TALMUD. The 17th Massekhet – Nazir

Standard collections of the Mishna include Massekhet Nazir after Nedarim and before Sota in Seder Nashim, even though Nazir has no direct connection to marital issues or family law. Nevertheless, since the parasha that discusses the laws of Nazir appears in close proximity with that of Sota – a wife suspected of adultery (see Bamidbar chapters 5-6) – they were placed next to each other in the Mishna, as well. The entire massekhet focuses on the laws of a Nazir, although some of these laws were already discussed in Massekhet Nedarim and others find their place in the laws of sacrifices and ritual purity

to be continued in the form of the comments

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66 Responses to TALMUD. The 17th Massekhet – Nazir

  1. Nazir 51a-b: The dust of the heel

    As we discussed on yesterday’s daf (page), one case of tum’at met – ritual defilement that stems from contact with a dead body – that disqualifies a nazir is melo tarvaad rakav – “a full ladle of dust.” This is one of several situations where the nazir is considered tameh met – ritually defiled by his contact with the dead.

    Our Gemara asks what appears to be a very odd question. Rabbi Yirmeya asks whether rakav that comes from the akev – the heel- will make someone tameh met. In the end the Gemara concludes by saying teiku – there is no clear ruling in this case.

    The commentaries have a very difficult time explaining why a dead person’s heel should be treated any differently than the rest of his body. The Meiri – who appears to have a variant reading in the text – suggests that Rabbi Yirmeya is not referring specifically to the heel, rather the question is about any part of the body that a person can survive without, and we are discussing a case where that body part is cut off of the person and buried.

    The direction taken by most of the rishonim is that the term akev really does mean a heel, and the question is whether the heel, which has less active functions in the body than other limbs, would have the same rules and regulations with regard to the issues of tum’at met.

    In truth, the flesh and skin of the human heel are markedly different than most of the rest of the human body. This difference manifests itself in the blood vessels and nerves, as exhibited in the fact that we find that there is much less sensitivity to pain and injuries. This fact has led important contemporary scholars to suggest that the entire physical development of the heel differs from that of the flesh of the rest of the body.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Nazir 52a-b: Whoever touches them shall be impure

    The Gemara teaches that with regard to the issue of tum’at met – ritual defilement – many of the unique cases presented in the last Mishna (49b) will only take effect if we have the entire body of the dead person. If a limb is missing, then some of the laws will not apply. This ruling leads the Gemara to discuss other situations where a creature that has died is no longer whole – will that creature still be considered significant enough to make someone tameh? (Note that this discussion is not about tum’at met but tum’at sheretz, i.e. the lower level ritual defilement that comes with contact with a dead animal.)

    In an attempt to respond to this question, the Gemara quotes a baraita that compares two words in Sefer Vayikra (11:31, 32) – ba-hem, which seems to indicate coming into full contact with the animal will create a situation of tum’ah, and me-hem (of them), which seems to indicate that even coming into contact with part of the animal will create tum’ah. The baraita’s suggestion is that even part of an animal will create tum’ah if its size is large enough to have been an entire creature. This minimal size is fairly small – ke-adasha – a lentil-bulk – which the Gemara says is the size of a homet when it is first born.

    The homet is one of the eight types of crawling creatures that are listed in the Torah as being tameh (see Vayikra 11:30), but it is not clear to us what its proper identification is. Two different traditions have developed over the years in identifying it.
    •The Arukh, Rashi and others suggest that it is a snail. This identification works well with our Gemara, since a newly hatched snail is the size of a lentil.
    •Rav Se’adya Gaon and others suggest that it is a chameleon.

    Nowadays the homet is widely regarded as a species of skink. Some varieties of skink have only two working limbs along with two atrophied limbs, while others have no limbs at all.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Nazir 53a-b: No need to shave

    As we have seen, the last Mishna (49b) teaches that there are many different cases where a nazir who becomes tameh met – ritually defiled – will be forced to conclude his nezirut by shaving and undergoing the process of tahara – purification – after which he will begin his nezirut again from the beginning.

    Our Gemara notes that the Mishna repeats the statement al elu hanazir megale’ah – “on these situations the nazir will have to shave” twice, and suggests that the first statement comes to exclude the case of an etzem ke-se’orah – a situation where the only part of the dead body is a bone the size of a barley grain. In such a situation, only actual physical contact with the bone or actually carrying the bone will lead to tum’ah severe enough to force the nazir to shave. If, however, the nazir walked into a house in which such a bone was present – a situation of tum’at ohel that usually would create a situation of ritual defilement – the nazir would not become tameh.

