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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Nazir

Folio 4a

But surely here he is bound by the oath taken on Mount Sinai?1  — We must therefore suppose the following dictum of Raba to be indicated, [Viz.:] — [If a man says,] 'I swear to drink [wine]' and later says, 'I wish to be a nazirite,' the nazirite vow operates despite the oath.2

And do not the Rabbis also require [this verse] to prohibit wine, the drinking of which is a ritual obligation as well as wine the drinking of which is optional? — If this were its [sole] purpose, only wine need have been mentioned in the verse! [What is the purport of the addition] of 'strong drink'! It is to enable us to infer both things.3  And R. Simeon?4  — He [will hold] that the reason for the addition of strong drink is to guide us in the interpretation of the same expression when used in connection with the Temple service, in the verse, Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee.5  Just as for the nazirite, only wine is forbidden but not other beverages, so in connection with the Temple service, only wine is forbidden [to the priests], but not other intoxicating beverages. This conflicts with the opinion of R. Judah, for it has been taught: R. Judah said that [a priest] who eats preserved figs from Keilah,6  or drinks honey or milk, and then enters the Temple, is guilty.7  Alternatively,8  R. Simeon rejects the Principle that a prohibition can come into operation when a prohibition [on a different count] is already present,9  as has been taught: R. Simeon says that a man who eats carrion10  on the Day of Atonement is not liable [to a penalty for breach of observance of the day].11

What do the Rabbis make of the verse, ['He shall eat] nothing that is made of the grapevine'?12  The Rabbis will tell you that this teaches that [the various kinds of food] forbidden to a nazirite can combine together.13  R. Simeon. on the other hand, does not require a rule about combination, for it has been taught: R. Simeon says that a mite [of forbidden food] is sufficient [to entail liability] to stripes; a quantity equivalent to an olive is required only where a sacrifice is [the appropriate penalty].


GEMARA. Why must [the Mishnah] specify all these expressions? — All are necessary. For if he were to say. 'I wish to be like Samson,' I might think that some other Samson [was intended], and so we are told [that he must add] 'like the son of Manoah.' Again, if he were to add [only] 'the son of Manoah,' I might think that there is someone else so named, and so we are told [that he must add], 'like the husband of Delilah,' or 'like him whose eyes the Philistines put out.'17


GEMARA. How does the life-nazirite come in here?21  — There is a hiatus [in the Mishnah]. and it should read as follows: If a man says, 'I intend to be a life-nazirite,' he becomes a life-nazirite. What difference is there between a nazirite like Samson and a life-nazirite? A life-nazirite whenever his hair becomes burdensome may thin it with a razor and then offer three animal sacrifices, whilst should he be ritually defiled, he must offer the sacrifice [prescribed] for defilement. The nazirite like Samson is not permitted to thin his hair with a razor should it become burdensome,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., surely his vow cannot annul obligations in existence since the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, so Rashi. Tosaf. (Rabbenu Tam) replaces the last two sentences by the following: 'Can it be that the wine of Kiddush and Habdalah is indicated? But is he then bound by an oath taken on Mount Sinai?' According to this view there is no scriptural obligation to drink wine at Kiddush and Habdalah. This is the view usually accepted.
  2. I.e., although this is wine the drinking of which is incumbent on him.
  3. Viz.: (i) wine the drinking of which is an obligation is forbidden the nazirite. (ii) though he vows to abstain from one thing only he becomes a nazirite.
  4. How will he meet the argument of the Rabbis?
  5. The verse was addressed to Aaron as High priest. Lev. x, 9.
  6. A town in the lowlands of Judea, cf. Josh. XV, 44' v. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 481, n. 6.
  7. Of transgressing the prohibition against strong drink in Lev. X, 9.
  8. An alternative reason for R. Simeon's opinion that he does not become a nazirite unless he vows to abstain from everything, is being given (Rashi).
  9. In other words, an act already prohibited cannot he prohibited on another count. Hence, once his vow to abstain from wine begins to operate, he can no longer become a full nazirite (Rashi). This interpretation considers the statement, 'I declare myself a nazirite (to abstain) from pressed grapes' to consist of two parts in the following order: (i) I vow to abstain from pressed grapes; (ii) I declare myself a nazirite. For other interpretations, v. Tosaf. and Asheri.
  10. Heb. nebelah, v. Glos.
  11. Carrion being already in itself prohibited.
  12. V. supra p. 7, n. 4.
  13. I.e., supposing he eats less of each kind than the minimum size of an olive, yet the total quantity consumed is the size of an olive, he is liable to stripes.
  14. Samson was a nazirite to a limited extent only. V. next Mishnah.
  15. V. Judg. XVI, 3.
  16. V. Judg. XVI, 21.
  17. Thus the first three expressions are de rigueur, but for the third equivalents may he used.
  18. One who declares himself a nazirite for life. Samson was also a nazirite for life.
  19. A nazirite on terminating his abstinence was required to offer three animal sacrifices. V. Num. VI, 13ff
  20. Defilement of a nazirite. Num. VI, 9.
  21. Lit., 'who mentioned its name'.

