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?

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