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Israel Drazin

The case of the super pious person, the Nazir

  The case of the Sotah, the suspected adulterous wife, is followed immediately with the case of the man or woman who wants to be more pious than the law requires. As with the Sotah, the Torah text is unclear, and many questions arise. Most significantly, there are many repetitions, and whether this person is acting properly or a sinner needs to be clarified.

  • Rabbis took both sides on whether the Nazir was a sinner. Rabbis opposed to asceticism called people who frequently fasted became Nazarites or took any vow whatsoever sinners. They held that the person in question was an evil-doer, even if the vow was fulfilled.[1]
  • Rashi quotes the opinion of Rabbi Eleazar Hakappar, who said the Nazir must bring a sin offering because he abstained from wine.[2]
  • I imagine the following: The Nazir dies and is summoned by God. The Nazir is asked if he or she obeyed the Torah. The Nazir smiles and says, “I did better.”
  • “How?” God inquires.
  • The Nazir responds, “I made sure I never enjoyed a minute of my life. I never drank alcohol, avoided all sweets, and spent my time reading and rereading the Torah and the Talmud.”
  • God becomes angry, slaps the Nazir, and exclaims, “You insulted me. I created the world and made it possible for all living things to enjoy it. You are saying that what I did was senseless.”
  • The Nazir was surprised by God’s reaction and what God did to him next.[3]
  • Rashi explains that “Nazir” means “separated.” He adds that the Nazir separated from wine “for the sake of heaven.”
  • Interestingly, “holy” also means “separated.” But the “holy” person turns to the right path, while Nazarites turn to the wrong ones.
  • It is rare that the Torah addresses both men and women, “when a man or a woman utters a vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate to God.” Why is a woman mentioned here? Is it because women are more prone to religious enthusiasm than men and are more likely to want to be a Nazir?
  • Why are “vow” and other items in the 21 sentences regarding Nazirs repeated?
  • The twenty-one verses do not indicate what the person needs to say in the vow nor how long the oath-taker needs to remain a Nazirite after making a vow. The rabbis address this and similar issues in the Talmuds, Midrashim, and commentaries.
  • Neither does it mention that different famous men were Nazarites. Each behaved differently. The most notable was Samson, who killed Philistines and could touch dead bodies. Many consider the prophet Samuel a Nazarite. Also, there is an opinion that David’s son Absalom was a Nazarite. He had long hair, arguably because he was a Nazarite, which got caught in a tree, leading to his death.[4]
  • The restrictions placed upon Nazarites are more extreme than those set upon priests. Priests may not drink alcohol in the Tabernacle but may drink when not officiating. They may also eat grape products, while Nazarites may not. Why the extreme Nazarite prohibitions?
  • Could a person become a Nazir without mentioning alcohol? Must an individual who did not mention alcohol abstain from it?
  • Verse 5 requires that no razor should cut the Nazir’s hair. The rabbis extended the prohibition to any cutting instrument. Why must priests trim their hair while Nazarites may not cut their hair?
  • The verse says Nazirs “shall be holy.” What does this mean? How do people who do not cut their hair become “holy”?
  • Why are Nazarites prohibited from coming near a dead body? Does the restriction somehow emphasize that we should enjoy life?
  • Why must Nazarites cut their hair off on the seventh day if they accidentally come close to a dead body? Why seven? Is it a reminder that God created the world and ceased creation on the seventh day?
  • Why must Nazarites who accidentally came upon a dead body bring an offering of two birds and not four-legged animals on the eighth day? Does seven symbolize the end of something, while eight symbolizes a new beginning?
  • Why do they offer a four-legged animal sacrifice at the end of being a Nazarite?
  • Historians noted no Nazarites during the middle ages and after. Why did it stop?
  • Other cultures continued the practice. There were many hermits. Why did they do so?
  • Despite many restrictions, one prominent among non-Jews, isolation from society, is not one of them. It appears this emphasizes the Jewish view that the Jew must interact with others loving them as they love themselves.

[1] Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 9a, b, 20a, 77b; Nazir 4a; Ta’anit 11a.

[2] Commentary to verse 11.

[3] This is a parable. I do not think God acts like this.

[4] Babylonian Talmud Nazir 4b.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.