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|Thursday, October 1st, 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
|Wednesday, September 30th, 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
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
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
|Friday, September 25th, 2015|
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
Nazir 29 – Father and son, a nazir
We said that a father can pronounce his son a nazir
. This can only be true if the son is not grown up, because after that the father would have no rights over his son's religions observances. It is only if the son is young, and the father feels that this would be a proper measure for his son's education, that such a law could be possible.
And yet, who mandated it? Was it the Torah that made a special exception to its usual rules? Or did the Sages decide to give this additional power to the father? If it is the Torah, then we will not question, for example, why it gave this power to the father but not to the mother. This is indeed the view of Rabbi Yochanan. However, Resh Lakish ascribes the rule to the Sages. Now Resh Lakish will have to explain every detail of this enactment. First, he answers that only father and not the mother is responsible for the son's observances.
Furthermore, why did the Sages establish that relatives can annul this father's decree? – Because if the relatives teach the boy to negate the father's command, it is hardly conducive to proper education. But how did the Sages allow to shave off the hair on the head? Isn't it prohibited to shave off the peyot? Resh Lakish will tell you that shaving the whole head is permitted. And yet, how can the Sages permit an animal sacrifice of a nazir if in truth it is not needed!? – Resh Lakish will answer that it is actually permitted to bring unnecessary sacrifices
The father of (future) Rabbi Chanina pronounced his son Chanina a nazir, and they took the boy to Rabban Gamliel, to examine if he was still a child. But Chanina said, “Please do not trouble yourself. If I am still a minor, I do what the father says. And if I am a grownup, then I declare myself a nazir.”
Rabban Gamliel kissed Chanina on the forehead and predicted that he would be a great Sages – which indeed soon came to pass.
Art: Haircut day By Hugh Carter
|Sunday, September 20th, 2015|
Nazir 28 – A wife must drink with her husband
If a husband hears of his wife's vow, he can annul it – but only on the day he hears it. If he heard of his wife becoming a nazir (or “nazirah”) on the last day of her vow, he can annul it then. However, if the blood of one of the required sacrifices was already thrown on the Altar, he cannot annul it any longer – because from this moment and on she is not deprived of anything, and can drink wine and go to the cemetery. His rights extend only to her self-deprivation, but not further.
This is true, however, if she concluded her promised time of being a nazirah correctly. If she accidentally touched a dead body, and is bringing sacrifices because of that – he can still annul the vow, so that she does not continue her period of abstinence, because he can demand that she drinks wine together with him.
Rabbi Meir says that even if she did everything right, he can stop it at the last moment – because he can claim, “I don't want my wife to shave off her hair!” (which every nazir finally does). And the first teacher, what did he think? – That she can wear a wig. And Rabbi Meir? – That the husband won't like the wig.
The father can declare his son a nazir. However, his son or any relative can stop that and free the son from the obligation. Another unusual law (known only to those who study unwritten Torah): if the father was a nazir and prepared money for his concluding sacrifices but died – then the son can use that money for his own nazir sacrifice. This is not true for any other type of sacrifices or money – they cannot be re-used by the son.
Art: Young Woman with a Wine Glass by Octave Tassaert
Nazir 27 – What to do with the remaining money?
If a woman became a nazir (more correctly, nezirah), fulfilled her promised term, and prepared the animal sacrifices required at the end – and then her husband annulled her vow of a nazir – the sacrifices are, of course, not needed. What should she do with them?
If the animal is from the husband's flock, then it can go back to graze. The husband implicitely gives permissions to his wife to use the animals – but only if she indeed has to bring a sacrifice. If, on the other hand, she used her own animals, then there is no way out, and the sin offering will have to remain in this state until it dies. What about the money she separated for the libations? – It should be dropped into the communal collection box in the Temple.
What happens if she separated metal pieces (ingots)? Such pieces were used to trade for animals and then used for metal works. The same questions would come up if one separated the ingots for his being a nazir but did not specify how they should be used and then died. Since these ingots require appraisal and cannot be readily sold, they remain in their unresolved state and should be destroyed to avoid confusion. That is what the Sages say. However, Rav Nachman disagreed. One can easily barter the ingots for animals and then sell the animals. Therefore, they are equivalent to cash. And just as cash should be deposited into communal boxes for voluntary offerings, so too the ingots should be disposed of in the same manner.
Art: Guiding The Flock by Francesco Paolo Michetti
Nazir 19 – Deriving different things from the same word
A nazir is forbidden to visit a cemetery. If he accidentally comes in contact with a dead body and thus becomes ritually impure, he needs to purify himself, shave all his hair, bring sacrifices, and restart being a nazir. Say he became impure again, on the night before he could bring the sacrifices. Then later he will need to bring two sets of sacrifices. Why? – The Torah said, “He shall sanctify his head on that day and restart being a nazir” – even if he did not bring his sacrifices yet. Thus the new impurity happens to a fresh new nazir, and causes another obligation.
