From the News Center at UC Santa Cruz: “In his new book, Cosmological Koans: A Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality”, physicist Anthony Aguirre explores deep questions about the nature of reality, using an approach inspired by Zen koans to take the reader on a thought-provoking tour of the cosmos and the core ideas of modern physics.
In Zen Buddhism, koans are short parables or questions meant to confront the practitioner with the inadequacy of conventional concepts and habits of thought. Similarly, Aguirre’s “cosmological koans” confront the reader with the unexpected nature of the world as described by physics and the mind-boggling ways in which it differs from our subjective experience or intuitive understanding of things.
‘I wanted to convey that sense of mystery and wonder that comes from seeing reality in a new way,’ said Aguirre, a professor of physics and holder of the Faggin Family Presidential Chair for the Physics of Information at UC Santa Cruz.
The book covers a wide range of topics, woven together with a fictional story line that recounts a journey from Italy to Japan. Multiple universes, the nature of time, the meaning of quantum theory, and entropy and information are among the subjects explored in short chapters that manage to convey mind-bending ideas in a way that is accessible and entertaining.
The topics include some of the most challenging open questions in cosmology and physics, as well as concepts that have long been settled science yet remain disturbingly counterintuitive. With respect to the enduring mystery of time, for example, Einstein showed that there is no universal ‘now’—in other words, different observers can have different perceptions of whether two events are simultaneous.”
Let’s explore the concept of time a bit further. In Chapter 28, p. 210, Professor Aguirre writes that you don’t see the world as it is now, whether that “now” is cosmic or not. The world you see around you is the world as it was in the past. Viewing the leaf falling from a tree 50 meters away, you see the tree as it was 167 nanoseconds ago.
What does “now” mean? In other words how do we define the present as distinct from the past or the future? It’s a timeless question borne of metaphysics as much as physics. As soon as you stop to identify that now is now, the moment has already passed into the past. Perhaps the closest we can come is envisioning a pause button as the label for a given “time t” that occurs as an event in a particular space at a specific time. But as we know, within our physical framework, there is no pause button. The arrow of time is always moving forward. The instant we reflect on the present it becomes the past, and the future is the next moment in time.
So if identifying the present is nearly a fleeting impossibility, would we have the audacity to imagine a perfect moment in time? Art Garfunkel believes we can, and who am I to disagree?
In chapter 30, p. 226, Professor Aguirre turns his attention to the thorny question of Theodicy, or why a designer would create a world of beauty such as ours while allowing for unimaginable levels of pervasive suffering. This leads the good professor to contemplate the multiverse, and that the universe we inhabit is one among many – merely the one that is most inhabitable to us. That thinking is in line with Leibniz, who imagined this to be the “best” universe not just in terms of good outweighing evil, but also as the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.
Chapter 31, The Floating Gardens, prompted me to get even more whimsical than usual. From a biblical standpoint, and the Old Testament in particular, the most significant “uni-verse” is the first verse. (Might we consider this a Cosmological “Cohen” as opposed to a “Koan”?) It reads: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
בְּרֵאשִׁית – in the beginning. The beginning of what? Time would seem to be the essence.
בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים – God created. The apparent conflict between “God” in the plural, and “created” in the singular.
אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ – The heavens and the earth. Note the singularity of the earth and the multiplicity of the heavens, not to mention “the two aces”.
So by now you may be wondering, who is Katrina? In chapter 50, p. 355, Professor Aguirre takes note of the host of dichotomies he has assailed us with: Us and Them. Self and Other. East and West. Katrina is a young woman in the service industry I encounter in her role as a barista at Starbucks in the morning and as a waitress at Martell’s Tiki Bar in the evening, a dichotomy in its own right. She took an interest in what I was reading one morning – it was Cosmological Koans – which led to a conversation about East/West and the Yoga which got shoved down to the bottom of my bucket list.
Starbucks of course asks for your first name if you order anything but regular coffee. Originally I gave my name as Len, but for some reason the baristas kept hearing “Glen”. I got tired of correcting them, and so Glen I became for the purposes of my morning routine. When Katrina waited on Miriam and me and at Martell’s, my “real” name came to the surface. “If you’re Len, be Len” she said. Sounds like a cosmological koan to me.
I’m starting with Rabbi Stern’s video today, because he spends the opening by summarizing the contrast between נָזִיר שִׁמְשׁוֹן and נָזִיר עוֹלָם which the Gemara went into in depth yesterday. He introduces the Daf today with the framework that the struggles of שִׁמְשׁוֹן were shaped by the circumstances that in order to fulfill his mission of killing as many פְּלִשְׁתִּים, he had to marry a Phillistine woman and live among them. Rather than making it a nation’s battle, which throughout history would often result in pogroms against the Jews at large, his became a personal battle.
What was the nature of the נְזִירוּת of שִׁמְשׁוֹן? Apparently it was through a unique form of קַבָּלָה namely, a מַלְאָך appeared to guide the process from birth rather than it being a vow that the individual voluntarily makes.
The Gemara challenges the assumption that the נְזִירוּת of שִׁמְשׁוֹן was not accepted through a vow: And was שִׁמְשׁוֹן not a נָזִיר whose נְזִירוּת was accepted by a vow? Isn’t it written: “For the child shall be a nazirite of God from the womb” (Shoftim 13:5)? The Gemara answers: There it was the angel who spoke. The נְזִירוּת of שִׁמְשׁוֹן did not stem from a vow uttered by a human being.
The Gemara asks: And from where do we derive that שִׁמְשׁוֹן became impure from corpses? If we say it is from the fact that it is written: “And שִׁמְשׁוֹן said: With the jawbone of a donkey, I smote a thousand men” (Shoftim 15:16), perhaps he thrust the jawbone at them but did not touch them, and he remained pure.
The Gemara then proceeds to contrast the נְזִירוּת of שִׁמְשׁוֹן with a נָזִיר עוֹלָם, the most famous example of whom was אַבְשָׁלוֹם or “Absalom” in English, whose long hair from נְזִירוּת got him into a fine mess.
