn't understand that process as a scientifically understood fact since my very early childhood?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Nazir 36: Combined Foods and Transferring Ritual Impurity

Nazir 35 discussed cases that include a generalization followed by detailed descriptions followed by another generalization. Today's daf looks at the reason the rabbis looked at that principle: what and how much food is forbidden to a nazirite.  

We understand that an olive bulk of food is considered to be 'significant'.  Priests eating ritually impure food is not allowed.  If an olive-bulk of forbidden food is eaten over a long period of time - the same time it takes to eat a half-loaf of bread - a priest could be liable to receive lashes.  We learn that a half-loaf of bread is equal to either three or four egg-bulks in volume.  Further, we learn that the time taken to eat that much food might be anywhere from three to eight minutes.  Is this the same whether or not the impure food is combined with ritually pure food?

The rabbis walk through cases that do not clarify their thinking for me!  One regards a bowl of thick soup that contains mostly produce (which is ritually pure as it was given as teruma from first fruits).  The soup also contains garlic and oil which are not ritually pure.  If a nazirite who has become ritually impure and then immerses him/herself then touches the soup before sundown (when s/he becomes fully ritually pure), the entire soup is forbidden to a priest.   If the soup's main contents were ritually impure and it was touched by a not-quite-pure person, only the spot touched becomes impure.  

The measures of teruma (between one fortieth and one sixtieth of a person's harvest) seems strangely vague to me.  By Torah law, we learn that even one grain of first fruits can meet the requirement to give teruma. Why is this measurement so imprecise when so many others are painfully detailed?   And how would/do people determine the proportion of ingredients in a soup so precisely?

Another example of products that have mixed ingredients, some tamei and some tumah - is when spices fall into two different pots.  Yet another involves eating kutach, a dip made from mouldy dairy that is so strong tasting that it takes longer than most other foods to consume.  How do these circumstances change the time requirements mentioned earlier?

I know that much of today's daf was cloudy for me - I'm missing information about a number of different concepts and principles - everything from separating teruma to determining ritual impurity to transferring ritually impurity and understanding the specific restrictions on nazirites.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Nazir 34: Analogies and Grape Vines

Before moving on to a new Mishna and then beginning Perek VI, the Gemara clarifies the last scenario, where six people vow that they will be nazirites based on different conditional clauses.  The Gemara compares this situation to one where a person vows to be a nazirite if a heap of grain is at least one hundred kor.  When the heap is lost or stolen, the vow is void.  This is because we cannot determine whether or not the condition was met.  If that case is compared with our current case, shouldn't the vows be voided?  

Rabbi Yehuda believes that these six people should be permitted to avoid their vows, for we should be lenient when it comes to vows of nazirut.  Rabbi Shimon disagrees in both cases: the uncertainty should lead people to follow through with their vows of nazirut.  The rabbis do believe that vows of nazirut should be explicit and clear. 

A new Mishna introduces another typically Talmudic scenario.  A person might see a koi (which is an unspecified animal - perhaps a deer/goat; perhaps a mouflon or a water buffalo) and vow nazirut if the animal is non-domesticated.  Another might vow similarly if the animal is not non-domesticated. Another might vow nazirut if the animal is domesticated and another if the animal is not domesticated.  A fifth person might vow nazirut if the animal is both; a sixth might vow nazirut if the animal is neither. Another might vow nazirut if one of the others is a nazirite and yet another might vow nazirut if none of the above are nazirites.  Finally, one might vow nazirut if all are nazirites.  The Mishna concludes that all of the people in this scenario would be nazirites.

The Gemara wonders whether one of the nine people might be obliged to observe all nine terms of nazirut.  Further, because it is unclear whether or not the koi is domesticated or undomesticated, the question about its domestication will never be answered.  This case will remain uncertain.  This provides contrast to the case of "so-and-so", where the mystery of his identity can be solved when he comes close to the group of people walking/vowing.

Perek VI begins with a Mishna regarding the three prohibitions that face a nazirite as set out in  Numbers 6:1-21.  The nazirite is not allowed to become ritually impure from a corpse, to shave his or her head, or to eat/drink anything from the grapevine.  

The Mishna adds a number of caveats: any tiny amounts that one might consume from the grapevine cannot be more than an olive bulk in size.  It also notes that an 'original Mishna' taught that  a person could dip his/her bread in wine as long as there was no more than a quarter log (three egg bulks) of wine in the drink.  The Mishna mentions the inside and outside of the grape, the hartzannim and zoggim, and which different  parts of the grape might be lumped together to create an olive bulk.

