Monday, August 31, 2015

Nazir 9 – Nazir who did not like figs

If one says, “I am a nazir so that I cannot eat figs” – this is a strange statement.being a nazir means specifically to abstain from grapes, nothing else. However, Beit Shammai say that he does become a nazir nevertheless. How so? People usually do not make nonsensical statements. This one probably wanted to become a nazir, but then added that he really meant figs. He could have made a mistake, thinking that there is a such thing. Or, he really could have changed his mind and was preparing a loophole for himself. But the problem is that Beit Shammai do not accept the idea of changing one's mind when it comes to Temple-related things. So either way he becomes a nazir.

What about Beit Hillel? They say that the man is not a nazir. He made a statement, true, but it was not a valid legal statement of becoming a nazir. So it did not take effect at all.

Art: Melon And Bowl Of Figs by Gustave Caillebotte

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nazir 4 – To be like Samson

If one accepts to be a nazir and to abstain only from grapes – he is a complete nazir, with all the prohibitions. Since the Torah forbade separately “...from new wine and aged wine,” we see that partial prohibition has the force to impose a complete nazir vow on him.

The above is the view of the Sages. Rabbi Shimon disagrees: since the Torah said, “From anything made of grapevine,” we see that only a complete declaration takes effect. Each of the disputants, the Sages and Rabbi Shimon, then explains away the other one's proof.

One can become a “nazir like Samson,” or even just a “permanent nazir”. The permanent nazir observes the laws of wine, ritual impurity and not cutting hair all his life. However, if his hair is too heavy, he can trim it – and bring sacrifices – then continue. Nazir like Samson cannot cut his hair at all, but on the other hand he is not bringing sacrifice even if he becomes impure – he just purifies himself and continues. Others say that “Nazir like Samson” does not exist – because Samson never became a nazir himself.

The categories of “Nazir like Samsom” and “permanent nazir” are nowhere mentioned in the Torah, but constitute part of “unwritten laws.” These were initially taught only from teacher to student, and later recorded.

Art: The Wedding of Samson Rembrandt Van Rijn

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Nazir 3 – Proximity search

If a person says, “I take on myself an obligation to bring birds (sacrifice) – this also serves as a declaration that he is becoming a nazir. Since, talking about Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel says that “His hair has grown like the feathers of an eagle”, the person does a mental proximity search and, finding the two words “hair” and “eagle” (bird) close, he means the hair of a nazir when he refers to birds – this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir. The Sages, however, say that he is not a nazir, because people do not do such proximity searches in their heads.

This explanation is hard to accept though – not everybody is so knowledgeable. It could be that nobody does such searches. Rather, the man meant those birds that a nazir needs to brings if he becomes ritually impure – and this explains why Rabbi Meir says that he becomes a nazir. But perhaps he meant to pay for the bird sacrifice for someone else, but not become a nazir himself? – We have to say that a nazir was passing in front of him.

The Sages, however, consider all these explanations of the point of view of Rabbi Meir as forced, and say that the man does not become a nazir by promising a bird sacrifice.

Art: Exotic Pheasants and Other Birds By Charles Collins

Monday, August 24, 2015

Nazir 2 – What is a nazir?

A nazir is a person who makes a vow which includes abstaining from wine, cutting his hair or coming into contact with a human course. It is wrong to become a nazir as self-punishment. Rather, if one chooses to become a nazir, it should be for self-improvement, and such a one is called “Holy to God.”

To become a nazir, one must make a declaration to this effect, and fully mean in. One does not become a nazir by mistake. If he changes his wording, and instead of “nazir” says, for example, “nazik” – since this was a common form in these days – he would also become a nazir.

Finally, if one makes an incomplete statement, such as “I will become...” and does not conclude this, but there is enough evidence to what he really means, for example, by a nazir passing by and him pointing at this nazir – this is also effective.

Art: Two Peasants Drinking At A Table By David The Younger Teniers

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nedarim 91 – Adultery

If a woman says to her husband, “I am defiled for you,” - he has to divorce her and pay her the Ketubah. We are talking about the situation where a wife of a Kohen was violated. Unlike a regular Jew, the Kohen cannot remain married to her.

Similarly, if she says, “Heaven between us,” – this is an euphemism to say that he is impotent – she is likewise believed and gets a divorce and Ketubah. And, a similar law applies if she says, “I am removed from all Jews.” This is because she finds cohabitation painful. He cannot annul such vow, but rather has to divorce her and pay a Ketubah.

All these rulings were changed when the Sages saw that people were applying them to cheat others. Therefore, for all such claims the wife is not believed. For impotency, they do a “polite request.” However, there are many ways to understand this: that a husband makes a banquet for his wife to convince her to be silent about this, or that the court makes such a request, etc.

One time a husband entered a house in which a man, known for his adventures with women, was hiding. The husband wanted to eat some cress, but the hiding man saw that a snake has tasted it, so he warned the husband. The question arose, was the wife of the man now prohibited to him because of possible adultery. Rava said that she was permitted, for had adultery really happened, the man would rather prefer to see the husband dead. Rava supported his view with the quote “They committed adultery and the blood is on their hands.”

Why did Rava need a quote? His logic seems right!? – There is an opposing idea, “Stolen waters are sweet, and the bread of secrecy is pleasant.” So perhaps the lovers would prefer occasional meetings in secret to full availability. – This is why Rava needed his proof.

Art: A snake in the grass William Oliver

Nedarim 90 – How to revoke an non-existent vow

Normally, a husband can annul has wife's vow if it afflicts him or her. Suppose, however, she makes the following vow: she will be prohibited to derive any benefit from her husband if she ever does any service to his father. This vow does not yet exist. Nevertheless, it can be annulled, for the following reasons: it does involve self-affliction, and it is bound to happen.

There was a man who prohibited all benefit from the world on himself if he marries without first learning the laws of proper behavior. In the end, he was unable to learn, but due to his vow, he could not get married. Rav Acha tricked him into marrying, by telling him that the vow was invalid. Then, after the vow did become valid, he pushed him into dirt – so that he needed a cleaning service, something that his vow prohibited.

Now, in this state, he Rav Acha brought the man to Rav Chisda, who was a Sage empowered to annul vows. Who can be as wise as Rav Acha, to act like this? Why did Rav Acha have to go this? – Because he did not agree with the ruling above that a vow that is inevitable can be annulled before it happens. Rather, according to him, the vow had to exist before anything could be done about it.

Art: Double Portrait of a Husband and Wife with Tulip Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt

Friday, August 21, 2015

Nedarim 89 – A vow of a widow

The Torah said, “A vow of a widow shall stand.” But this is obvious, for who could potentially annul a vow of an independent woman? So why are these words necessary? – This teaches the following case: if she took a vow while being a widow – for example, if she said that she will have something prohibited to her after thirty days – and then she got married. Such a vow the new husband will not be able to annul.

Conversely, if she vowed while being married, and her vow was to take effect after thirty days, and the husband annulled it, but later divorced her. Even though by the time thirty days pass she is not married any longer, his annulment is valid, and her vow is not effective.

If she vowed, then divorced, and then her husband re-married her, he can no longer annul her vows. This is the general rule therefore: if she has been on her own even for one minute, the husband can not longer annul her vows.

Art: A Proposal of Marriage By Jules Worms