Conversion Disorder Nazir 20 Psychology of the Daf Yomi
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a disappointing and challenging incident in the life of Queen Helene, and how this related to a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel.
The Mishna on 19b states:
מַעֲשֶׂה בְּהֵילֵנִי הַמַּלְכָּה שֶׁהָלַךְ בְּנָהּ לְמִלְחָמָה וְאָמְרָה אִם יָבוֹא בְּנִי מִן הַמִּלְחָמָה בְּשָׁלוֹם אֱהֵא נְזִירָה שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וּבָא בְּנָהּ מִן הַמִּלְחָמָה וְהָיְתָה נְזִירָה שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וּבְסוֹף שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים עָלְתָה לָאָרֶץ וְהוֹרוּהָ בֵּית הִלֵּל שֶׁתְּהֵא נְזִירָה עוֹד שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים אֲחֵרוֹת וּבְסוֹף שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים נִטְמֵאת וְנִמְצֵאת נְזִירָה עֶשְׂרִים וְאַחַת שָׁנָה אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה לֹא הָיְתָה נְזִירָה אֶלָּא אַרְבַּע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה:
The mishna cites a related story: An incident occurred with regard to Queen Helene, whose son had gone to war, and she said: If my son will return from war safely, I will be a nazirite for seven years. And her son returned safely from the war, and she was a nazirite for seven years. And at the end of seven years, she ascended to Eretz Yisrael, and Beit Hillel instructed her, in accordance with their opinion, that she should be a nazirite for an additional seven years. And at the end of those seven years she became ritually impure, and was therefore required to observe yet another seven years of naziriteship, as ritual impurity negates the tally of a nazirite. And she was found to be a nazirite for twenty-one years. Rabbi Yehuda said: She was a nazirite for only fourteen years and not twenty-one.
It is notable that this is one of the few instances where the House of Hillel is more strict than the House of Shammai, and we will discuss this shortly. It also is notable that Queen Helene was an important figure in the Talmud. It is said of her, (Succah 2b), she conducted herself only in accordance with the counsel of the sages. Additionally, she apparently was a convert to Judaism. It’s not mentioned in the Gemara, but it does mention this in Josephus’ Antiquities (Book 20:2-4), and also seems to be endorsed by Tiferes Yisrael (Yoma Yachin 3:58).
We encounter this apparently sincere convert, who due to the mishap of first being outside of Israel, and then becoming Tamey Mes, had to redo her Nazirus one or even twice her original vow of seven years. This is even more notable because, perhaps it is an oversimplification, but we do usually encounter Beis Hillel taking the more lenient position. And, one might think with a convert, extra concern is required. There is a concept known as, שמא יחזור לסורו that the rabbis made special allowances for converts, lest they become discouraged, and give up Judaism (see Kiddushin 17b.) Once converted, there is no turning back, so we do not want them to trip up and end up living the rest of their lives in sin. Additionally, we have two stories in the Gemara where Hillel is extra care and was extra patient with potential converts in contradistinction to Shammai, who “chased them away with a stick (carpenters ruler)”, for their apparently impudent request. One asked to be converted on the condition that he be appointed as High Priest, and the other asked to be converted and be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Shabbos 31a.
We have discussed previously and extensively this idea that the House of Hillel tends to greater leniency, and we explained it in more depth, having to do with practical considerations for every day living versus ideal messianic ways of seeing the world (See Psychology of the Daf, Yevamos 38.) Whatever the reason might be, over here by Queen Helene’s Nazirus, The House of Hillel is not lenient and more strict than Shammai. This shows that when they made their decisions, they were based on an underlying rationale, and not out of simply “feeling bad for someone”. Here, where this righteous convert had so much to lose, the House of Hillel stayed firm with whatever ideological, as well as logical ideas, that were driving their decision. To her credit, Queen Helene seems to have accepted the verdict with equanimity.
One last point. There’s an unusual language used regarding the ruling of the house of Hillel. “Horu” “הורו”, which usually is used in regard to ruling that something is permissible, as opposed to a ruling that it is forbidden. The Gemara (Kesuvos 7a) actually remarks that it is unusual for Horu to be used for a stringency, and sees it as the occasional exception to the rule. However, perhaps we can say, al derech derash, that the word was used in an ironic sense. It was to draw attention to the fact that, even though usually The house of Hillel is one to permit, in this case, they had their reasons to make it forbidden — and it is equally valid and as powerful as their typical rulings that are lenient. This is why, ironically, the teaching choose a language of “הורו”, which is ordinarily connotes a lenient ruling.