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Nazir 4b

and if ritually defiled does not offer the sacrifice [prescribed] for defilement.

[You say that the nazirite like Samson] does not have to offer the sacrifice [prescribed] for defilement,1  enabling me to infer that he is subject to the nazirite obligation [which forbids him to defile himself]. Who then is [the author of] our Mishnah, [seeing that] it can be neither R. Judah nor R. Simeon? For it has been taught: R. Judah said that a nazirite like Samson is permitted to defile himself [deliberately, by contact] with the dead, for Samson himself did so; R. Simeon says that if a man declares. '[I intend to be] a nazirite like Samson,' his statement is of no effect, since we are not aware that Samson personally ever pronounced a nazirite vow.2  [We ask then:] Who [is the author of our Mishnah]? It cannot be R. Judah, for he says that [a nazirite like Samson] may even [defile himself] intentionally. whereas our Mishnah [merely] states [that no sacrifice need be offered] if he has become defiled [accidentally]; nor can it be R. Simeon since he says that the vow does not become operative at all! — Actually it is R. Judah [and the nazirite like Samson is permitted to defile himself] but because in referring to the life-nazirite,3  the Mishnah uses the expression 'SHOULD HE BE [RITUALLY] DEFILED.' the same expression is used in referring to the nazirite like Samson.4

May we say that the difference [of R. Judah and R. Simeon] is essentially the same as that of the following Tannaim? For it has been taught: [If a man says.] 'This [food] shall be [as forbidden] for me as a firstling,'5  R. Jacob says he may not eat it, but R. Jose says he may.6  May we not say then that R. Judah agrees with R. Jacob in holding that the object [with which the comparison is made,]7  need not itself be one forbidden as the result of a vow, whilst R. Simeon agrees with R. Jose in holding that the object [with which comparison is made] must be one forbidden as the result of a vow? — This is not so. Both [R. Judah and R. Simeon] are agreed that it is necessary for the object [with which comparison Is made] to be one forbidden as the result of a vow, but the case of the firstling is different, since in the verse, [When a man voweth a vow]8  unto the Lord,9  [the superfluous words 'unto the Lord'] include the firstling10  [as a legitimate object of comparison].

What does R. Jose reply [to this argument]? — He will say that the expression 'unto the Lord' serves to include the sin-offering and the guilt-offering11  [but not the firstling]. [We may ask him:] On what ground, then, are the sin-offering and the guilt-offering included rather than the firstling? — [He would reply:] The sin-offering and the guilt-offering are included because they have to be expressly dedicated,12  but the firstling is excluded since it need not be expressly dedicated. And R. Jacob? — He can rejoin: Firstlings too, are expressly dedicated, for it has been taught: [The members] of our Teacher's household13  used to say: How do we know that when a firstling is born in a man's flock, it is his duty to dedicate it expressly [for the altar]? Because it says, The males shalt thou dedicate.14  And R. Jose? — He can reply: Granted that it is a religious duty to dedicate it [expressly], yet if he fails to do so, is it not nevertheless sacred?15