The Gemara speaks of fruit waste and of wormy grapes.  It examines whether or not the actual vine and leaves of the grape plant can be consumed.  Apparently Perek VI will focus upon the minuta of the vows of nazirut.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Nazir 33: Shortest Daf

We begin with very brief commentary on the situation discussed yesterday: when a a group of six people see someone approaching and each says "I am a nazirite if that is so-and-so" (and five other conditional statements.  Are they all nazirites or not, considering that they have each stated "I am a nazirite" as the the first clauses of their statements.  

Abaye attempts to clarify Beit Hillel's supposition regarding one's state of nazirut if the person turned back without identifying himself.  And that is just about all of amud (a).  Amud (b) includes no Gemara, as the entire vilna page is taken up by Tosafot commentary.  In the Steinsaltz translation, we are given no material at all in amud (b).  This is the first time that I have encountered this circumstance in my past three years of learning daf yomi.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Nazir 31: Erroneous Consecration

Perek V begins with a Mishna about erroneous consecration.  We learn that Beit Hillel say that erroneous consecrations are not consecrations, while Beit Shammai as usual are more stringent.  The Mishna notes that if one says that the black bull that will emerge first from my home is consecrated and a white bull emerges first, Beit Hillel say it is not consecrated and Beit Shammai say that it is consecrated.  Same goes for a silver dinar when one vowed regarding a gold dinar and grabbing a barrel of oil when one vowed regarding a barrel of wine.

A classic Talmudic story: If people were walking and one was approaching them, and one of the group said, I am hereby a nazirite if he is so-and-so.  And anotherr said, I am hereby a nazirite if this is not so-and-so.  Another said, I am hereby a nazirite if one of you two is a nazirite, and another said  I am hereby a nazirite if neither of you is a nazirite.  The fifth person said, I am hereby a nazirite if both of you are nazirites and the last person said, I am hereby a nazirite if all of you who spoke before me are nazirites.  Beit Shammai say that they are all nazirites simply because they have each said, I am hereby a nazirite, regardless of whether or not each person's second clause is correct.

The Gemara questions whether or not consecration can be made in error at all.  Could it be that there was an unspoken time attached to the vow.  Perhaps the white bull is actually a substitution once we pass the middle of the day.  And is this an erroneous consecration or an intentional consecration?  The rabbis consider whether Beit Shammai think that erroneous consecration is still consecration.  They deconstruct what Beit Shammai interpreted to pinpoint where they believed the 'error' originated.  The rabbis also walk through bulls' breeds/colours and how this could play into erroneous consecration.  

We end today's daf with a new Mishna: A person who vows nazirut and then breaks his/her vow before asking for a halachic authority to dissolve it might be forced to keep the vow.  In that case, the count of days includes those days where nazirut was not observed.  But if the vow was dissolved and an animal was separated as an offering, it is free to graze among the flock.  Beit Hillel use this to convince Beit Shammai that consecration in error is not considered to be consecration.  

Beit Shammai argue that when the 'tenth' animal that is miscounted - for example, the ninth or the eleventh animal is called the tenth, it is still consecrated as the tenth.  Beit Hillel argues that the counting - the rod - does not matter.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Nazir 30: Both Daughters and Sons Can Use Their Deceased Fathers' Funds to Shave

The last Mishna of Perek IV brings issues of gender and inheritance to the question of whether a child can use his/her father's resources for his/her own offering following nazirut.  What can be done with unallocated money that a father set aside for his own nazirut if he dies before using the funds?  Can a child use those funds for his/her own nazirut if s/he vows to use the money only for those offerings? Rabbi Yosei believes that a son must already be a nazirite to use those allocated funds.  Unallocated funds should be presented as communal gift offerings.

The Gemara opens up the question of daughters and sons.  Was Rabbi Yochanan excluding daughters, for daughters do not inherit from their fathers?  Was this particular halacha passed on from Moses at Sinai?  No, says the Gemara, we know that daughters who have no brothers inherit from their fathers.  And so the halacha must not have anything to do with inheritance.  Instead, it teaches us that both sons and daughters are permitted to use their fathers' offerings toward their nazirut; they can "shave by means of their fathers' offerings".

Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda disagree with Rabbi Yosei.  They believe that a person is permitted to use his/her fathers' funds for his/her own nazirut.