This is the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer. It results in bringing the most sacrifices. The Sages also pay attention to the extra words of “on that day,” but it teaches them that that he does not restart his being a nazir until he brings the guilt offering. Thus, right now he has not started another term yet, and just needs to purify himself. This is all one long period of impurity, and later he brings only one set of sacrifices.
This seems to cover all possibilities. But Rabbi Ishmael says something else: if he did not bring all sacrifices, including the burnt offering, he is still not a nazir again. Until then, he only brings one set of sacrifices when he finishes being a nazir.
Practical law? – Follow what the Sages have said, since they are the majority.
Art: View of Pere Lachaise Cemetery by Pierre Courvoisier
|Thursday, September 17th, 2015|
Nazir 14 – Nazir because of the birth of a son
If one says, “I am becoming a nazir” and then also “When a son is born to me, I will become a nazir” – then he becomes a nazir and begins counting his thirty days. If a son is born to him before he completes his own period of nazir (which he did not expect), then he completes his own, and after that he becomes nazir for the birth of his son.
However, if he says, “I will be a nazir when I have a son born to me, and I am also a nazir now” – then he indeed becomes a nazir now. But when a son is born to him, he sets aside his own time of nazir behavior and starts the one which he promised for the birth of his son. He completes that, and then resumes his own counting of nazir days. This is because he fully expected that his son will be born to him before his own nazir period completes.
A question comes up: at the end of his son's nazir period, he is supposed to shave his head, like he does at the end of every nazir period, but he should not do it – because he is now back to his own nazir – and as such he is not allowed to touch his hair. Here there are two points of view. The Talmud then discussed combinations of various nazir periods, overlapping and taken for various lengths of time.
Art: The Return of the Prodigal Sonby Rembrandt Van Rijn
|Tuesday, September 1st, 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 27th, 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 25th, 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
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
|Monday, August 24th, 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 a 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
|Sunday, August 23rd, 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
|Thursday, August 20th, 2015|
Nedarim 88 – The husband did not know
If the husband did not know in principle that he can annul his wife's vows – even though he understood the concept of vows – then his failure to confirm or revoke is meaningless. Therefore, once he finds out that he has this capability – then he has a day to revoke the vow or confirm it.
However, if he knew about revocation, just did not know that a specific vow could be revoked by him – then it's his problem. Even if he revokes this vow, just to be on the safe side, this revocation does not work, because he lacks complete knowledge. And later it would be too late, because the first day passed. Why is this case different? – He should have gone to a Sage to clarify, on that very day. This is the view of Rabbi Meir.
The Sages, however, disagree: since he knew about vow revocation, but just did not know that this particular vow can be revoked by him – and he revoked it just in case – it works. The Sages consider partial knowledge the same as complete knowledge. Afterwards he cannot revoke it any longer, since the first day of hearing has passed.
Art: Portrait of a Husband and Wife by John Parker
|Wednesday, August 19th, 2015|
Nedarim 87 – The husband against grapes but not against figs
If the wife makes a vow to not eat grapes and figs, and the husband confirms only the grape prohibition, then the figs prohibition is also confirmed. This is because the Torah said, “The husband hears (and confirms) about it,” which can be translated as “even a part of it.” However, if he annuls only the the figs part, he still needs to revoke the grapes. Some say that he needs to revoke the complete vow – because the Torah said, “Revokes it,” meaning, the complete vow needs to be revoked.
We thus see that confirming the vow and annulling it are different. There is another way to look at it. Since the Torah said that “The husband will confirm and the husband will annul,” we compare the two: just as in confirming it, once he confirms part, the whole is confirmed, so is annulment: once he annuls part, the whole is annulled. This is indeed the view of Rabbi Akiva.
Moreover, if she says “I am not eating grapes, and I am not eating figs” – these are two separate vows that need to be annulled separately. This is the view of Rabbi Shimon, who requires separate legal statements about everything. That is why in our rule above her forbidding grapes and figs is considered a single vow. Those who disagree will consider the initial statement as two separate vows, and the above discussion about separate annulment would not even apply.
Art: A Still Life Of Grapes In A Basket by Frans Snyders
|Tuesday, August 18th, 2015|
Nedarim 86 – Who made the vow?
If one thought that his wife made a vow, and he revoked it, and then it turned out that it was his daughter who made this vow – he must now revoke it for his daughter. His original revocation for this wife does not count. Similarly, if he thought that his wife vowed to abstain from grapes, and it turns out that she wanted to abstain from figs, he needs to do the revocation once more.
That is strange, because you can compare this case to one where he heard that his father died – and he tore his clothing, as required – and then they told him that it was his son who died – he does not have to tear his clothing again. Thus we see that he is not required to know the precise identity!
What is the difference? – in the case of tearing, they actually did not tell him who it was, and he tore without specifying the relative. This is why it worked for another relative. But normally, one has to be aware of the identity.
Another possible explanation is this: they did tell him who died, he tore the clothing, but then they informed him about a different identity – within a few seconds of the first statement. Thus, their correction is a continuation of the statement, and his tearing applies to a new relative. And how many seconds is required? – Enough to say “Peace to you, my teacher.”
Art: Mourning And Melancholia by Charles Zacharie Landelle