Briefly, here’s the story:
“But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” (II Samuel 14: 25). אַבְשָׁלוֹם was the son of דָוִד הַמֶלֶך, ruler of all Israel, and אַבְשָׁלוֹם had a problem, namely excessive pride. This led him to be desirous of his father’s throne. With his powers of persuasion, he convinced men to join with him in a revolt against his father. As a נָזִיר he had an incredible head of hair. There came a day, however, while אַבְשָׁלוֹם was riding a mule through a forest and his hair caught on a tree limb. This pulled אַבְשָׁלוֹם from the mule and he was suspended in the air, unable to free himself. His enemies were therefore able to catch up to him and kill him while he hung in the tree, putting an end to the revolt against דָוִד הַמֶלֶך.
The Gemara characterizes that אַבְשָׁלוֹם was a נְזִיר עוֹלָם who cut his hair once yearly.
The Gemara clarifies a halacha taught in the mishnah: And where is the concept of a נְזִיר עוֹלָם written? As it is taught in a baraisa: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: אַבְשָׁלוֹם was a נְזִיר עוֹלָם, as it is stated: “And it came to pass at the end of forty years, that Absalom said to the king: I pray to you, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the Lord, in Hebron” (II Samuel 15:7). And he cut his hair once every twelve months, as it is stated: “And when he polled his head, now it was at every year’s [yamim] end that he polled it; because the hair was heavy on him” (II Samuel 14:26).
And then, a protracted discussion ensues about the intervals at which he actually cut his hair, as compared to his brothers.
This leads us to the next Mishnah which is the third category of נְזִירוּת after נָזִיר שִׁמְשׁוֹן and נָזִיר עוֹלָם which is סְתַּם נְזִירוּת. It may in fact be the shortest Minshah:
סְתַם נְזִירוּת שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם.
In the case of סְתַּם נְזִירוּת, where one does not state how long he wishes to be a נָזִיר, the term lasts for thirty days. In other words, there is no maximum term to נְזִירוּת – that’s a very personal thing. But there is a minimum, and that is thirty days.
The Gemara asks: From where are these matters derived, that סְתַּם נְזִירוּת is thirty days? In answer to this question, רַב מַתְנָא said: The verse states with regard to a נָזִיר: “He shall be [yihye] holy” (Bamidbar 6:5), and the numerical value [gimatriyya] of the letters of the word יִהְיֶה is thirty.
If one said: I am hereby a נָזִיר and therefore will refrain from grape seeds, or: I am hereby a נָזִיר and therefore will refrain from grape skins, or: From shaving, or: From impurity, he is a נָזִיר. And all details of נְזִירוּת are incumbent upon him. Not only does the prohibition he mentioned take effect, he is bound by all of the obligations of נְזִירוּת.
Parshas Naso contains the laws of the “Nazir.” Any Jew has the ability to accept upon himself the Kedusha [sanctity/holiness] of Nezirus, exceeding the sanctity of a regular Kohen, a priest. The pasuk [verse] says, “As long as he is a Nazir to G-d, he may not have any contact with the dead. He may not become Tameh [ritually impure] even when his father, mother, brother or sister dies, since his G-d’s ‘Nazir’, crown, is on his head.” [Bamidbar 6:6-7]. A Nazir may not even become Tameh for the “seven relatives” for whom a normal Kohen is allowed to become Tameh upon their death. Aside from the Nazir, only the Kohen Gadol [High Priest] may not become Tameh even upon the death of these immediate relatives.
In effect, the Nazir attains a holiness that is on par with that of the Kohen Gadol. The Avnei Nezer (Rav Avraham Bornstein of Sochaczew, 1839-1910) explains why the Kedusha of a Nazir is greater than that of a regular Kohen. The Kohen’s Kedusha derives from his father. It is therefore only proper that one should defile that Kedusha for the honor of his father. When Kedusha comes via family, then Kedusha can be suspended by participating in the burial of family members. However, a Nazir’s Kedusha (and the Kedusha of a Kohen Gadol) are not a result of family. Rather, Nezirus is the result of the person’s personal voluntary aspiration for spiritual elevation. Since his Kedusha does not come via family, but through his personal endeavors and abstinence – his Kedusha in fact supersedes his own family. Therefore, he cannot become Tameh even for the sake of the “seven relatives” for which a normal Kohen does become Tameh.
The Shemen HaTov says in the name of the Sefas Emes (Rav Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger; 1847-1905) that implicit in this insight is more than just basic equity and fairness. This insight teaches us that the Kedusha which one attains on his own is more profound and more substantial than Kedusha which one attains through external sources or as a gift. That which one achieves by virtue of his own spiritual efforts is a far greater accomplishment than that which one receives because his last name just happens to be “Cohen”.
Excuse the comparison, but there are two ways of obtaining money in this world: either one can inherit wealth from his father, or one can go out and earn money on his own, through his own accomplishments. Of course, the latter method says more about the person. Earning money on one’s own is a far greater accomplishment than simply being a third or fourth generation Kennedy or Rockefeller or Vanderbilt.
That is the meaning of Nezirus. A Nazir has created Kedusha on his own. His holiness is therefore an even deeper and more profound Kedusha than that of a normal Kohen.
The Sefas Emes relates this idea to our Sages’ teaching on the verse “A name is better than good oil…” [Koheles 7:1]. The Sages say that this pasuk is explaining the advantage that Chananya, Mishael, and Azariah had over Nadav and Avihu. The stature of the first three who were saved from the pit of fire [Daniel Chapter 3] was superior to that of Nadav and Avihu who were not saved from the “Strange Fire” [Vayikra 10:1-2].
Why was this so? Because Nadav and Avihu’s Kedusha stemmed from “Good Oil”. Namely, since G-d anointed Aharon and his children as Priests, Nadav and Avihu happened to possess the Kedusha of priesthood. Despite their righteousness, they basically attained their stature as a “present” by virtue of their lineage.
However, Chananya, Mishael, and Azariah achieved their Kedusha on their own. They did not achieve Kedusha through the “good oil”, but through their own sterling reputation – the “good name” – which was strictly due to their own accomplishments.
One must always remember that there are two components involved in achieving a relationship with G-d. There is “This is MY G-d and I will glorify Him” and then there is “the G-d of my FATHER and I will exalt Him” [Shemos 15:2]. This is analogous to that which is written in Chassidic works that a person must always carry around with him two conflicting ideas. In one pocket he must put the sentence “I am dust and ashes” [Bereishis 18:27]. In the other pocket he must place the sentence “For my sake the world was created” [Sanhedrin 37a].
