Wednesday, September 02, 2015

On to the Nazirites

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Tracing the Way of the Nazirites. An ancient vow—no wine, no hair-cutting, no contact with the dead—and its demands and sins are the subject of the new tractate in our ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study.
Last week, Daf Yomi readers began a new section of the Talmud, Tractate Nazir, which is entirely dedicated to a particular kind of vow—the nazirite vow. Naziriteship is an ancient Jewish institution, established in the Bible in Numbers 6, where it is stated that a person who vows to become a nazirite is subject to three restrictions: He or she cannot drink wine (or anything “that is made of the grape-vine, from the pressed grapes even to the grapestone”), cut his or her hair, or come into contact with a dead body. (The prohibitions are similar to those binding on priests, so a nazirite can be seen as a kind of temporary, voluntary priest.) A person usually becomes a nazirite for a fixed period of time; when the term expires he brings a particular kind of sacrifice, then cuts off his hair and burns it in the sacrificial fire.

Before we even begin reading the tractate, however, its placement in Seder Nashim raises an obvious question. This order of the Talmud is supposed to include laws dealing specifically with women and sexual relations. But there is nothing gender-specific about naziriteship; men and women are equally able to become nazirites. This anomaly bothered the rabbis themselves, so much so that the very first issue raised in the Gemara, in Nazir 2a, has to do with the placement of the tractate ...

Related post here. Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.