But what if the father has two nazirite sons?  Do the funds get split in half? Does the first born child get a double portion of the share?  And what if the father was a permanent nazirite? And what if the father was an impure nazirite and the son was a pure nazirite?  What if the son were the impure nazirite?  The rabbis leave these questions unresolved.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Nazir 29: Parents' Vows for their Children

Is a mother obligated by Torah law to educate her children?  Is a father obligated by Torah law to educate his daughter as well as his son?  The rabbis discuss these questions to determine whether or not a father can vow that his son will be a nazirite.  If that son is still a minor, with fewer than two pubic hairs, does the father's positive commandment to educate his son override the negative mitzvah regarding offerings that would be incorrect if a minor brings those offerings?   If that son has more than two pubic hairs and has thus reached the age where he can take responsibility for his own vows, can a father impose a vow on that almost-grown young man?  

Another question that the rabbis take on involves shaving one's head. There is a Torah based negative prohibition against cutting the corners of one's hair.  But there is a positive rabbinic commandment to shave one's entire head at the conclusion of one's nazirut.  The rabbis suggest that the instruction to shave one's head after nazirut is from Sinai, and thus has the status of Torah law.  As such, that commandment overrules the negative commandment to "not shave the corners" of one's head.  

The daf also discuses the parallel issue of uncertain sacrifices, the offerings of zavot and zavim, when offerings are eaten and when they are burned, and the differences between women and men when it comes to uncertain sacrifices.  Our notes sum up much of this discussion in listing of halachot:

  • one who slaughters a bird in order to eat meat should use the 'pinching' method of slaughter
  • uncertain bird offerings (for example, as brought by women who are unsure whether or not their miscarriages should be considered 'births' or an uncertain zava) are not eaten but burned like invalid offerings
  • Definite sin: a man brings a sin-offering when he unwittingly transgresses a prohibition punishable by karet if it had been transgressed intentionally
  • Definite sin: a woman after childbirth and a lava bring a pigeon or turtledove as a sin-offering
  • Uncertain transgression: a man brings a provisional guilt-offering if he committed a sin where its accidental performance obliges him to bring a fixed sin-offering
  • Uncertain transgression: a zava or a woman who is unsure whether or not her miscarriage should be considered a birth brings an offering due to uncertainty
  • a man who is unsure whether he has accidentally committed a sin that, if performed intentionally, results in karet, must bring a provisional guilt-offering.  This offering is eaten by priests in the Temple courtyard.
A story is told of Rabbi Chanina - it is unclear whether this is the well-known Rabbi Chanina bar Chama or not.  As a boy, his father vowed that Chanina would be a nazirite.  He went to Rabban Gamiliel to be examined.  Before the examination, Chanina said, "My teacher, do not go to the trouble of examining me; if I am a minor I will be a nazirite because of my father's vow, and if I am an adult I will be a nazirite due to my own vow".  Rabban Gamiliel then kissed Chanina on the head and predicted that he would become an authority of halacha for the Jewish people.  

The notion of perfecting our "Jewish parenting" continues to be alive and well.  Certainly we believe that it is our duty to ensure that our children are well-educated.  But more of the focus in current generations rests on children's emotional well-being.  And because it is more difficult to measure and ensure the 'best' emotionally aware parenting strategies, we do not necessarily raise children who are excellently educated or necessarily well adjusted.  

What is the best way to ensure that our children are well educated.  Should we do it ourselves, as is suggested in today's daf?  Or should we hire teachers and tutors to do that job?  Personally, I cannot imagine doing a 'good enough' job as my child's educator.  But what is he missing out on without experiencing a more rigorous education?  Certainly my values suggest that his emotional well-being comes first.  Perhaps this generation of Jewish children will be very, very different from past generations.  

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Nazir 27: The Use of Unallocated Offerings

Rav Pappa argues with the notion that it might be simple to determine which animal was intended for which offering.  He states that animal offerings are meant to be unallocated unless they have been overtly named for one purpose or another.  Rav Shimi bar Ashi argues that the situation is different for birds.  Leviticus provides specific guidance on which birds, whether turtledoves or pigeons, should be used for the sin-offering and the burnt-offering.  He suggests that we know exactly which offerings are required, and thus unnamed offerings should be considered unallocated.

The rabbis move now to the topic of blemished animals.  Can they be considered like "unallocated funds"?  This is discussed through the example of a man who takes on responsibility for his recently deceased father's offerings.  The Gemara considers a blemished animal to be consecrated for the value of its sale, which is measured through money.  Thus Rav Nachman's opinion that a blemished animal is like that of allocated funds is successfully defended.

Rava throws out another argument.  Using another verse from Leviticus, he notes that one cannot use his father's offering to fulfill his own obligations.  It does not matter whose sins might be more major or minor.  However, the wording in Leviticus (4:23 and 4:28) repeats the phrase "His offering".  This is interpreted to mean that he fulfills his own obligation  with his own offering and not with his father's offering, regardless of the type of transgression.