So too, a person must go through life thinking, “This is MY G-d”. I have my own personal attachment to the Master of the Universe. I must explore and find my own personal approach and way to exalt G-d and to be His servant. But I must simultaneously remember that He is also the G-d of my forefathers. A person can not just cavalierly throw out all that he received by tradition from his parents. Everything that a person accomplishes in establishing a personal relationship to G-d must be built upon the traditions that he has received from his parents. However within that tradition, he must seek out new ways to make his own personal contribution to spirituality, which can even supersede the relationship of “the G-d of my father”.
That is the meaning of Nezirus. The Nazir starts out on his own to build a Kedusha that is not necessarily only something that he inherited from his parents. The Nazir adds a Kedusha on his own that he himself has developed and achieved based on his own striving and Deveikus [clinging] to G-d.”
The mishna is not in accordance with the opinion of רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, as it is taught in a baraisa that רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן says: One is not obligated as a נָזִיר until he vows that all items and actions forbidden to a נָזִיר are forbidden to him. And the רַבָּנַן say: Even if he vowed to abstain from only one of them, he is a נָזִיר.
The Gemara explains: What is the reason for the opinion of Rabbi Shimon? The verse states with regard to a נָזִיר: “All the days of his naziriteship he shall not eat from anything that is made of the grapevine, from pits to grape skin” (Bamidbar 6:4), which indicates that his vow of נְזִירוּת must include all the prohibitions of a נָזִיר. The Gemara continues to clarify: And according to the Rabbis, what is the reason that he becomes a נָזִיר even if he specified only one of the prohibitions of a נָזִיר? The verse states: “He shall abstain from wine and strong drink” (Bamidbar 6:3). This implies that even if one vows to abstain only from wine and strong drink, all of the halachos of a נָזִיר take effect.
The Gemara asks: And also according to רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, isn’t it written “he shall abstain from wine and strong drink”? The Gemara answers: רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן requires that verse to prohibit a נָזִיר from drinking wine that is consumed for a mitzvah just as he is prohibited from drinking wine whose consumption is optional.
מַאי הִיא — קִדּוּשְׁתָּא וְאַבְדָּלְתָּא?
The Gemara asks: What is wine that is consumed for a mitzvah? Is it the wine of kiddush and havdala?
הֲרֵי מוּשְׁבָּע וְעוֹמֵד עָלָיו מֵהַר סִינַי!
He is already sworn and obligated about it from הַר סִינַי, i.e., he is obligated by Torah law to keep the halachos of נְזִירוּת, and therefore it is obvious that he may not drink wine from kiddush or havdala, as drinking the wine is required by rabbinic law (Rambam).
Rather, it is like that which Rava said: If one said: I hereby take an oath that I will drink wine, and he then said: I am hereby a נָזִיר, the נְזִירוּת comes and applies to the subject of his oath. Although drinking wine is a mitzvah for him due to his oath, his נְזִירוּת supersedes the previous oath and renders it prohibited for him to drink wine.
Well there is considerably more to today’s Daf, and Rabbi Stern’s Daf encountered some technical difficulties until about the 12 minute mark, which is where I’ll leave you off to follow along with him.
Here we are, road weary in מוֹדִיעִין (Modiin), a rapidly developing city between יְרוּשָׁלַיִם and תֵּל אָבִיב.
A chance to fit in the Daf from yesterday, and then we’ll figure out how to catch up on the one today. The Gemara struggles with the ambiguous language sometimes used in making the declaration about becoming a נָזִיר. Early on, Rabbi Stern considers a Tosafos explaining that there is an inherent dichotomy in נְזִירוּת itself: One can do a mitzvah and an averah in the same action, but it is acceptable if the mitzvah overrides the averah.
אמר שמואל שתפוס בשערו – כלומר אהא נאה במצוה התלויה בשיער כגון נזירות והכא ליכא לשנויי בלא תפס בשערו ובנזיר עובר לפניו דהכא דבור שלם קאמר אהא נאה ואי לא תפס בשערו אפי’ כי נזיר עובר לפניו משתמע שפיר אהא נאה בשאר מצות כמו אנזירות ולעיל נמי דפריך ודילמא אהא בתענית ליכא לשנויי בשתפס בשערו בלא נזיר עובר לפניו דלעולם משתמע שפיר אהא בתענית כי אין נזיר עובר לפניו אע”ג דתפיס בשערו והשתא אתי שפיר דמתניתין פלגינהו בתרי בבי האומר אהא הרי זה נזיר או אהא נאה אע”ג דתרוייהו ידות נינהו משום דמפרשי בתרי טעמי
Think about it: A נָזִיר is swearing off drinking wine. Well them, he is depriving himself of the mitzvah of saying קִידוּשׁ over wine on Shabbos. Even more fundamentally in becoming an ascetic of sorts, he’s imposing extra measures of prohibition on himself. Sure, he’s doing this to self-impose a higher level of spirituality – something that verges on the כֹּהֵן גָדוֹל – certainly regarding forbidding himself to be מְטַמֵא through contact with a מֵת. But the נָזִיר runs a real risk here, and that is his asceticism is a form of separation or withdrawal form society, and the spirit of it is counter to the admonition of אַל תִּפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִיבּוּר (“do not separate yourself from the congregation”).