    The second statement of al elu hanazir megale’ah is understood to exclude the case of even hasekhukhit.

    Although the term sekhukhit is usually understood to be another version of the word zekhukhit – glass – in our case it appears to be related to the words sikukh and kisuy – meaning “covering” – and to refer to an overhanging stone that is situated over the grave and covers it.

    Rashi offers two other suggestions, either that it refers to an even misma – a heavy rock that is placed on the dead body, which does not obligate a nazir to shave although it does render him ritually impure if he sits on it, or else it is a rock that is carried by the nazir on his back that passes over a dead body.

    The Shita Mekubbetzet quotes the Rosh as suggesting that the term even hasekhukhit really does mean “glass” and that it refers to a transparent rock that does not bring about tum’ah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Nazir 54a-b: And for these he does not shave

    In the last Mishna (see 49b) we learned that although a nazir cannot allow himself to become tameh met – ritually defiled through contact with the dead – not all situations of tum’at met will force him to begin his nezirut anew.

    The Mishna on our daf (page) lists cases where the nazir may formally become tameh met, but he will not need to begin his nezirut over again, rather he will have to wait a week and undergo the process of tahara – purification – after which he will be allowed to resume his nezirut at the point where it was interrupted. Similarly, he will not have to shave his head like a nazir tameh.

    Among the cases that appear in the list are a golel and a dofek, both of which are connected with traditional burial practices, and are, apparently, parts of the tombstone itself.

    The commentaries disagree about the definition of golel and dofek. Rashi explains that the golel is the cover of a casket, while the dofek refers to the stones upon which the cover rests. Tosafot point out that in several places the Gemara discusses whether an animal can be used as a golel, and it is difficult to imagine a live animal being used for that purpose. They suggest that the golel is a rounded stone that was used to close up a burial cave (several such stones have been found near ancient burial caves in Israel). During the times of the Mishna, common burial practice was to place the dead body in a temporary grave where it would decompose. At a later date, the bones would be removed and transferred to a family burial cave. The round shape of the golel stone allowed it to be rolled, closing the cave, yet easily opened when necessary. According to this approach, the dofek was the frame, the grave walls, upon which the golel rested.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Nazir 55a-b: The air and the earth

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), although a nazir cannot allow himself to become tameh met – ritually defiled through contact with the dead – not all situations of tum’at met will force him to begin his nezirut over again. According to the Mishna (54a-b) there are many cases where the nazir may formally become tameh met, but he will not need to begin his nezirut over again, rather he will have to wait a week and undergo the process of tahara – purification – after which he will be allowed to resume his nezirut at the point where it was interrupted. Similarly, he will not have to shave his head like a nazir tameh.

    One such case is tum’at eretz ha-amim – the ritual defilement of foreign lands. There are two suggestions made by the Gemara to explain this enactment of the Sages. Tum’at eretz ha-amim is either mishum avira – “because of its air” – or mishum gusha – “because of its earth.” Rashi explains these positions as technical statements. The Gemara is asking whether a person must step on the ground outside of the land of Israel to become tameh, or whether even traveling through its air would be enough to subject the individual to rabbinic tum’ah.

    The Rosh takes a different approach to explaining this law. According to the Rosh, saying that the air of foreign countries is the source of tum’ah essentially means that the reason for the rabbinic enactment does not stem from a fear that there are dead bodies there, rather it is an independent decree whose purpose is to discourage Jews from living outside the land of Israel. According to this approach, the idea that tum’at eretz ha-amim is mishum gusha means that outside of Israel we are concerned that there are bodies buried in places that we do not know about, so we must always assume that there is safek tum’ah – the possibility of tum’ah – wherever one goes.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  6. Nazir 56a-b: This is the tradition I received

    We have learned (see above, daf 54) that although a nazir cannot allow himself to become tameh met – ritually defiled by contact with a dead body – not all situations of tum’at met automatically undo the efforts of the nazir. In some cases a nazir may become tameh met, yet he will simply resume his nezirut after he completes the purification process. In the Mishna on our daf (page), Rabbi Eliezer quotes Rabbi Yehoshua as teaching that only those situations of tum’at met that are severe enough to undo nezirut will be considered severe enough to make someone liable for entering the Temple precincts in a state of tum’ah.