Our daf ends with a question regarding the inheritance halachot that apply to a deceased father's offering that has been set aside.  Further, the Gemara wonders about what can be done with the money resulting from the sale of this father's animals or other belongings - or money that has been set aside for nazirut. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Nazir 26: Unallocated Offerings?

Further theories are offered to explain what should be done when offerings are not specifically designated as burnt, sin, or gift offerings.  We learn that a baraita suggests that all unallocated funds should be thrown into the Dead Sea.  Rav Ashi disagrees.  Perhaps he said that non-specific offerings are still valid.  On the other hand, perhaps he said that a simple statement like "these are for my obligation" was enough to transform the status of the offerings from void to valid.  

Rava then suggests that all unallocated money should go toward a communal gift offering.  And if some funds are separated from the rest, those 'fallen' funds should go toward a sin-offering.  That sin-offering would then be thrown into the Dead Sea.

The Gemara spins around and around the various possibilities when managing unallocated funds.  Of grave concern to our rabbis was the possibility of transgressing the sin of misusing consecrated property.  

Rav Chuna teaches that Rav believed that animals were different from other offerings.  They should continue with their designated purpose following the death of their owner (or the nullification of their owner's vow by her husband).  Nazirites were allowed specific animals for specific offerings, and thus all would know which animal was allocated for which offering.  And after the owner dies, the female sheep - the sin offering - would be left to die (like all other offerings whose owners have died).  The male sheep - the burnt offering - would be sacrificed as a burnt offering.  The two-year old ram would be brought as a peace offering, though it would be eaten in one day and did not require bread.

Our daf ends with a discussion about which items can be considered 'unallocated'.  Animals?  Birds?  Money?  Silver bars?  The rabbis note that allocation often takes place at the point of acquisition, or transfer to one's possession.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Nazir 25: A Brief Note On Substituting Offerings

A very brief note following a very full Rosh Hashana.

At the end of one's term of nazirut, one must bring specific offerings to the Temple.  Today's daf looks at the repercussions of temurah, substitutions, and whether the rabbis believe that those substitutions are valid.  Are substitutions permitted at all? Which ones, and in which circumstances?  What if one has money to give: where should that go?  Are guilt offerings to be treated in the same ways as burned offerings or gift offerings?

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Nazir 22: Splitting Hairs re: Nullification

Examining our last Mishna, the rabbis note that a husband is permitted to nullify his wife's vow while maintaining his own vow if he has vowed nazirut and she has said "And I".  They wonder what should be done when a husband says "And I" when his wife vows nazirut.  Can he effectively nullify her vow without annulling his own vow (which is not permitted)?  

What should be done when a woman vows nazirut, another woman says, "And I", and the first woman's husband nullifies her vow.  Is the second woman's vow nullified as well?  Through conversation and logic the rabbis deduce that the second woman's words will determine whether or not her vow is upheld.  

Perhaps a husband does not actually vow nazirut when he says, "And I".  The rabbis suggest that he might be affirming her vow without stating his own.  This would certainly put the blame responsibility upon the wife.

This daf is filled with notes referencing the different results associated with different phrasing.  The rabbis even ascribe intention to people who say things in different ways.  For example, saying "And I" is different from saying "I will walk in your footsteps".  But they would never be able to itemize every possible phrasing.  Why then do they go through this exercise?  Is it to demonstrate the broad stroke possibilities?  Is it to teach aux a way of thinking through a problem?  Or are only the responses listed seen as significant?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Nazir 20: Principles of Air, Earth, Consent to Vow

A number of distinct concepts are examined in today's daf.  For a beginner like me, it is more interesting to understand the concepts than to understand the halacha that is established because of their application.

First, the rabbis discuss whether or not a nazirite who enters Israel at the end of his/her term is required to redo at least some of their nazirut.  We lean that early Sages believed that all nations outside of Israel imparted ritual impurity through contact with the earth.  Later, the rabbis considered even the air of the nations to carry ritual impurity.  Thus a nazirite who enters Israel at the end of his/her nazirut must repeat at least thirty days longer, regardless of the length of his/her nazirut.

Second, a new Mishna tells us about a person forgetting the length of his/her nazirut, and two pairs of witnesses have different memories of his/her vow.  Beit Shammai say that the vow is void as we cannot determine its length.  Beit Hillel say that the vow is determined to be the lesser of the two lengths of time.  The rabbis debate this and agree with Beit Hillel.  Their argument includes stating the value of counting aloud.  