With that background, I’ll leave you with the fascinating insights of Dr. Jeremy Brown through Talmudology.com:
אמר שמעון הצדיק מימי לא אכלתי אשם נזיר טמא חוץ מאדם אחד שבא אלי מן הדרום יפה עינים וטוב רואי וקווצותיו סדורות לו תלתלים אמרתי לו בני מה ראית לשחת שער נאה זה אמר לי רועה הייתי לאבי בעירי והלכתי לשאוב מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי ופחז יצרי עלי וביקש לטורדני מן העולם אמרתי לו ריקה מפני מה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך שסופך להיות רמה ותולע העבודה שאגלחך לשמי’ עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו אמרתי לו כמותך ירבו נזירים בישראל עליך הכתוב אומר איש כי יפליא לנדור נדר נזיר להזיר לה
Shimon the Zaddik said: In my entire life, I ate of the guilt-offering of a defiled nazirite only once. [Shimon was afraid that those who vowed to become a Nazir did so for the wrong reasons, and so he would refuse to eat from the sacrifices they brought.] This man [whose sincerity was beyond question] came to me from the south; he had beautiful eyes and handsome features with his locks heaped into curls. I said to him: ‘Why, my son, did you destroy such wonderful hair?’ He answered: ‘In my town I was my father’s shepherd, and when I went to draw water from a well I used to gaze at my reflection [in its waters]. Then my evil inclination took over me, and tried to banish me from the world [in the pursuit of sin]. I said to my evil inclination: “Empty one! Why are you conceited in a world that is not yours, where your end is with worms and maggots. I swear I shall shave my hair for the glory of Heaven!”‘ [Shimon the Zaddik continued:] Then I stood, and kissed his head and said to him: ‘May there be more nazarites like you in Israel. It is about a person like you that the verse (Numbers 6:2) says: “When a man shall clearly utter a vow, the vow of a nazirite to consecrate himself unto the Lord.” (Nazir 4b.)
The tractate we are now studying, Nazir, contains the discussions and laws that apply to a man or woman who makes a vow of asceticism, and become a Nazarite. For as long as the vow is in place, such a person is forbidden to drink wine (or consume any grape products,) must not come in contact with the dead, and must not cut his (or her) hair. At the end of the period of Nezirut, several offerings are brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s all rather theoretical, but ascetics are still found today, and a Nazir lived in Jerusalem and died less than fifty years ago.
In 2007 Yehuda Bitty wrote a PhD thesis on the work of David Hacohen (1887-1972), who was better known as The Nazir, because of a life of asceticism he had followed. The thesis, “Philosophy and Kabbalah in the Thought of Rabbi David Cohen” is a study of Hacohen’s work קול הנבואה(The Voice of Prophecy), and gives us an insight into the teachings of the Nazir. (Another paper describing the work of Hacohen was published in Tradition. You can find it here.)
DAVID HACOHEN – THE NAZIR
David Hacohen was born into a rabbinic family near Vilna in 1887, and was given a tradition eduction in the local Cheder and various Yeshivot (including Volozhin and Slobodka). Hacohen read secular works too – as a student Volozhin (“they did not damage me or my studies”) and later he made a point of learning Russian grammar and of reading some works of the maskilim. In 1909 he made his way to the newly opened academy of Baron David Ginzburg (d. 1910) in Saint Petersburg, where he was exposed to courses in history, the philosophy of world religions, and near eastern religious ethics, to name but a few. But his heart was set on traditional Jewish works, and he returned to the Bet Midrash, though he continued to study secular books and later spent time at the University of Freidburg where he studied philosophy.
“I am a Jew, and the traditional education in the old Bet Midrash, whose spirit I have absorbed to my inner core,..gives me great happiness. All my previous work has been as if in a hallway, leading me, slowly, back to the old the Bet Midrash
— David Hacohen. Hamenahel. p58
Bitty’s PhD notes that sometime around 1920 he started to exhibit ascetic tendencies: he avoided contact with others, and he abstained from eating meat (which is not a requirement of a Nazir) and stopped cutting his hair. His lack of sleep and food caused him to be hospitalized, but he did not waiver in his decision. “Little by little” wrote Bitty (p128) ” he separated himself more and more from worldly matters, and began to feel a contradiction between the world and himself. ” Later, he would fast on a regular basis, he stopped wearing leather shoes, and he completely refrained from speaking for forty days before Yom Kippur, all of this, apparently, in an effort to obtain the gift of prophecy…
In 1919 David Hacohen attended a conference in Switzerland organized by Agudas Yisrael, (The World Congress of Ultra-Orthodox Organizations), in order to meet Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (a meeting that was recently described in detail here). Hacohen was quickly won round to the mystical Rav Kook and his equally mystical interpretations of the fledgling zionist movement.
“והנה בקר השכם ואשמע קול צעדים הנה והנה, בברכות השחר, תפלת העקדה, בשיר וניגון עליון, משמי שמי קדם, ‘וזכר לנו אהבת קדמונים’, ואקשיב, והנה נהפכתי והייתי לאיש אחר. אחרי התפלה, מהרתי לבשר במכתב, כי יותר מאשר פללתי מצאתי, מצאתי לי רב “The morning came and I heard footsteps pacing here and there, the morning blessings, the akedah recital, in such a lofty song, from the primordial heavens, recalling the love of our ancestors. I listened, and I was transformed and became a new and different man. After these prayers, I hurried to write down that I had found more than which I had prayed for—I had found a Rebbe.”
— David Hacohen, Introduction to Orot Hakodesh (Jerusalem 1985).
David Hacohen later settled in Israel and become a lifelong student of Rav Kook, whose work he later edited. Hacohen had two children: a daughter Tzipia, who married Shlomo Goren, (later the Chief Rabbi of the IDF and, even later, Chief Rabbi of Israel) and a son, Sha’ar Yishuv Cohen, who served as Chief Rabbi of Haifa.
It was in Jerusalem that a young reform rabbi named Herbert Weiner (d. 2013) interviewed The Nazir. Weiner described that meeting in a his classic book Nine and a Half Mystics; The Kabbalah Today (Collier Books New York 1969.)
…there was something cherubic about the Nazir’s appearance. Although no-longer young, his bespectacled blue eyes had an open childlike expression…Long locks of his gray-blond hair reached down to the shoulders of his red bathrobe and a bushy beard framed his long thin face.
THE NAZIR ON SCIENCE
Weiner tried to coax the Nazir into revealing a mystical teaching, and, somewhat reluctantly, the Nazir agreed. It is fascinating to read what the Nazir taught, because he described the difference between Judaism and western science:
Shema- come hear…the logic that is based on the sense of hearing rather than seeing, that is what characterizes our teaching. And do you know what the Greek word theoria, ‘theory’ comes from? Is is derived from the Greek word theatric. Theory, in Western philosophy, connotes then, what can be seen, visualized, beheld. But the Hebrew way of apprehending truth is based on acoustical sense. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” “Speak unto the Children of Israel…” Does the gentleman understand the difference between the Hebrew and the non-Jewish, Western way of perceiving truth? The latter wants to identify truth with what can be conceptualized, seen – either in the mind or in a bodily sense. To the Jew, identification of truth with that which can be seen is the beginning of idolatry. Do you understand?
