Saturday, October 3, 2015

Nazir 43 - How to get multiple punishments

If a nazir is warned not to drink wine, and then he drinks all day, he is liable only for the first drink. However, if before every drink they warn him again, then he is liable (to lashes) for each separate act.

Similarly, if they tell him not to become ritually impure by coming in contact with a dead body, and he does it nevertheless, he is liable only once, but if they keep warning him before each act, he is liable multiple times.

But how can one be liable for ritual impurity more than once? Once he is impure - that's it, and he cannot become any more impure than this!? - He can achieve it by coming into a house where there is a dead body (for this is a separate prohibition), and then actually becoming impure.

However, this is geometrically impossible. If his nose comes in first, then he is already impure, but has not completely come into the house. And if he leans back, so that his nose is in line with his body, then his toe comes in first!

We can invent a solution: he should come in while in a big box, since big boxes protect from impurity. And then somebody must remove a roof of his box. For this, he really does get punished twice - provided that he assists in removing the roof, for otherwise it is not he but the one who removed the roof would be to blame. Thus, we found an answer.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nazir 40 – Real shaving is done with a razor

The Torah said about a nazir that “razor shall not pass over his head.” However, the words “razor,” or really “no razor” are already sufficient for us to know the law. Then why are the words “will not pass over his head” written at all? – to include any other way of hair removal, such as pincers or depilatory, and to make it prohibited to the nazir to remove his hair in any way.

But now the word “razor” becomes extra: if in the end the Torah is going to prohibit all kinds of hair removal, then why mention “razor?” Now this teaches an additional law: that when the nazir concludes his term, and shaves is head, that shaving must be done only with a razor. If he uses any other instrument, the shaving does no count, he has to re-do the last thirty days of a nazir, and shave again, this time correctly.

There are in general three categories of people who must shave all their hair: a nazir, a metzora (spiritual leper), and all Levites on the day of their first inauguration for Temple service. The Talmud tries to derive the laws of one of these categories from the others.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nazir 39 – The direction of hair growth

If a nazir shaves his head – or if bandits grabbed him and shaved it – he will have to wait at least thirty more days before concluding his term. This is because the standard (and the minimal) term is thirty days, and when he shaves his hair, it must have at least thirty days of growth.

A question: is the hair growing from the root or from the end? Why would we want to know? – If the hair is growing from its root, and the bandits gave him a haircut but left seven days worth of hair growth on his head – does he now wait for thirty day still, or only for twenty-three? For example, if the hair grows from the root, then that hair which he consecrated has grown down by now, and was cut by the bandits, so he will have to wait another thirty days. But if the hair grows from the end down, then he will only need twenty three days. So?

Let's look at a nit (louse). It always remains at the root – so it must be that the hair grows from the end! – Not so fast! Maybe the nit is alive and keeps crawling to the root. Well, let's look at a dead nit – it is always found at the end of the hair, so it must grow from the root! – No, because perhaps when the nit is dead and cannot resist gravity, it keeps sliding down as the hair grows.

The final proof comes from beards of old men who die them black. We see that the whitish color of gray hair appears at the root – so it is proven that the hair grows from the root!

Art: Portrait of a bearded old man by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nazir 33 – Five answers to one problem

Six people were walking together on the road, and they saw someone coming toward them. The first said, “I am a nazir if this is John.” The second one said, “I am nazir if this is not John.” The third one said to the first two - “I am a nazir if one of you is now a nazir.” The fourth one said, “I am a nazir if one of you two is not nazir.” The fifth one said, “I am a nazir if both of you are nazirim.” And the sixth said – talking to all five – “ I am a nazir that you are all nazirim.” What is their status?

1) Beit Shammai say that they are all nazirim. All of them really wanted to become nazirim, and added their qualifications as a by-the-way, but not essential to their vow.

2) Beit Hillel said that only those whose conditions are fulfilled become nazirim. This is the most straightforward logic.