Amud (b) is the beginning of Perek IV.  A Mishna tells us of one person vowing nazirut, followed by others who respond with, "and I".  These are valid vows, as are vows of nazirut where a person says, "my mouth is like his mouth", or "my hair is like his hair".   If a wife hears her husband's vow of nazirut and responds, "And I", he is permitted to nullify her vow that day. However, if a husband hears his wife vow to be a nazirite and he responds, "and I", both are nazirites.  Further, he cannot nullify her vow because he has agreed to the vow.  He cannot nullify his own vow because that is forbidden.  

This husband can also declare his nazirut and say, "And you" to his wife.  As long as she agrees to this vow with "amen", it is valid.  He is permitted to nullify her vow, however, if he changes his mind that day - and his own vow will remain intact.   If she says, "I am hereby a nazirite, and you", and he says "amen", he cannot nullify her vow.

The Gemara begins with a discussion between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yehuda regarding the amount of time that is permitted between one person's vow and another saying, "And I".  Is it the amount of time required to say Shalom alecha?  Or, if greeting one's teacher, "Shalom alecha, Rabbi"?  Is that enough of a greeting to one's rabbi?  

Again, the larger principals hold my attention much more than the discussion of nazirut.  Could that be intentional?  Perhaps the rabbis used these discussions to continue to teach the principles that will apply to many situations not mentioned in the Talmud. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Nazir 19: Ritual Impurity and Nazirut: How the Tally is Affected

Today's daf considers how ritual impurity might change the tally of nazirut days according to specific circumstances.  One of those is a woman who has vowed to be a nazirite and who has brought her three offerings to the Temple but has become impure.  What she should do would be a question on its own.  However the rabbis wonder how this situation might be complicated by her husband nullifying her vow after she has brought the offerings.  What would happen to the tally?  How would her offerings be affected?  The rabbis consider the husband's right to void his wife's vows along with her obligation to go through certain rituals both for nazirut and for becoming impure during nazirut.  It is clear that before her vow is nullified and before she contracts ritual impurity, she is a nazirite and she need not change what she has done.

The rabbis discuss which offerings should be brought to the Temple if one becomes ritually impure at different times.  Some offerings might force a nazirite to begin their nazirut in a state of ritual impurity.  The rabbis speak at some length about the notion that nazirites are sinners, whether or not they become ritually impure.  

I get the sense that the rabbis do not want to encourage people to take on vows of nazirut.  They warn against vows, in general, as we read in Masechet Nedarim.  Today's daf includes the idea that we are not to refrain from pleasure that is permitted by Torah.  Instead, as nazirites, we should only abstain from pleasurable things that create affliction due to their absence.  Judaism is not a religion of martyrdom.  We are supposed to follow halachot, and halachot place us firmly in 'real life' - with our families and communities.  To deprive ourselves needlessly (without Torah direction) is against Torah law.

The beginning of amud (b) was difficult for me to read.  It focuses on minute details: when a person becomes impure during a term of 100 days of nazirut.  The first days?  What might it mean that those first days are 'void'?  Does our tally count all of these days, some of these days, or none of these days?  This sort of argument is detail-oriented and requires great focus to fully understand.

Our daf ends with a new Mishna.  Beit Shammai say that a person who completes his/her term of nazirut and then ascends to Eretz Yisrael need not repeat the days of nazirut as long as thirty days were spent in Israel before bringing the offerings.  Beit Hillel say that the nazirut must be completely redone.  

An example is shared: Queen Helene, a convert to Judaism before the destruction of the second Temple, vowed to observe seven years of nazirut if her son returned safely from war.  She observed that term and then a second term based on the direction of Rabbi Hillel.  At the end of the second term she became ritually impure, and she had to begin that term again.  The rabbis argue about whether she in fact observed twenty-one years of nazirut or whether she only observed the first fourteen years.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Nazir 18: Which Ritual Impurity is Worse?

Which is worse, contracting ritual impurity as a nazirite by coming into contact with a dead body, or beginning one's term of nezirut in a cemetery where one is already ritually impure?  In looking at a number of possible arguments, the rabbis agree that a person who comes into contact with a dead body is in a greater state of impurity.  This is because a person who was never ritually pure as a nazirite does not need to shave nor bring offerings.  

The rabbis also discuss whether or not a phrase about a nazirite's head having been defiled is superfluous.   They use this phrase to add further support to their interpretation regarding a nazirite who contracts ritual impurity and then must shave and bring offerings.