Weiner confesses that “I was not sure that I did fully understand the rabbi’s point.” Yehuda Mirsky’s recent biography of Rav Kook (p.189) notes a similar reaction from the great academic scholar of Kabbalah, Gershon Scholem:
Scholem also made the acquaintance of Ha-Nazir, who left a deep impression on him, saying, “I had thought there were no more Kabbalists, and here in Jerusalem there walked a living Kabbalist, creating Kabbalah in our times.” Yet, Scholem added, “All my efforts to get to the bottom of his thinking came to naught.”
Apparently, Hacohen’s work is very difficult to understand. For many of us, his lifestyle choice was was perhaps no less difficult to comprehend. He chose a path of asceticism which, like the shepherd in today’s daf, seems to have been a calling he had to follow. But his choice was one of which Maimonides would have approved. Echoing the passage from today’s page of Talmud, Maimonides wrote that one who undertakes to become a nazir for the wrong motives is called a רשע –wicked– but
one who undertakes a vow to God through a path of purity is called “pleasant” and “praiseworthy” and about such a person the Torah wrote “…for the crown of his God is upon his head…he is holy to the Lord” (Numbers 6:7-8). And the text equates such a person with being a prophet, as it is written “And I raised up your sons for prophets and your young men for nezirim.” (Amos 2:11) (משנה תורה הל׳ נזירות 10:14).
Today we begin a new Messehcta, Nazir, heralded by the fourth century Roman glass jug that adorns the cover of the coveted Steinsaltz edition of the Gemara. As the jacket liner notes, the jug calls to mind the prohibition against a nazir consuming wine or grapes. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the concept of נְזִירוּת, as we dealt with it extensively in our just-completed מַסֶכֶת נְדָרִים (see here for example).
Oddly enough, the Mishnah doesn’t open by telling you what a נָזִיר is, rather it begins with a discussion about how one declares he (or she) declares intent to become a נָזִיר. It takes for granted that you know all about “The Nazarite”. So that we’re all on the same page, let’s cite the source פְּסוּקִים on נָזִיר from פַּרְשַׁת נָשׂא that delineate the three basic prohibitions of:
they shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant; they shall not drink vinegar of wine or of any other intoxicant, neither shall they drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, nor eat grapes fresh or dried.
Throughout the term of their vow as nazirite, no razor shall touch their head; it shall remain consecrated until the completion of their term as nazirite of יהוה, the hair of their head being left to grow untrimmed.
Even if their father or mother, or their brother or sister should die, they must not become defiled for any of them, since hair set apart for their God is upon their head:
כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י נִזְר֑וֹ קָדֹ֥שׁ ה֖וּא לַֽיהֹוָֽה׃
throughout their term as nazirite they are consecrated to יהוה.
Why someone would want to enter the state of נְזִירוּת is a whole subject unto itself, but the Steinsaltz introduction does a nice job of characterizing it as follows: “As with other types of vows, one might take a nazarite vow for a variety of reasons, e.g. to be absolved of a sin or to express gratitude to God for His kindness. Alternatively, one might take a nazarite vow in order to merit divine favor as one makes a request of God, or one might take the vow out of anger or spite. At its best, when accepted with pure intentions, naziriteship is considered a way to achieve holiness … A nazirite, who voluntarily accepts these prohibitions, is considered to have temporarily elevated himself to a status similar to that of a priest.”
As noted in this Chabad entry, the word “נָזִיר” means “to separate”, which makes perfect sense considering that the nazir separates himself from worldly pleasures and the trivial pursuits of society. It may have occurred to you that the term “nazarite” is suggestive of the ancient city of Nazarus and its most famous native son “אוֹתוֹ אִישׁ”, otherwise known as Jesus who grew up in that town. Despite being depicted with long flowing hair, there is no evidence that this famous historical figure was a נָזִיר. However, there is archeological evidence that Nazareth was a small isolated village and that people only went there if they wanted seclusion. I mention this because it is ironic that this secluded village was only a stone’s throw from Sepphoris (צִיפּוֹרִי), the bustling location where יְהוּדָה הַנָשִׂיא compiled the rabbinic oral teachings into the Mishnah.
As Rabbi Stern notes in his introduction, there’s something different about the Mesechta of Nazir with regard to the text itself and its commentaries. Much like the language of Nedarim was different because it didn’t undergo a rigorous editing process, the same holds true for Nazir. In Nedarim we did not have Rashi as our main commentary, but relied on תּוֹספוֹת and the ר״נ. Here too there is no Rashi, and our principal commentaries will be תּוֹספוֹת and the רא״ש.
Rabbi Stern quotes liberally from his main Daf muse, R’ Sruly Bornstein, and it’s worthwhile to listen to the Apple podcast of Sruly giving his introduction to Maseches Nazir. and you can do so here (though you’ll need an hour and eight minutes to do so).
We have a blockbuster Daf with which we finish מַסֶכֶת נְדָרִים today. It is a penetrating look into the psyche and a fitting end to what at times has been an enigmatic series of vicissitudes. Yesterday’s Mishnah on דף צ עמוּד א was emblematic of this:
Initially the חַכָמִים said that there are three instances in which as woman could force the issue and be released from her marriage while at the same time collecting her כְּתוּבָה:
טְמֵאָה אֲנִי לָךְ – a woman who is the wife of a כֹּהֵן who has been raped, and is therefore not permitted to remain married to him.
שָׁמַיִם בֵּינִי לְבֵינָךְ – a woman who claims that her husband has male infertility (his specific dysfunction is that his sperm isn’t ejaculated with sufficient motility to impregnate her).
נְטוּלָה אֲנִי מִן הַיְּהוּדִים – a woman who made a נֶדֶר that she is swearing off intercourse with all Jews, which includes her husband.
The Mishnah then says that after proclaiming these rules, the חַכָמִים had second thoughts and decided that the women in these three instances may have wanted to “have their cake and eat it too”. In other words, they had their eyes on another man and decided to make a claim that would not only release them from their marriage against the husband’s will, but put them in a financial position to be independent by collecting their כְּתוּבָה. As we’ll see in the Gemara, there wasn’t unanimity about this, and some objected saying that a woman wouldn’t make these claims baselessly.
