In Parshat Naso, Bamidbar 6:2-6 we read: “Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them: if a man or a woman sets apart a vow, a nazarite vow, to set himself/herself apart for God. From new or old wine, he/she must abstain. Vinegar made from new wine and vinegar made from old wine he/she may not drink; anything steeped in grapes he/she shall not drink; moist grapes or raisins he/she shall not eat. As long as he/she is a Nazir, from anything made of the grape-vine, from seeds to skin, he/she shall not eat. As long as he/she is under nazirite oath a razor shall not pass over (to touch) his/her head. Until he/she completes their days as a Nazir to God, they shall be sacred, he/she shall let the hair of their head grow long. All of the days that he/she is a Nazir to God, he/she shall have no contact with the dead…”
Usually when we think of a Nazir, we think of a man (Shimshon from this week’s Haftara is the most famous Nazir). However, there was a famous Nezira (female Nazir), Queen Helene, the queen of Adiabene, near Assyria who lived in the first century, CE and converted to Judaism together with her family.
We learn about Queen Helene’s time as a Nezira from the Mishna, Nazir 3:6: “One who made a vow for a prolonged period and completed their nazirite spell and afterwards came to the Land of Israel, Beit Shammai say: they must continue as a Nazir for thirty days. Beit Hillel say: they must be a Nazir all over again. Queen Helene whose son went to war, said, ‘If my son returns safely from the war, I will be a Nezira for seven years!’- her son came back from the war, and she became a Nezira for seven years; at the conclusion of the seven years she came up to the Land of Israel, Beit Hillel instructed her that she had to be a Nezira again for seven more years; but at the end of the seven years she became unclean and she found herself a Nezira for twenty-one years. Rabbi Yehuda said she should not have been a Nezira for more than fourteen years.”
Queen Helene was a well respected woman and the Mishna has no problem using her as an example of what happens when someone becomes a Nazir outside of the Land of Israel.
The Mishna teaches that since Chutz La’aretz was considered ritually unclean, one could not observe nezirut outside of the Land of Israel and therefore had to go up to the Land of Israel in order to fulfill their vow of nezirut.
There was no distinction between women and men. Once a nazirite vow was made by a woman or a man, it had to be fulfilled in the Land of Israel.