The number of dapim devoted to these details of nazirut and ritual impurity are somewhat tedious.  Clearly the circumstances mentioned are unrealistic at best.  It seems that the rabbis use these discussions not to determine the answers to these bizarre questions, but to apply their knowledge regarding related issues or arguments. 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Nazir 17: Vowing While in a Coffin

Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan continue their disagreement.  The rabbis discuss what these Sages actually disagree about.  It is generally understood that their disagreement focuses on whether or not a person should be flogged for breaking a vow; whether or not the nazirite's prohibition on wine and ritual impurity are rabbinic or Torah based.

The rabbis teach that Reish Lakish's opinion is overruled by a baraita.  The baraita says that one who takes the vows of a nazirite will receive forty lashes if s/he shaves, touches products of grapes, or becomes ritually tamei through contact with a corpse.  This is because forty lashes is the punishment for transgressing a negative Torah law.  The rabbis also determine that a person should be warned to not take a vow of nazirut in a cemetery.  If that person ignores this warning, s/he should receive lashes.

If one enters the cemetery in a wooden box, however, and makes the vow of nazirut while the box is closed and then leaves the cemetery, s/he does not contract ritual impurity.  If the box is opened while in the cemetery, s/he has contracted ritual impurity.  Nice example.

The rabbis also address other interruptions of one's term of nazirut.  If one is stricken with leprosy, for example, s/he continues to tally her/his days of nazirut while first quarantined and assessed.  Once s/he is determined to be leprous, the tally stops.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Nazir 16: Pausing When We Make a Mistake - Tallying the Days

Perek III begins today with a Mishna that clarifies past Mishnaot.  This Mishna makes me question, again, the origin of the Mishnaot.  Even more so, the origin of the baraitot.  But I digress. This first Mishna reminds us that a nazirite shaves on the thirty-first day of his/her nazirut. Shaving on the thirtieth day is fine.  If s/he specified that s/he will be a nazirite for thirty days, however, the full thirty days must be without haircutting.  This extends to those who are nazirites for two terms; one must shave thirty days after his/her first term ends.  Rabbi Pappeyas confirms this tally.  But if one becomes ritually impure on the thirtieth day of a thirty day term - or the hundredth day of a one-hundred day term of nazirut, the rabbis disagree about how many days are negated retroactively by this change in status.  Seven days? Thirty days? All one hundred days?

A second Mishna throws a complication into the vow of nazirut.  If one takes a vow of nazirut in a cemetery, the days s/he spends in that cemetery do not count toward his/her term of nazirut.  Since s/eh cannot begin the obligations of nazirut until leaving the cemetery, s/he is not liable to bring the offerings of impurity - a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering, another similar bird as a burnt-offering, and a sheep as a guilt offering.    However, if s/he leaves the cemetery having taken this vow and then returns, s/he is liable to bring the offerings of impurity.  Rabbi Eliezer suggests that the first day is not counted, and thus if this person vows and then leaves the cemetery and returns all on the same day, offerings are not in order.  His/her term of nazirut does not begin being tallied until the second day (Numbers 6:12).

The rabbis disagree about the validity of a vow of nazirut taken in a cemetery.  Perhaps, suggest Reish Lakish believes, nazirut does not take place at all in such circumstances. Rabbi Yochanan agrees with the case stated in the Mishna.  One of his arguments ends our daf.  We know that a nazirite incurs forty lashes if s/he drinks wine, shaves his/her hair, or comes into contact with a corpse.  If nazirut does not take effect because of the nazirite being in a state of ritual impurity - in a cemetery - then why is s/he still liable to receive those lashes?

As amud (a) of daf 17 suggests, the rabbis are concerned about when the tally begins and when the tally is paused or stopped because of transgressions.  I might extrapolate from this that our rabbis were concerned both about the halachot of nazirut, about the concept of beginnings and endings - specificity of our actions, and about how negative behaviour should be addressed in the moment.  If someone does something 'wrong', should we wait and recount that time spent later on?  No, the rabbis argue, there must be a pause to address any wrongdoing, whether that is in one's state of nazirut or in other parts of our lives.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Nazir 15: Interruptions of Nazirut, Considering Retroactivity

Amud (a) introduces another Mishna that explains what should be done if a person vows to observe nazirut for one hundred days beginning now if his/her child is born.  The rabbis have already established that one term of nazirut lasts 30 days (to allow hair to grow and then be shaved off).  The Gemara questions what should be done if a child is born after 70 days.  Is the nazirut already served enough if it is followed by one term of nazirut to honour the vow regarding birth of a child?  Does the person break from his practice of nazirut after the birth of the child and then return to complete the remaining days from the 100 day vow?  What if the child is born on the 71st day of nazirut?  The Gemara also questions how the rituals around mourning might complicate the terms of nazirut.