The second thoughts that the חַכָמִים had, leading to a retraction of what they initially said, are recounted in the Mishnah as follows:
They returned and said that in order that a married woman should not have her eyes on another man and ruin her relationship with her husband, yet still receive payment of her כְּתוּבָה, these halachos were modified as follows: The wife of a כֹּהֵן who says to her husband: “I am defiled to you”, must bring proof to her claim of being raped. As for a woman who says: “Heaven is between me and you”, בֵּית דִין treats this as a request, rather than forcing the husband to divorce his wife. And with regard to a woman who says: “I am removed from the Jews”, her husband must nullify his part, i.e., the aspect of the נֶדֶר that concerns him, so that she should be permitted to him, and she may engage in sexual intercourse with him, but if he divorces her she is forbidden to all Jews as that part of her original נֶדֶר is still in effect.
I am using the artwork above of Sefira Lightstone, which I discovered through a Chabad post that delves into Talmudic quotes about human nature, as representing that the wife in these instances feels that she is a prisoner of her marriage and is looking to break free. To what end is she empowered? Let’s Zoom ahead to a fascinating circumstance in which the woman claims that her husband divorced her, but doesn’t have a גֶט in hand to prove it:
A dilemma was raised before the Sages: If a woman said to her husband: You divorced me, what is the halacha? Is she believed or not? רַב הַמְנוּנָא said: Come and hear an answer to this question from what is stated in the mishna about a woman who says: I am defiled to you, that even according to the ultimate version of the mishna that teaches that she is not believed in her claim, it may be argued that it is only there that she is suspected of lying when she claims to have been defiled, as she knows that her husband does not know the truth about her. She is relating an incident that supposedly occurred in his absence. But concerning the claim: You divorced me, with regard to which he knows the truth about whether or not he actually divorced her, she is believed. Why? Because the court relies on the presumption that a woman is not brazen enough to lie in the presence of her husband and present a claim that he knows is patently false.
The Gemara then proceeds to relate several incidents in which there is a dispute among the authorities as to whether to believe the wife’s claim that would release her from the marriage, or to suspect hanky panky. Rabbi Stern related that these were actual cases, and not hypotheticals.
It is related that there was a certain woman, who on every day of engaging in sexual intercourse with her husband, would rise early in the morning and wash her husband’s hands. One day she brought him water to wash his hands, in response to which he said he didn’t have intercourse with her. She said to him: If not you, then it may have been one of the gentile aloe merchants.
אָמַר רַב נַחְמָן: עֵינֶיהָ נָתְנָה בְּאַחֵר, וְלֵית בַּהּ מְשָׁשָׁא בְּמִלַּהּ – Rav Nachman says nothing doing, sweetheart. We’re not falling for that gentile aloe salemsan routine. Get those roving eyes checked and remain with your husband.
It is further related that there was a certain woman who was displeased with her man. He said to her: What is different now? What have I done to make you angry? She said to him: I am upset because you never hurt me while we were engaged in proper relations as you did just now. He said to her: This matter did not occur now. She said to him: If so, it may be that one of the gentile oil merchants who were here just now should be blamed; if it was not you, perhaps it was one of them. Rav Nacḥman said to them: Take no notice of her; she has cast her eyes upon another man, and her words are therefore unreliable.
Different salesman, same outcome. (You may recall the case in Maseches Yevamos of the adultering perfume peddler; apparently these cases weren’t so far-fetched.)
The Gemara relates another incident about a certain man who was secluding himself in a house, he and a certain married woman. When the owner of the house entered, the adulterer burst through the wall of palm branches and fled. Rava said: The woman is permitted to her husband. The assumption is that she did not sin, for if it is so that the man had committed a transgression, he would have hidden himself in the house instead of revealing his identity by escaping in the open.
There was a certain adulterer who entered the house of a certain married woman. When the man, i.e., her husband, came home, the adulterer went and sat himself behind the door, so that the husband would not know that he was there. There was some cress lying there in the house, and the adulterer, but not the husband, saw that a snake had come and tasted of it, perhaps thereby contaminating it with its venom. The master of the house wanted to eat from that cress, without the woman’s knowledge. The adulterer said to him: Do not eat from the cress, as a snake has tasted of it.
It is obvious that this is the case. What then does Rava come to teach us? The Gemara answers: Rava’s ruling is necessary, lest you say that the man did in fact commit a transgression with the other man’s wife, and the reason that he said to the husband that he should not eat and saved his life is because it is preferable for him that the husband should not die. This is in order that his wife should be to him as it says in the pausk in מִשְׁלֵי: “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). That is to say, a person derives greater pleasure from forbidden fruit. Rava therefore teaches us that this is not a concern. Rather, the assumption is that he had not yet actually sinned, and therefore acted in the proper manner.
Here the ArtScroll note in the Ein Yaakov makes a scintillating statement: “Water is essentially tasteless, yet when stolen, its forbidden status endows it with a pleasant taste. Similarly, one might have thought that an adulterer would save the life of a husband because he prefers the thrill of living with the woman in sin to the convenience of having her accessible to him always.”
It is also fitting that we end מַסֶּכֶת נְדָרִים with the concluding post from Dr. Jeremy Brown at Talmudology.com:
“Today we reach the end of the tractate Nedarim, which featured many in-depth discussions on the meaning of words and how they are to be taken seriously. So seriously do we take the concern of inadvertently vowing to do something and then failing do follow through, that the very first words of the Yom Kippur service, Kol Nidre, are a nullification of any and all future vows that may be uttered over the coming year. It has become part of Jewish tradition that on the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, a ceremonial “release from vows” – hatarat nedarim – is performed.This much is familiar to most readers of Talmudology. But how many are familiar with another ceremony, this one called hatarat klallot – the nullification not of vows, but of curses?
HATARAT KLALLOT IN MARRAKESH
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Marrakesh.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to accompany a group of students from Yeshiva University’s Sacks-Herenstein Center for Values and Leadership on a trip to Morocco. It was while we were volunteering to help restore the Jewish Cemetery that one of the students found several printed leaves titled “Hatarat Klallot” in the community geniza, With the permission of the authorities, the student and I took several of these texts as souvenirs of a sort. But they are much more than that.