    The discussion of the Gemara focuses on a technical point. Was the source of this teaching really Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya, or, perhaps, was it Rabbi Yehoshua bar Memel, which is the implication of a number of the sources? The Gemara’s conclusion is that when the tradition is passed on by three people (or more), only the first and last of the teachers must be named specifically; the middle names can be left out.

    To support this statement, Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak presents a teaching from Nahum HaLavlar regarding a question of how pe’a (leaving a corner of the harvest for the poor, one of the charitable obligations incumbent on farmers) must be given in a situation where several different crops are planted in a single field. This law is quoted in the name of Rabbi Meyasha who received the teaching from his father, who received the teaching from the zugot – the pairs of early tanna’im listed in Massekhet Avot – who received the teaching from the prophets, who received it as an oral tradition from Mount Sinai (halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai). In this list of rabbinic scholars, the names of Moshe and Calev are left out, indicating that as long as the first and last teachers are mentioned by name, some of the middle names can be left out.

    The expectation that Moshe and Calev would be included stems from the above-mentioned Mishna that introduces Pirkei Avot: Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, passing it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders – of whom Calev was the first – the Elders to the prophets, who passed it on to the Anshei Knesset ha-Gedolah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  7. Nazir 57a-b: Rounding a minor boy’s head

    As we have learned (see daf, or page, 41) Jewish law forbids a man from rounding, or removing the hair around, his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekhah (see Vayikra 19:27). These prohibitions do not apply to women, since they do not have beards, nor do they apply to children. Nevertheless, Rav Huna teaches that an adult who cuts a child’s hair in the forbidden manner will be held liable.

    In a rather disturbing passage, the Gemara relates that Rav Adda bar Ahava asked Rav Huna who cuts his children’s hair in such a manner, to which he replied that Hova – his wife – was the one who did it. Rav Adda bar Ahava responded “Hova should bury her children!” Following this exchange the Gemara concludes that as long as Rav Adda bar Ahava lived, Rav Huna’s children passed away at a young age.

    According to Tosafot, Rav Adda bar Ahava actually saw that Rav Huna’s children had their hair cut in a forbidden manner, while Rashi suggests that it was simply common practice to cut children’s hair this way after they recovered from an illness. The Meiri understands Rav Adda bar Ahava’s caustic statement as being based on Rav Huna’s ruling that adults cannot cut children’s hair in a forbidden manner, which created a situation according to which his wife was purposefully performing a prohibited activity. The Rosh suggests that Rav Adda bar Ahava’s statement was simply one of surprise – “according to your opinion, how can Hova do this? Does she want to bury her children?”

    Not only according to the Rosh, but even according to the other rishonim, Rav Adda bar Ahava certainly did not intend to curse Rav Huna’s children. The Sages believed, however, that even an innocent statement made by a person as pious as Rav Adda bar Ahava would have significance, based on the passage ki-shegagah ha-yotzeh mi-pi ha-shalit – “like a mistaken word uttered by the ruler [that must be followed]” (see Kohelet 10:5).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  8. Nazir 58a-b: A positive mitzva overrides a prohibition

    Although the Torah forbids a man from removing the hair around his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekhah (see Vayikra 19:27), nevertheless, in the case of a nazir who has completed his nezirut and must remove all of his hair, he is permitted to do so. The underlying principle that allows him to do this is the rule that aseh doheh lo ta’aseh – fulfillment of a positive commandment overrides a prohibition.

    One of the sources offered by the Gemara for the idea of aseh doheh lo ta’aseh is the commandment of tzitzit. Although the Torah forbids sha’atnez (a mixture of wool and linen fibers – see Devarim 22:11), immediately following we find the commandment to place gedilim (tzitzit) on one’s clothing (see verse 12). This is understood by the Sages to permit sha’atnez when placing tzitzit on a garment.

    The Shita Mekubbetzet offers two explanations for this case. One is simply that wool tzitzit are placed on a linen garment, which is permitted for the mitzva even though the two fibers will be connected. The second suggestion is that the strand of tekhelet – the blue strand – which is always made of wool, can be combined with strands of linen when tying the tzitzit.

    Another lesson that the Gemara suggests may be derived from this pasuk (verse) is that ordinarily tzitzit should be made from the same material as the garment. The exceptions are wool and linen, which can be used to make tzitzit no matter what the garment is made of. Rava derives this from the fact that the Torah teaches that tzitzit are placed on the corners of the garment (see Bamidbar 15:38) which is understood to mean that the tzitzit should match the corner – i.e. they should be made from the same material – yet the passage in Devarim that places the prohibition of sha’atnez and the commandment of tzitzit in the same context implies that tzitzit should be made of either linen or wool.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  9. Nazir 59a-b: A woman’s garment

    When the Torah forbids a man to dress in women’s clothing (see Devarim 22:5) what is its intention? Is every situation of cross-dressing forbidden by the Torah, or is it only when there is a specific intent to mingle with members of the opposite sex for inappropriate purposes?