Our rabbis ask about missed days, as well - Festival days that might break one's term of nazirut.  They consider other situations that are similar.  One of those is a woman who is spotting but not menstruating and thus an offering is brought on her behalf at first Pesach.  She then goes to the mikvah but begins to menstruate.  Was her offering valid?  Is it valid now? Must she bring a second offering to the second Pesach?  The Gemara walks us through the numerous limitations regarding purity and offerings.  It is determined that her offering was valid, as she was clean, tahor, at the time it was given.  She is not allowed to eat of the korban, however, for she is in a different state at the time when it would be consumed.

Another example is brought into this debate about time, status, obligation and vows.  A zav, a man who experiences gonorrhoea-like discharge, might be subject to very similar considerations.  And in his case, the rabbis consider whether or not the effects of his ritual impurity, tamei, should be considered retroactively.

Different rabbis consider whether it is rabbinic law or Torah law that suggests stringency regarding the assessment of past events/behaviours and their effects.  

Friday, 4 September 2015

Nazir 13: Boys Versus Children, Miscarriage, Love Becoming a Vow, Overlapping Terms of Nazirut

Discussing the Mishna shared at the end of daf 12(b), the Gemara wonders why it was necessary to state that having a boy was different from having a child.  Doesn't any child - whether a boy, a girl, an androginos, or a tumtum raise one's place in the world?  The rabbis speak about this briefly.  It is clear that a boy is the 'ideal' child in Talmudic times, but all children were valued.  There is one note that teaches us that some rabbis might not value girls - and thus even more so babies whose legal status was unclear. 

The Gemara turns to the question of a wife who miscarries after her husband vowed to become a nazir if he has a child.  What if the husband separated an offering, readying himself for nazirut, and then his wife miscarried?  Is the offering now consecrated, forcing the husband to become a nazirite? But if there is uncertainty regarding nazirut, the rabbis are lenient.   That means that he should not have to keep his vow - but what of the potentially consecrated animals?

And what if a friend heard this husband's vow and said, "and I"?  Once any person says, "I am a nazirite" and then adds a conditional or a clarifying statement, that person is a nazirite.  Perhaps the friend intended to become a nazirite when s/he her/himself had a child.  Or perhaps the friend intended to demonstrate that s/he will love that baby just as much as the baby's father loves the baby.  Should that person be held to his/her vow?

We end with a new Mishna followed by limited commentary.  The Mishna wonders what should be done if a person vows to observe two terms of nazirut and those terms overlap.  For example, he vows to begin a term of nazirut in twenty days and he also vows to be a nazirite now for one hundred days.  The Gemara wonders: do we interrupt one term to serve the other term?  When should that person be permitted to cut his hair?  A fuller discussion will follow in tomorrow's daf.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Nazir 12: Find the Kesher - a Miscarried Fetus, a Betrothed Woman, a Lost Bird, an Androginos

The Gemara begins with a conversation only related to yesterday's daf.  Rabbi Yochanan suggests that one who directs his agent to betroth a woman for him without specifying the woman to betroth, that person is forbidden to all women in the world until he finds the woman who has been promised to him.

Reish Lakish objects to Rabbi Yochanan: if a person is about to become ritually pure and has set aside an unspecified nest - a pair of birds that are brought as burnt and sin offerings when the doves, turtle doves or pigeons have not been designated to their offering yet - and one flew away, or died, or joined other birds not valid for sin-offering, then a new bird can be purchased.  If it flew from a specified nest, it cannot be replaced.  

Reish Lakish then compares these birds, fixed in their nests, to women who is fixed in her home.  Even though she might move to the marketplace where she was betrothed by the agent, she returns to her home.  A bird does not necessarily return to its nest, especially in the case above.  Perhaps she should be permitted to marry, whether or not she has many relatives who might be mistakenly married to the person who sent an agent.  As long as the betrothal was legal at the time that the agent approached this woman, the betrothal is valid.

The rabbis return to their question that opened conversations about clauses within vows.  When a person asserts that s/he is a nazirite and that he vows to pay to shave the head of another nazirite, what is that first person actually offering to do?  Would paying for the offerings of the second nazirite, who says, "me too!", fulfill his/her vow?

In order to appoint an agent, a person must be able to perform the action himself at the time that the agent is appointed. The rabbis talk about the nullification of a wife's vows by her husband's agent.  This case is used to better understand our current conversation regarding one nazirite "shaving" another nazirite.  The rabbis agree that a person's agent is like himself.