As you can see from the text above, the ceremony closely follows the language and style of the much more familiar hatarot nedarim that is performed to this day. But instead of announcing our regret at having vowed and then failing to follow through, hatarot klallot asks us to be released from any curses that others may have placed on us, or that we placed on others.
The text appears to have been composed by Rabbi Chaim Yossef David Azulai, better known by his acronym as the Chida (1724-1806) and may be found in his Tziporen Shamir. The Chida was born in Jerusalem from Moroccan ancestors, and while he was a noted talmudist, his world view was profoundly shaped by the Jewish mystical tradition, known as Kabbalah. Here are the opening words of his Hatarat Klallot (there are various versions), which is recited in front of three others who serve as a makeshift court:
We ask your honors to release us from any curses or rebukes, or forbidden things, or bad dreams and their bad interpretations, and any judgements against us, or any opportunity for bad things to occur, and any harsh or evil decrees, and all evil eyes that may have been cast against us or against any members of our households…
And the acting judges reply:
In the name of the heavenly court and in the name of the earthly court we hereby release you…from the effect of any curse or ill will or evil or any vow or any promise [made against you]…There is no longer any rebuke or any harmful phrase or witchcraft or nightmare or an evil interpretation of dreams. There is to be no trial [of you], there is no opportunity for evil, there are no bad strange thoughts or evil daydreams [against you]. There are no evil decrees, there is no evil eye cast by a man and none cast by a woman. There is no evil eye cast by those who hate you or those who love you. They are all annulled and decreed to be ineffective, as useless as a piece of broken pottery, a thing of no material substance. All types of evil eye are hereby removed from you and from your homes and are cast into the depths of the ocean…
The Chida wrote that this was to be recited before Rosh Hashanah, but if you look carefully at the small print at the top of the image you will read:
It is the custom to say this in the Jerusalem synagogues of Bet El… and in those from the west [i.e. Morocco] every Friday before Shabbat
Presumably this was also a widespread custom in Morocco itself, or at least in Marrakech, where we found a dozen or so of these printed sheets in the geniza.
As we close Nedarim let us pause to remember the power of words to commit, their power to release, their power to curse, and their power to reassure that the future will be bright.”
If a woman said to her husband: Deriving benefit from my father or from your father is konam for me if I will prepare anything for you; or if she said: Deriving benefit from you is konam for me if I will prepare anything for my father or for your father, the husband can nullify this נֶדֶר.
Let’s see what the ר״נ has to say here:
נראה בעיני דלא זו אף זו קתני דאי תנא רישא בלחוד סד”א דמש”ה יכול להפר משום דמהשתא מיתסרא אי בהנאת אביה משום נדרה אי במה שתעשה לפיו משום תנאה וכיון דליכא בחד מהנך גווני מידי דגריע טפי מדברים שבינו לבינה מש”ה יפר דכיון שכן חל הנדר מקרי כיון שאי אפשר שלא תאסר לפחות בדברים שבינו לבינה אבל בשאני נהנית לך אם עושה אני על פי אבא ועל פי אביך דבהא בתנאה דידה לית בה לא ענוי נפש ולא משום דברים שבינו לבינה סלקא דעתך אמינא דלא מצי מפר קמ”ל כיון דתלתה תנאה בדבר שהיא עשויה לעבור עליו שאי אפשר לאשה שתעמיד עצמה שלא תעשה לאביו ולאביה הרי זה יכול להפר דקסבר תנא דמתניתין דכי האי גוונא בעל מפר אע”פ שלא חל הנדר
The question is why the Mishnah had to state both conditions and the answer is that in essence, either one of these cases involving a father or father-in-law shouldn’t be of lesser weight than the נֶדֶר involving one’s husband.
The Gemara further explains the dispute regarding a conditional נֶדֶר:
It is taught in a baraisa: If a woman said to her husband: Deriving benefit from my father or from your father is konam for me if I will prepare anything for you, רַבִּי נָתָן says her husband cannot nullify the נֶדֶר. She must prepare food for him, as she is obligated to do so by virtue of their being married, and it is prohibited for her to benefit from their respective fathers. The husband cannot nullify a נֶדֶר that has not yet taken effect and that depends on the fulfillment of a certain condition. And the חֲכָמִים say that even in such a case he can nullify her נֶדֶר.
The baraisa continues: If the woman said to her husband: I am removed from the Jews, i.e., the benefit of my engaging in sexual intercourse will be forbidden to all Jews, if I engage in sexual intercourse with you, רַבִּי נָתָן says he cannot nullify the נֶדֶר. (Of course if one were a cynic, you could say that she’s still leaving the door open for non-Jews.) Rather, she must engage in sexual intercourse with her husband, as she is obligated to do so by virtue of their marriage, and she will be forbidden to all other Jews. And the חֲכָמִים say he can nullify her נֶדֶר.
As Tosafos comments: נטולה אני מן היהודים – אסרה בתשמיש אם אני משמשך פעם אחת רבי נתן אומר לא יפר עד שתשמשנו וחכ”א יפר מיד דנדר זה הוי שפיר בינו לבינה שאם תשמש לו פעם אחת תהא אסורה לו לעולם דבעל הוי בכלל היהודים הילכך מיפר קודם תשמיש דאין צריך שיחול
In a sense, this verges on some of the issues regarding a מוֹרֶדֶת (see here).
t is related that there was a certain man who took a נֶדֶר that all benefit from the world should be forbidden to him if he marries a woman when he has not yet learned halacha. He would run up a ladder and rope but was not able to learn the material, i.e., despite all his efforts he failed in his studies. רַב אַחָא בַּר רַב הוּנָא came and misled him, allowing him to understand that even if he made a נֶדֶר, the vow would not take effect, and so he married a woman.
Rabbi Daniel Friedman weighs in on the subject with entry #89 of his Transformative Daf titled (page 143):
“Why did this fellow vow not to get married until he had mastered sufficient halachah? Perhaps, he believed that he would not be able to learn properly after getting married. And so, he decided that he would not enter marriage until after he reached this Torah goals … That’s nonsense. Once one is of marriageable age, one should be actively seeking his spouse. Marriage is not the conclusion of the good life. It’s just the beginning … Every time the Almighty raises you to the next rung of the ladder of life, He provides you with increased inner strength and resources. The greater the assumption of responsibility, the more power He grans you to achieve even more. Marriage is not an obstacle to success. It brings out the very best in you.”
