Nazir 7

Science and Health

In a mishnah two days ago, we learned that if one doesn’t specify how long a period of naziriteship will last, it lasts for 30 days. A mishnah on today’s daf puts a sharper point on this ruling: 

If one said: “I am hereby a nazirite for one long term,” or: “I am hereby a nazirite for one short term,” or even: “I am hereby a nazirite from now until the end of the world,” he is a nazirite for 30 days.

As we saw back on Nazir 5, the 30-day standard can be derived by means of gematria, looking at the numerical value of Hebrew letters to bring out additional meaning from the words. The biblical verse about the nazir in Numbers 6:5 uses the word yehiyeh (will be), which has a numerical value of 30. From there, the rabbis derive that the default period of naziriteship is 30 days.

The first two clauses of today’s mishnah seem consistent with this principle — someone who merely states they will become a nazir for a period of time, whether long or short, defaults to 30 days. But the third clause is puzzling: Seemingly, the vower is promising to be a nazir forever (which, as we saw on Nazir 5, is something that one would be allowed to do). Why then is the period of naziriteship only 30 days long?

In seeking to explain this matter, the Gemara brings a profound insight about how the passage of time feels.

Didn’t he say: From now until the end of the world? This is what he is saying: It is as if this matter (of naziriteship) were as lengthy for me from now until the end of the world.

Going through a challenging period of time can, in fact, feel like it’s taking forever, even though the days on the calendar don’t show it. By reaffirming the earlier ruling that an unspecified period of naziriteship is standardized to 30 days, the Gemara creates a boundary line for the nazir, no matter how interminable the period of time feels.

Considering another period of time in Jewish tradition that also lasts for 30 days sheds light on this phenomenon. The month-long period of intense mourning for a close relative is called sheloshim – the Hebrew word for 30. Biblical examples of sheloshim are found in Numbers 20:29 (the death of Aaron), Deuteronomy 34:8 (the death of Moses) and Deuteronomy 21:10-13 (the mourning period a non-Jewish female captive is permitted to bewail her parents before being brought into an Israelite household). Like sheloshim, naziriteship also involves self-affliction — one commonality includes refraining from shaving or cutting one’s hair.

Both sheloshim and the period of naziriteship may feel like they are taking forever, and yet the rabbis cap both at 30 days. But what about the person who intends to only take on nazirite strictures for just a short time? For that person too, the rabbis stipulate 30 days as the default. Naziriteship — like other vows — is not to be taken on lightly. It’s a journey – sometimes, literally. Consider this teaching from tomorrow’s daf quoted on today’s page:

If one says: I am hereby a nazirite from here until such and such a place, one estimates how many days (it takes to walk) from here until such and such a place. If less than 30 days, he is a nazirite for 30 days. 

In this case, the nazir stipulates that they want the period of their vow to be less than a month, using the example of an actual trip that takes fewer than 30 days. Too bad, says the Gemara — one month is still the minimum. When it comes to the nazirite vow, the long and short of it is that unless specified explicitly, it’s a 30-day process — no matter how slowly time feels like it’s going by.

Read all of Nazir 7 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 30th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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