Head Shaving of a Nazir

Nazir | Yisrael Bankier | 13 years ago

There are three prohibition placed on a nazir – a nazir may not come into contact with dead bodies (tameh met), shave his hair (tiglachat) or consume any grape product. These three prohibitions however differ in respect to how they affect the nazir if transgressed. In general a person becomes a nazir for a fixed period (more commonly for a thirty day period). If a nazir becomes tameh met he must restart the entire count as all the previous days are forfeited (Bamidbar 6:12). Conversely, if a nazir drinks wine, despite transgressing a negative commandment, he does not restart his count, but rather continues being a nazir without losing a day. The interesting case however, is if a nazir’s head is shaved. The Mishnah (6:3,5) explains that a nazir forfeits (soter) thirty days. One must understand what this means and, if it disturbs his nezirut period, why it does not disturb it all together causing him to restart?

The Gemara (Nazir 44a), after asking why drinking wine should not also forfeit thirty days like shaving hair (from a kal vachomer), explains that the reason why head-shaving forfeits thirty days is “to satisfy the requirement for a growth of hair”. The simple explanation of this Gemara is that head-shaving does not disrupt his nezirut period; rather there is a technical obligation that his hair must be grown by the end of his nezirut period. The Tosfot (Nazir 39a) appear to understand the Gemara in this way. He explains that this technical requirement is that by the end of a nazir’s period, he must have the equivalent hair growth of standard nazir of thirty days. Consequently, they explain that if a nazir of sixty days had his hair shaved on the thirtieth day then he would not forfeit any days and still completes his period on the sixtieth day. The Mishnah must therefore be understood as explaining that head-shaving can cause a nazir to forfeit a maximum of thirty days.

The Rambam (Nezirut 6:1-2) and Meiri have a very different understanding. They explain that if a nazir’s hair is shaved, then he stops his count for a period of thirty days while still observing all the laws of a nazir, then continues his count after that. The Rambam provides the following example: if a person vows to be a nazir for one-hundred days, and after twenty days his head was shaved, he must wait for thirty days until his hair grows, after which he would count another eighty days.

The Rambam appears difficult. Initially it seems that head-shaving does indeed disrupt the nezirut, which appears to run against the simply understanding of the Gemara sighted above. (This is indeed the question posed by the Lechem Mishneh.) This understanding is however inconsistent with the example provided by the Rambam. If head-shaving caused the nazir to forfeit thirty days that he had already experienced, then he should have just said that the nazir restarts his count from the beginning like in the case of tameh met. Instead after the nazir’s head is shaved, he is effectively a nazir for another 110 days – an apparently more strict outcome then if he became tameh met!

One can perhaps understand the Rambam based on an explanation of the Meiri. When explaining the Mishnah the Meiri writes that head-shaving forfeits thirty days from the designation (“torat”) of hair-growth. Perhaps the Rambam agrees with the understanding of the Gemara presented earlier. Indeed, head-shaving does not disturb the nazir’s period in the same way the tameh met does. Also the Rambam would agree that the forfeiting of thirty days is to satisfy the technical requirement of having significant hair growth for the shaving process. However the Rambam may not understand, like the Tosfot, that this requirement can be satisfied at the end by the nazir having thirty days of hair-growth. Instead the nazir’s hair must have a designation of hair growth for the entire nezirut period. If at any point his head is shaved, he is still a nazir. However, in order that his hair can regain this designation, it must be left to grow for a period of thirty days.

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