Our next Mishna is a variation on our last Mishna:  If a person vows to shave half nazirite and another hears this and says, 'me too', I am obliged to shave half a nazirite, then Rabbi Meir says each must shave a whole nazirite, for there is no such thing as half a nazirite.  The rabbis disagree: each must shave half a nazirite.  To recap, 'shaving a nazirite' is a euphemism for paying for the offerings of a nazirite at the completion of his/her term, when his/her hair is shaved.

The Gemara reasons that one must always bring all offerings, and that a vow of partial nazirut means that one is fulfilling all of the vows of nazirut.  Thus even if a person had half of a nazirite's offerings in mind when s/he made this vow, the vow is nullified because it cannot be fulfilled.

We are introduced to a fascinating new Mishna.  We learn that if a person says, "I will be a nazirite when I have a son" and s/he has a son, s/he is a nazirite.  If s/he has a daughter, a tumtum (one with no identifiable sex), or an androginos (one with both male and female genitalia), s/he is not a nazirite.  However, if s/he says "I will be a nazirite when I have a child", and s/he has a child - any child - s/he is obliged to fulfill his/her vow.

If his wife miscarries he is not a nazirite.  Rabbi Shimon suggests that a person should wonder if the fetus was viable.  One cannot know the answer to this question, he argues, and so one should state that he is a nazirite if the fetus was viable and a voluntary nazirite if the fetus was not viable.  This ensures that he has not broken his vow.

However, if his wife gives birth again, he is a nazirite.  Rabbi Shimon adds that another statement should be added: if the first fetus was viable, then the previous nazirut was obligatory and this nazirut is voluntary.  If the first fetus was not viable, then the previous nazirut was voluntary and this nazirut is obligatory.  The rabbis clarify that miscarriage in this case includes a baby who dies before 30 days of age, possibly because of a problem due to incomplete development.

Today's daf has much to say about views on the consideration of women and animals as property, on the status of a miscarried fetus, and on the validity of multiple biological sexes.

Nazir 11: Conditions, Clauses, Particularities

Our daf introduces three different Mishnayot.  The first teaches that a person cannot be offered a cup of wine and respond by saying, “I am a nazirite and I cannot drink from it” without taking on the full obligations of nazirut.  But this is immediately contradicted in the same Mishna: a woman did just this, but she did so because she did not wish to drink just that cup of wine; it was ‘as an offering’ to her.

The Gemara dives into a discussion about the interpretations of people’s imprecise words.   A person might say that s/he is a nazirite because that allows the listeners to immediately understand her/his wishes.  Perhaps this is done because a person is very intoxicated, depressed, or a mourner and does not wish to drink any more.  In such cases, the vow to abstain from that cup of wine is upheld but the person is not held to a vow of nazirut.

Our second Mishna tells us that a person might say that s/he wishes to be a nazirite but will not abstain from alcohol, or may continue to have contact with corpses, or may want to continue cutting his/her hair.  In such a case, Rav Shimon argues with the other Sages.  Must a person uphold the vow of nazirut if s/he believed that the rabbis would take her/his particular situation into consideration?   What should be done if the person did not understand the vows of nazirut when taking her/his vow?

The Gemara discusses these statements within the context of the four types of vows that are dissolved by our Sages.  The first is zeruzin, vows of exhortation, where one uses his/her vow to oblige another person to take some sort of action.  The second are havai, exaggeration, where a person is obviously not taking his/her vows seriously.  The example cited by Steinsaltz involves a vow conditional on seeing a square snake.  The third category of vows dissolved by our Sages is sgagot, untintentional vows, like the above case where a person does not realize that drinking wine is forbidden to a nazirite.  The fourth group of vows are onasin, where one’s vows cannot be fulfilled due to circumstances beyond his/her control.

Our final Mishna today regards a person who says, “I am a nazirite and I am obligated to shave another nazirite”.  If another person hears the first and responds with, “And I too am obligated to shave another nazirite”, both are nazirites. And if they wish to save money, they can shave each other.  Otherwise they will have to find other nazirites to sponsor.

We learn from our notes in Steinsaltz that the obligation to shave another nazirite actually refers to covering the payment both for that haircutting and for the nazirite’s offering at the completion of his/her nazirut. 

The Gemara wonders about the two clauses included in these statements.  The first is “I am a nazirite”, “Me too”.  The second is “I must shave another nazirite”.  The rabbis argue: which clause is more immediately accepted?  How do we know that we should interpret the second speaker’s words as agreeing to nazirut?  Perhaps s/he is simply agreeing to pay for the costs of another nazirite.  The rabbis wonder why one clause is taught if it might be unnecessary to the conversation.