Shiur#08: The Nature of Nezirut

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion

  Dedicated in loving memory of
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen (whose yahrtzeit falls on 10 Tevet),
Chaya bat Yitzchak Dovid (whose yahrtzeit falls on 15 Tevet),
and Shimon ben Moshe (whose yahrtzeit falls on 16 Tevet).

Lecture #08: The Nature of Nezirut

By Rav Moshe Taragin



By pledging "nezirut," a person embraces the added responsibilities of avoiding wine products, refraining from haircuts and shaving, and avoiding impurity.  Is the process of generating nezirut fundamentally different from generating any other specific prohibitions through a vow?  Any person can personally prohibit an item for use by making a neder (vow) to ban its utility.  Perhaps nezirut is nothing more than a preprogrammed package of prohibitions, and the act of generating nezirut is merely one of embracing these prohibitions. 


Alternatively, deciding upon nezirut may, in fact, be similar to generating a debt or obligation.  The nazir obligates himself to serve a "sentence" of nezirut – a specific period of time characterized by certain behavior.  He dedicates this period to expanded religious consciousness and "owes" this "debt" in the same manner that a person can invite financial obligation.  At a practical level, he is forbidden to drink and shave, but the act of generating this experience is more akin to inviting debt and less to creating object-oriented prohibitions. 


This fundamental question regarding the nature of the nazir's prohibitions was voiced by the Brisker Rav and concerns the heart of nezirut. 


The Brisker Rav noted the interesting halacha regarding a nazir who pledges nezirut while standing in a cemetery, a site of impurity antithetical to his nezirut.  The gemara in Nazir (15) cites a disagreement between Rabbi Yochanan, who claims that the nezirut devolves in typical fashion in this case, and Reish Lakish, who believes that its advent is impeded. 


The Brisker Rav asserts that the experience of impurity isn’t subversive to nezirut; after all, if a nazir becomes impure during his nezirut term, he can return to his nezirut after becoming pure.  Evidently, the location of a cemetery and the immediate impurity therein may constrict the act of accepting nezirut.  Presumably, if a nazir merely designated certain prohibitions through a vow, the immediate and even intrinsic failure to comply would not stall the induction of the prohibitions.  He immediately establishes various prohibitions and may, indeed, be in immediate violation of one of them.  The violation should not deter the installation.  However, if a nazir accepts a "debt" to dedicate an impurity-free period, he accepts OBLIGATIONS, not isolated prohibitions.  If he stands in immediate non-compliance of his debt, the debt itself cannot generate.  Certainly Reish Lakish’s opinion may reflect the installation of nezirut as more than simply isolated prohibitions. 


Another indication that establishing nezirut may entail an acceptance of a "period of behavior" stems from a gemara that debates the relevance of bal t'acher for a nazir.  Typically, the command of bal t'acher demands prompt delivery and processing of a sacrifice.  The gemara in Nedarim (3a) compares a nazir to a sacrifice, which is often triggered by a "vow type" dedication of an animal.  Just as a delay in the delivery of a sacrifice constitutes bal t'acher, a delayed nezirut may be in similar violation.  The gemara assumes – based on a textual equation between vows and nezirut- that bal t'acher does indeed apply even to the latter situation.  Indeed, the simple connotation of this equation suggests that a delay in the ACUTAL PERIOD of nezirut violates bal t'acher, thereby solidifying our sense that nezirut is actually an obligation to conduct a period of behavior characterized by certain prohibitions.  If nezirut merely entailed assorted prohibitions, bal t'acher would be difficult to envision. 


However, the gemara in Nedarim (3a) quotes two opinions that trace the bal t'acher of nezirut to the vestigial sacrifices of a nazir.  By identifying bal t'acher ONLY in the peripheral sacrifices rather than within the fulfillment of the base nezirut, these positions may be reminding us that nezirut is merely an acceptance of assorted prohibitions and that, fundamentally, bal t'acher does not apply to the delay of the nezirut proper.  Bal t'acher can only be breached by a nazir who unnaturally delays his required sacrifices. 


A separate issue which may revolve around the identity of nezirut surrounds the ability to be "matfis" upon nezirut to create a new nezirut.  Since a neder (vow) can change the status of an item as forbidden, it can serve as the source for hatfasah.  For example, if a person asserts that this bread should be similar to another bread, which has already been banned through a vow, the second bread acquires the forbidden status as if an entire oath had been directly formulated about its status. 


Unlike a neder, a shevua (oath) does not alter the status of an item but merely creates a personal obligation to perform or avoid the stipulated action.  By swearing to eat bread, the author must fulfill his oath and eat; by swearing NOT to eat, he must similarly abide by his shevua and avoid the bread.  Hence, hatfasah cannot occur upon a shevuah, since no item has been invested with a status that can be spread to other items. 


What about nezirut? Would hatfasah be feasible? Presumably, this question would revolve around the status of wine in the aftermath of acceptance of nezirut.  If a nazir creates a prohibition against wine, presumably he may "borrow" from that status and spread it to other items.  However, if acceptance of nezirut basically accepts a debt of "conduct" for a certain time period and the Torah demands certain behavior, the items per se do not become invested with prohibited status and cannot serve as baselines to spread prohibited status to other items.


Raising a similar question to the one the Brisker Rav formulated, the Avnei Miluim (response 22) cites various positions about the hatfasah potential of a nazir, and it seems that the debate is based on the Brisker Rav's fundamental question.  In addition, the Rishonim addressed this issue; does a nazir create an issur cheftza (an object-oriented prohibition) or merely an issur gavra (a personal obligation)?  See the Ritva to Nedarim (3), who asserts that the prohibition is an issur cheftza, while the Rosh in his commentary to Nedarim (2b) claims it is an issur gavra. 


Finally, this question would also impact the novel concept of overlapping nezirut.  Typically, Halakha does not allow overlapping identities of issur (forbidden status).  If an item already possesses a comprehensive issur status, it cannot receive an additional status.  This principle is known as "ein issur chal al issur."  Yet the gemara in Nedarim (18a) claims that a person can accept two neziruts and is obligated to fulfill them in succession.  If nezirut is simply an establishment of a prohibition against assorted items (wine, etc.), a second nezirut should not logically be tenable. 


In fact, the Ritva believes that the viability of overlapping nezirut must indicate a general exception for object-oriented nedarim of prohibition.  Although Halakha in general does not allow overlapping issurim, a neder is different, as evidenced by overlapping nezirut.  The Ritva saw little room to differentiate between a neder and nezirut and he understood the overlapping nezirut condition as characteristic of nedarim in general.


In contrast, the Ran claims that no overlapping object-based prohibitions can occur and asserts that nezirut is unique in allowing overlapping units.  Perhaps the Ran believed that a nazir does not merely identify assorted objects as prohibited but embraces a debt of behavior.  Just as a person can invite numerous debts (he can borrow money once and then borrow again and create an additional obligation), he can similarly incur multiple debts of behavior even though they seem to overlap.  Presumably, the Ran and the Ritva disagree about the nature of nezirut.