Nazir 47

Science and Health

We’ve already discussed what to do if a nazirite becomes impure during the period of their nazirite vow. But what happens if a nazirite becomes impure halfway through offering the sacrifices that conclude their vow? The mishnah on today’s daf presents two answers: 

Rabbi Eliezer says: It negates them all

And the rabbis say: Let him bring the rest of his offerings and be purified. 

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the impurity annuls whatever sacrifices have already been offered. The nazirite must therefore start over and bring all the sacrifices to complete their vowThe rabbis, however, hold that the first sacrifice officially ended the nazirite period, so rather than offer it again, the nazirite just has to bring the ones remaining. The rabbis then offer a legal precedent for their position: 

An incident occurred involving Miriam of Tarmod, that the blood of one of her offerings was sprinkled on her behalf, and they came and told her that her daughter was mortally ill. And she went and found that she was dead. And the rabbis said: Let her bring the rest of her offerings and be purified.

This is a heartbreaking story about a woman completing her nazirite vow only to hear that her child is dying. Rushing to her bedside, the woman is too late to say goodbye. In the face of this tragedy, the rabbis permit her to bring only those offerings that she had not yet offered without starting the sacrificial process all over again. 

The Gemara insists that the dispute in this mishnah is only about whether this nazirite has to restart their sacrifices, not about whether they need to count their nazirite days anew. But in this one instance, we see both a legal ruling on exactly when the nazirite period ends (with the sprinkling of the blood of the first concluding sacrifice) and an implicit empathy for the plight of someone who becomes ritually impure halfway through offering their sacrifices.

I think this story also tells us something else. Miriam of Tarmod was a nazirite. Tarmod is another name for the city the rabbis usually call Tadmor, known in English as Palmyra. Today, Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Syria, but thousands of years ago, it was a culturally diverse oasis city which was home to Aramaeans, Arabs and Jews, among other groups. And at least one of those Jews, Miriam, took a nazirite vow that she saw through to the end. 

It is striking to me that we’ve now read two talmudic stories about women nazirites who lived outside the land of Israel. Back on Nazir 19, we learned about Queen Helene, a convert who took her vow in Adiabene. Here, we’re introduced to Miriam, not a convert, who takes hers in Palmyra. Was there something about living in the diaspora that made people crave a deeper connection to God? Was there something about living far from the Jewish center that made people crave a connection to Jerusalem? And was there something about being a woman that compounded these spiritual needs? The text doesn’t tell us. 

But in taking these vows, these women remind us that you don’t have to live in Jerusalem or in the land of Israel, be born to Jewish parents, or be a man, to seek a heightened relationship with God and a deeper relationship to Judaism.

Read all of Nazir 47 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 11th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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