[It may be said:] In the case of the nazirite, too, is there not a phrase 'Into the Lord'?16  — This is required for the purpose taught [in the following passage]: Simon the Just17  said: In the whole of my life, I ate of the guilt-offering of a defiled nazirite [only once].18  This man who came to me from the South country, had beauteous eyes and handsome features with his locks heaped into curls. I asked him: 'Why, my son, didst thou resolve to destroy such wonderful hair?' He answered: 'In my native town. I was my father's shepherd, and, on going down to draw water from the well, I used to gaze at my reflection [in its waters]. Then my evil inclination assailed me, seeking to compass my ruin,19  and so I said to it, "Base wretch! Why dost thou plume thyself on a world that is not thine own, for thy latter end is with worms and maggots. I swear20  I shall shear these locks to the glory of Heaven!"' Then I rose, and kissed him upon his head. and said to him: 'Like unto thee, may there be many nazirites in Israel. Of such as thou art, does the verse say, When a man shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazirite to consecrate himself unto the Lord.'21

But was not Samson a nazirite [in the ordinary sense]?22  Surely the verse states, For the child shall be a nazirite into God from the womb!23  — It was the angel who said this.

How do we know that [Samson] did defile himself [by contact] with the dead? Shall I say, because it is written, With the jawbone of an ass have I smitten a thousand men,24  but it is possible that he thrust it at them without touching them? But [we know it] again from the following. And smote thirty men of then and took their spoil.25  But it is possible that he stripped them first and slew them afterwards? — It says clearly [first]. And he smote, [and then,] And took. But it is still possible that he [merely] wounded them mortally26  [before stripping them]! — [We must say], therefore, that it was known by tradition [that he did come into contact with them].

Where does it state [in the Scriptures] that a life-nazirite [may thin his hair]? — It has been taught: Rabbi said that Absalom was a life-nazirite, for it says, And it came to pass at the end of forty years that Absalom said to the king: [pray thee, let me go and pay my vow which I have vowed unto the Lord in Hebron.27  He used to cut his hair every twelve months, for it says. [And when he polled his head,] now it was at every year's [yamim] end [that he polled it],28

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., if he becomes unclean.
  2. Tosef. Nazir I, 3.
  3. Who is forbidden to defile himself.
  4. And the if is not to he pressed.
  5. The firstlings of clean domestic animals were the perquisite of the priests and could be eaten by them only. V. Num. XVIII, 15.
  6. V. Ned. 13a.
  7. E.g.. the firstling or Samson. It is impossible to vow not to eat a firstling as it is holy from birth.
  8. From this phrase we infer that the object used for comparison must be itself prohibited as the result of a vow. V. Ned. 13a.
  9. Num. XXX, 3.
  10. Since it must he dedicted unto the Lord by the owner.
  11. Being obligatory, they might he thought not to count as things dedicated by a vow.
  12. Lit., 'they are seized by a vow'. Although the obligation to offer a sin-offering does not result through a vow, yet the animal to be used must he dedicated by the owner, 'This is my sin-offering.'
  13. Probably R. Gamaliel III son of R. Judah ha-Nasi I (called simply Our Teacher) cf. Halikoth 'Olam I, 3.
  14. Deut. XV, 19.
  15. And so the firstling must he excluded as an object of comparison.
  16. Num. VI, 2. And so should it not he possible to vow to become a nazirite like Samson?
  17. High Priest circa 300 B.C.E., v. however Aboth (Sonc. ed.) p. 2, n. 1.
  18. He feared that nazirites, after defilement would regret their vows because of the inevitable prolongation. As the sacrifice would then retrospectively prove to have been unnecessary, he refused to eat of it.
  19. Lit., 'drive me from the world'.
  20. Lit., 'by the (Temple) service', a common form of oath at this period.
  21. Num. VI, 2. [The story has a parallel in the familiar Narcissus story, Ovid, Metamorphoses, III, 402ff; but its moral in endowing the youth with the power of self-mastery is evidently superior.]
  22. I.e., was not his naziriteship the result of a vow?
  23. Judg. XIII, 5.
  24. Judg. XV, 16.
  25. Judg. XIV, 19.
  26. [Defilement is communicated only after the last breath of life is gone.]
  27. The verse following states that Absalom vowed to serve the Lord. This, together with the known length of his hair, leads to the conclusion that he was a life-nazirite. II Sam. XV, 7.
  28. II Sam. XIV, 26; yamim usually means 'days'.
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