    This question appears to be a point of disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov and the Tanna Kamma (first). Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov forbids any situation in which a man dresses like a woman or a woman dresses like a man, while the Tanna Kamma objects that the Torah only forbids this in a situation of to’eva (an abomination), which would only occur if the purpose was to allow a man to sit among women or a woman to sit among men.

    The Rambam seems to follow the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov, since he rules that this prohibition is not based on a concern with sexual impropriety, but rather is connected with issues of avoda zara (idol worship), which is the to’eva referred to in the Torah (see Rambam Sefer HaMitzvot Lo Ta’aseh 40).

    One situation that the Gemara states specifically as being considered “women’s clothing” is shaving parts of the body like the underarms or pubic area. In fact, Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quotes Rabbi Yohanan as ruling that such behavior is forbidden by the Torah and would make the man who shaved those areas of his body liable for malkot (lashes).

    Still it should be noted that in the Ge’onic responsa the position is put forward that the definition of what is considered “men’s clothing” or “women’s clothing” is subjective, and therefore is dependent on time and place. Thus, if the accepted norms of a given community are for men to dress a certain way (to wear kilts, for example) or to act a certain way (to shave their underarms, for example), those behaviors would no longer be considered “women’s dress.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  10. Nazir 60a-b: Shaving once for both

    The Mishna (59b) discusses the case of a nazir who may have come into contact with a dead body, who also may be a metzora (one who suffers from biblical leprosy). In both of these cases (the nazir tameh and the metzora) there is a biblical commandment requiring the person with these conditions to cut his/her hair. The Mishna works to set priorities on which hair cutting takes precedence.

    The Gemara on our daf (page) presents a question that Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai’s students asked him – why can’t we have this person shave his head once and have it count for both the requirement of the nazir and the requirement of the metzora? Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai responds that their point would have made sense if the hair removal in both cases served the same purpose. In truth, however, the underlying purpose of the two haircuts differs, and so the same act cannot be used for both. Specifically, the nazir needs to remove his hair, while the metzora shaves to grow his hair, so he can shave it again after the days of his counting.

    The metzora under discussion is a metzora muhlat – one who has been examined by the kohen and deemed to be a metzora. Such a person must remove himself from the community until he recovers from his condition. Upon recovery, he brings a sacrifice and purifies himself, returning to his home after he has removed all of his hair (see Vayikra 14:8-9). Once there, he waits another seven days outside his house, at which point he removes his hair a second time, brings another set of sacrifices and then can return to the community. Thus the metzora cuts his hair twice; his first haircut is preparation for the second, unlike the nazir who has no further obligation to grow his hair.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  11. Nazir 61a-b: Slaves and nezirut

    Who can choose to become a nazir?

    The Torah specifically says that both men and women can become nezirim (see Bamidbar 6:2). The first Mishna in the ninth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Nazir teaches that non-Jews (Canaanites) cannot become nezirim, although avadim – non-Jews who are slaves and owned by Jews – can, theoretically, accept nezirut upon themselves.

    While Rashi says simply that a non-Jew’s acceptance of nezirut is not significant and that he can therefore continue to drink wine, cut his hair and come into contact with the dead, Tosafot and the Rosh argue that the main idea here is to teach that should a non-Jew accept nezirut, keep all of its restrictions and then desire to bring the sacrifices of a nazir in the Temple, his offerings will be rebuffed. Although a non-Jew can bring voluntary sacrifices in the Beit HaMikdash, he cannot bring the sacrifices of a nazir.

