Nazir 18

Science and Health

As we’ve learned, one who takes a vow of naziriteship in a cemetery must exit the cemetery, purify themselves and then begin their term as a nazirite. Toward the bottom of yesterday’s daf, Rav Ashi asked a question:

If one took a vow of naziriteship while in a cemetery, is he required to shave or not?

Ordinarily, shaving one’s hair is not part of removing corpse impurity. But it is required for a nazir whose period of naziriteship has been interrupted by contracting corpse impurity (Numbers 6:9). So how should we think of the nazir who made a vow in a cemetery? Are they more like the person who has corpse impurity, purifies and then starts a period of naziriteship — and therefore is not required to shave? Or are they more like the person who becomes a nazirite, contracts corpse impurity and has to purify before completing the term — and therefore does need to shave before continuing their period of naziriteship? A beraita on today’s page offers this answer:

Come and hear: “And he defiles his consecrated head, he shall shave his head on the day of his purification, on the seventh day shall he shave it.” (Numbers 6:9)

The verse is speaking of a ritually pure nazirite who became impure, who requires hair removal and the bringing of birds as offerings. And this verse comes to exempt a nazirite who vowed while in the grave (i.e. in a cemetery) that he does not require hair removal and the bringing of birds.

This is our answer: The cemetery-minted nazir is exempt from shaving before starting his nazarite term. How do we know? The beraita explains:

And are these matters not inferred with a kal v’homer (a fortiori) inference? Just as a nazirite who was pure and who subsequently became impure requires hair removal and the bringing of birds, if one was impure from the outset, is it not logical that he should require hair removal and the bringing of birds?

Therefore the verse states: “And he defiles his consecrated head,” indicating that the verse speaks only of one who was pure and later became impure, and that only he requires hair removal and the bringing of birds. And it exempts the nazirite who vowed while in a grave.

The beraita acknowledges that we might have reasoned as follows: If the nazir who accidentally contracts corpse impurity must complete the rituals of purification and shave their head to resume their naziriteship, then surely a nazir who vowed to become a nazirite while in a state of corpse impurity would have to as well. After all, they are removing the same impurity for the same purpose. However, the beraita explains, the language of the verse teaches us otherwise: “he defiles his consecrated head” refers only to one whose head was consecrated and pure at the same time — that is, one who started their nazirite term in a state of purity. The verse is therefore not referring to one who vows to become a nazirite while standing in a cemetery.

The rabbis acknowledge that the Torah’s position here is counterintuitive. If one nazir must shave their head after removing corpse impurity, why shouldn’t the next? But in the end, the higher commitment is to the word of God. And if the whole point of naziriteship is to serve God, why argue with that?

Read all of Nazir 18 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 10th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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