3) Rabbi Tarfon says that nobody is a nazir. A conditional vow does not make a nazir at all, it has to be clear and direct.

If now the person in question suddenly turned back, and they never found out who he was, what is their status then?

4) Rabbi Yehudah says that no one becomes a nazir, because a person never accepts to be a nazir out of doubt.

5) Rabbi Shimon says that he has a real problem: he is a nazir out of doubt, but cannot get out of this, because only a real nazir is allowed to shave his had, so if he is not a nazir, he cannot complete his vow. Therefore, he should do declare: “If I am a real nazir – well and good, but if not, I am now become one out of my free will.”

Art: Still Life With Wine, Bottles And A Cigar by Christian Schmidt

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nazir 32 – They knew when the Temple would be destroyed

If one became a nazir, but kept drinking wine – hoping, perhaps, that his vow will be annulled – but a Sage affirmed his vow – he continues his period of being a nazir and finishes it. However, the Sages imposed upon him a penalty: he cannot even ask about annulment until he behaves properly for as many days as he previously violated by drinking wine. If after all a Sage annulled his vow of being a nazir, and he already separated an animal for the concluding sacrifices – we are back to the argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Beit Hillel simply allow the animal to go back to its flock.

If one thought that he had an animal to conclude his nazir's vow and declared himself a nazir, but then discovered that the animal was stolen – if it was stolen before the vow, then he is not a nazir. If it was stolen after his vow, then he was a valid nazir for the time that the animal was still in his possession, so his vow is valid.

Nachum HaMede made this mistake: he annulled all nazir vows for people who made them close to the Temple destruction. The Sages corrected him: if they vowed before the destruction, their vows were in fact valid. But they knew that the Second Temple would be destroyed 490 (seventy weeks ) years after the the first one, so how could they vow in earnest?! – They still hoped that their period of being a nazir will finish while the Temple was standing.

Art: In The Wine Cellar by Jan David Col

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Nazir 31 – Mistakes

What if one said this, “The black ox, which will emerge out of my house first, shall be a sacrifice,” – and instead a white ox comes out first? Will the white ox become a sacrifice?

Beit Shammai say that indeed it will. Why? Because Beit Shammai claim that consecrations, even done by mistake, are still valid. One cannot undo a consecration to the Temple if it was done by mistake. Another explanation is that he really made no mistake. He planned for the first ox to become sacred. To emphasize, he specified that it will be black (as this was more valuable to him). But even if a white one comes out first – it will become sacred, and the color does not matter.

Which reason is the real one? Do his mistakes become consecrations, or do we simply reinterpret his words to make sense? The Talmud tries to derive the answer from the rule above, but to every proof it finds an exception disproving it, thus the question remains unresolved – in this particular discussion.

Regardless, Beit Hillel state that his statement must agree precisely with the intended effect, and only then does his consecration become valid.

Art: Cart With Red And White Ox by Vincent Van Gogh

Nazir 30 – Father's money

If a father was a nazir, separated some money to bring the concluding sacrifices, and then died – his son can declare, “I am a nazir, and I will use my father's money for MY concluding sacrifices.” Normally, you cannot re-use someone else's sacrifice, but in this special case you can.

Granted, this rule was taught by God to Moses on Sinai, and has not been recorded in the Torah. But what is its logic? Is it an exception to all rules, or does it work as inheritance? And if you say that a daughter would not share in the inheritance anyway – then what if the man has only one daughter, can she become a nazir (naziah) and use her father's money? The rule above tells us that only a son can do so.

And yet we can ask another question. If there are many sons, do they equally share in this money? If one of the sons is a firstborn, does he get the double portion? And furthermore, is this rule true only for a regular nazir? What about lifetime nazir or a Samson-like nazir? – To all these questions, the Sages did not find an answer.

Art: Maria Riezler-White grandaughter of the artist by Max Liebermann