    With regard to non-Jewish slaves, the halakha is that a non-Jew who is sold to a Jewish person as a slave (eved) will be obligated to keep the same mitzvot that a Jewish woman is obligated to keep. The Mishna teaches that there are differences in the levels of obligation of a woman and a slave with regard to nezirut. While a woman’s husband cannot forbid her from keeping her commitment to nezirut (although he does have the power of hafara – annulling her oaths, as will be discussed on tomorrow’s daf, or page), the owner of an eved can refuse to allow the slave to keep the laws of nezirut. In the next Mishna (62b) we will learn that even if the owner refuses to allow the eved to keep the laws of nezirut, the slave’s commitment to do so remains, and should he become a free man, he will be obligated to become a nazir.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  12. Nazir 62a-b: Nullifying a slave’s vow

    Continuing the discussion that began in the first Mishna of the perek (chapter, see yesterday’s daf, or page), the Mishna on our daf teaches that a husband has the right to be mefer (nullify) his wife’s acceptance of nezirut – as he has the right to be mefer any oath that she takes upon herself that will affect their relationship. (As we learned on yesterday’s daf, if he does not do so then she will be obligated in the laws of nezirut and he no longer has any say in the matter). The owner of a slave, however, does not have the right to be mefer his slave’s oaths.

    The Mishna concludes with the statement that when a husband is mefer his wife’s acceptance of nezirut, it is nullified forever; if he does so to his eved, when he becomes free he completes his obligation.

    The Rosh offers two possible approaches to understanding this Mishna:

    1.The Mishna is a continuation of the previous Mishna, and it teaches that a man who is mefer his wife’s nezirut erases it completely. Thus, even if the marriage ends, either through the husband’s death or divorce, she is no longer obligated to keep her commitment to be a nazir. In the case of eved, however, the owner’s power to force him to neglect his commitment exists only as long as the eved is obligated to accept his orders. Should he become free, he will be obligated to keep his commitment and will become a nazir.
    2.Our Mishna is teaching a new halakha that deals with the question “Can the husband or owner change his mind about the nezirut?” The Mishna teaches that if a husband is mefer his wife’s oath of nezirut, even if he decides later on that he wants her to keep her word, she has no obligation to be a nazir. If he objects to his slave’s commitment, however, should he change his mind and decide to allow the eved to be a nazir, the obligation will take effect.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  13. Nazir 63a-b: The known and the unknown

    Although many of the laws of tum’ah ve-taharah – ritual purity and defilement – no longer apply to us since the Temple is not standing, no sacrifices are brought and tithes are no longer eaten, even today kohanim must take care to avoid cemeteries and places where bodies may be buried. Our Mishna introduces two types of tum’ah:

    tum’ah yedu’ah – “known tum’ah,” and

    tum’at ha-tehom, “tum’ah of the depths.”

    According to the Mishna, these two situations are treated differently. If someone enters a body of water, intending to purify himself, and a dead body is found floating in the water (i.e. tum’ah yedu’ah), we assume that he came into contact with it (even though he was probably paying attention to the circumstances in the mikveh) and that he will be declared tameh. If, however, the dead body was hidden (and discovered later, i.e. tum’at ha-tehom), although we cannot say that a tameh person who entered that body of water will become purified, nevertheless, someone who entered the water in a state of ritual purity (simply for a swim or to cool off) will not be seen as having come into contact with the body and will be deemed tahor. The Mishna’s explanation for this is she-raglayim la-davar – that given the doubt that exists in this situation, there is a basis to allow people to remain in their status quo.

    The Gemara brings suggestions for a source for these halakhot. Rabbi Eliezer brings the passage in Bamidbar (6:9) that appears to emphasize the need for the person to be aware that he was in close proximity to the dead man; Reish Lakish suggests the pasuk (verse, see Bamidbar 9:10) that uses the term derekh – road – implying that the dead should be clearly seen, in the open, like a path or road is clearly seen. Nevertheless, the Gemara concludes tum’at ha-tehom gemara gemiri lah – the rules of tum’at ha-tehom are oral traditions that cannot be derived from a clear biblical source.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  14. Nazir 64a-b: There is a basis for anticipating

    The operating principle that we learned about in the last Mishna (see daf, or page, 63) is she-raglayim la-davar – that recognizing the doubt that exists in a given situation, there is a basis for anticipating the matter. The Mishna that appears on our daf, as well as some of the Mishnayot that follow, appear here at the end of Massekhet Nazir because they also are based on the principle of she-raglayim la-davar.

    Our Mishna deals with a situation where a person comes upon a place where he finds a body buried, and it is not clear whether this was a body that was buried here temporarily, with the intent of moving it to a proper cemetery when the opportunity arose, or if it is part of a shekhunat kevarot – a formal burial area – that cannot be disturbed. Such a discovery was likely to take place during the period before one of the shalosh regalim – the three pilgrimage holidays, Pesah, Shavu’ot and Sukkot – when it was common practice to check the roads that the olei regalim – the pilgrims – would take in order to assure that they were clear of anything that would ritually defile them. The olei regalim would always need to remain in a state of ritual purity in order to bring sacrifices in the Temple, and it was, therefore, essential that the roads were kept clear of tum’ah (ritual defilement) on their behalf. Thus, discovering a dead body on or near the public thoroughfare led to the question “can this body be moved?”

    Generally speaking, halakha recognizes that met koneh et mekomo – that a dead person takes possession of the ground where he is lies and cannot be moved. Therefore, if we have reason to believe that a person was buried in a specific place, he cannot be moved, and the grave would need to be clearly marked. If, however, an unknown body was found, the Mishna teaches that it can be moved to a cemetery. One case where we are forced to assume that a body was buried in a place purposefully is when a number of bodies were found buried in close proximity, and another one is found nearby (within twenty amot), since raglayim la-davar – there is a basis for anticipating that this is a shekhunat kevarot.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  15. Nazir 65a-b: There is a basis for anticipating – II

    The two Mishnayot that appear on this daf (page) teach halakhot that are based on the same principle that we were introduced to in the previous mishnayot – she-raglayim la-davar – that recognizing the doubt that exists in a given situation, there is a basis for anticipating the matter. The three cases that appear on our daf deal with –
    1.nega’im – leprosy
    2.zav – a type of venereal disease
    3.someone who injures another person

    With regard to nega’im (see Vayikra 13:2-8) about which the kohen must rule by determining if the condition has spread or not, the Mishna teaches that the kohen must be certain if he is to declare that a change has taken place. Otherwise we assume that the original situation remains the same – she-raglayim la-davar.

    The situation of a zav (see Vayikra 15:2) is when a person is suffering from gonorrhea, a venereal disease transferred from person to person, usually during sexual interaction. In the course of this disease an infection develops, one of whose indications is a mucous-like emission. Although the Sages recognized the differences between normal semen and this discharge, it was not always easy to determine what the emission was, which forced a person who has such an emission twice in a row to check whether it may have been the result of any one of a number of activities that may have led to the emission, without it being related to the disease. Once a person was determined to be a zav, however, no further checking was done – she-raglayim la-davar.

    The last case is when a person hits another person in a manner that could, theoretically, kill him, but he does not immediately die. In such a case, the court examines the injured man to determine what his condition is. If they find that he will recover, then the perpetrator will be fined according to the normal rules of injuries. If they believe that he will likely die, the perpetrator will be held until the result of his action becomes clearer. The Mishna teaches about a situation where the court believes that he will die, but he appears on his way to recovery – but then he suffers a relapse and dies. The Tanna Kamma (first) rules that the perpetrator will be held liable (it is assumed the victim’s death was caused by the assault), while Rabbi Nehemya rules that he will be released – she-raglayim la-davar (since he began to recover, it’s reasonable to assume his death was caused by another factor).

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  16. Nazir 66a-b: Shmuel was a nazir

    The last Mishna in Massekhet Nazir appears on our daf (page), and discusses whether the prophet Shmuel was a nazir. Rabbi Nehorai points to the prayer said by Shmuel’s mother, Hannah, prior to his birth where she promises u-mora lo ya’aleh al rosho (I Shmuel 1:11), which he interprets to mean that his hair will not be cut, similar to the statement made about Shimshon (see Shoftim 13:5), perhaps the most famous biblical nazir. Rabbi Yosei argues that mora simply means “fear” and that Hannah is saying that should he be born, her son will show no fear of man.

    Most of the commentaries on Tanakh, including the Septuagint, translate mora in our context as “metal” – that is to say, a razor. Targum Yonatan, however, suggests that the root of mora is marut – authority or control.

    The Tosafot Yom Tov points out that even Rabbi Yosei would have to agree that the word mora indicates nezirut in the case of Shimshon. The Maharsha, however, argues that Rabbi Yosei would not interpret mora as nezirut even in Shimshon’s case. He would understand the statement to simply mean that as long as he kept the rules of nezirut, Shimshon would never fear any man.

    It would appear that the reason this Mishna is placed here is to allow the tractate to close with an aggadic concept that highlights the greatness of nezirut. The Tosafot Yom Tov suggests that the correct place for this Mishna would have been as an introductory statement at the beginning of the Massekhet, although Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi chose not to put it there since identifying Shmuel as a nazir is a matter of disagreement. In his commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam points out that the discussion about Shmuel is not merely an academic point, in fact it has ramifications in the realm of halakha. If a person were to announce “I will be like the prophet Shmuel” according to Rabbi Nehorai he would become a nazir.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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