And רַב אַחָא בַּר רַב הוּנָא then smeared him with clay to protect him from the elements, as it was now prohibited for him to benefit from the world by wearing clothes. And he then brought him before רַב חִסְדָּא, to dissolve his vow. Rava said: Who is wise enough to act in this manner, if not רַב אַחָא בַּר רַב הוּנָא, who is a great man? As he holds that just as the רַבָּנַן and רַבִּי נָתָן disagree with regard to nullification, whether it is possible to nullify a נֶדֶר that has yet to take effect, so too, they disagree with regard to a request made to a halachic authority to nullify a נֶדֶר, whether it is possible to request dissolution of such a נֶדֶר. The plan of רַב אַחָא בַּר רַב הוּנָא was to have the נֶדֶר go into effect, so that the man could request that it be dissolved.
Well there’s considerably more ground to cover, which frankly puts a damper on the high note that the Transformative Daf above hit, so I’ll leave it to Rabbi Stern to take you the rest of the way.
We begin with the Mishnah on דף פ״ח עמוּד ב, and what happens in the event of a single woman who is either a widow or divorcee which case there is no man currently involved to remove her נֶדֶר. From my personal perspective the Daf today is a bit dry (no pun intended), and we’ll spice things up a bit tomorrow.
The pertinent pasuk in parshas מַטוֹת reads: וְנֵ֥דֶר אַלְמָנָ֖ה וּגְרוּשָׁ֑ה כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָסְרָ֥ה עַל־נַפְשָׁ֖הּ יָק֥וּם עָלֶֽיהָ How so? If a widow or divorced woman said: I am hereby a נְזִירָה after thirty days, then even if she was married within thirty days, her new husband cannot nullify her נֵדֶר.
If she made a נֵדֶר while she was under the jurisdiction of her husband, he can nullify the נֵדֶר for her. How so? If she said when she was still married: I am hereby a נְזִירָה after thirty days, and her husband nullified the נֵדֶר, then even if she was widowed or divorced within the thirty-day period, the נֵדֶר is nullified. If she made a נֵדֶר on that, i.e., one, day and was divorced on that same day, then even if her husband took her back as his wife on that same day, he cannot nullify her previous נְדָרִים. This is the principle: Once she has left and gone into her own jurisdiction for even a single hour, then after they are remarried her husband can no longer nullify any נֵדֶר she made during their first marriage.
It is taught in a baraisa: With regard to a widow or a divorcée who said: I am hereby a nazirite for when I will get married, and she was married, רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל says her husband can nullify her vow, whereas רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא says he cannot nullify it. And the mnemonic device for the opinions of רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל and רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא with regard to this halacha and the following one is the Hebrew acronym yod, lamed, lamed, yod: Yafer, lo yafer; lo yafer, yafer, i.e., he can nullify, he cannot nullify; he cannot nullify, he can nullify. As for a married woman who said while she was married: I am hereby a נְזִירָה for when I will get divorced, and she was divorced, רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל says her husband cannot nullify her vow, whereas רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא says he can nullify it.
רַב חִסְדָּא said: The Mishnah that links the possibility of nullification to the time of the making the נֶדֶר is the opinion of רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא. Abaye said: Even if you say that the Mishnah follows the opinion of רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל, there is no difficulty, for the Mishnah is referring to a woman who made her נֶדֶר dependent on days, i.e., she specified that the נֶדֶר should take effect after a fixed period of time. By contrast, the baraisa is referring to a woman who made her vow dependent on marriage.
The next Mishah addresses three main categories of females, each with three subcategories (for a total of nine) who can’t have their נְדָרִים nullified:
תֵּשַׁע נְעָרוֹת נִדְרֵיהֶן קַיָּימִין: בּוֹגֶרֶת וְהִיא יְתוֹמָה. נַעֲרָה וּבָגְרָה וְהִיא יְתוֹמָה – There are nine young women whose נְדָרִים are upheld and cannot be nullified: If she made a נֶדֶר when she was a grown woman and she is an orphan; if she made a when she was a young woman, and has reached her majority, and she is an orphan …
… if she took a vow when she was a young woman who had not yet reached physical maturity and she is an orphan; if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a grown woman and her father died; if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a young woman, and she became a grown woman, and her father died; if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a young woman who had not reached physical maturity, and her father died; if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a young woman, and her father died, and after her father died she reached physical maturity; if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a grown woman and her father is still alive; and if she made a נֶדֶר when she was a young woman, and she became a grown woman, and her father is still alive. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה says: With regard to even one who married off his daughter as a קְּטַנָּה, and she was widowed or divorced and she returned to him, and according to her age she still is in the category of a young woman, her נְדָרִים cannot be nullified.
If a man’s wife or daughter took a vow and he failed to nullify the נֶדֶר on the day he heard it, but afterward he said: I know that there are נְדָרִים, but I don’t know that there are those who can nullify them, i.e., he was unaware of the possibility of nullifying נְדָרִים, he can nullify the נֶדֶר of his wife or his daughter on the day he learned that he can nullify נְדָרִים. If, however, he said: I know there are those who can nullify נְדָרִים, but I refrained from nullifying the נֶדֶר that I heard because I do not know that this is considered a נֶדֶר, Rabbi Meir says he cannot nullify the נֶדֶר at this point, but the חֲכָמִים say that even in this case he can nullify the נֶדֶר on the day that he learned of his mistake.
The Gemara raises a contradiction from the following baraisa:
With regard to one who kills unintentionally, the verse states: “Without seeing” (א֣וֹ בְכל־אֶ֜בֶן אֲשֶׁר־יָמ֥וּת בָּהּ֙ בְּלֹ֣א רְא֔וֹת וַיַּפֵּ֥ל עָלָ֖יו וַיָּמֹ֑ת וְהוּא֙ לֹא־אוֹיֵ֣ב ל֔וֹ וְלֹ֥א מְבַקֵּ֖שׁ רָעָתֽוֹ – Bamidbar 35:23), which serves to exclude a blind person from the category of those who are exiled to a city of refuge (עִיר מִקְלָט) due to having killed unintentionally, as the pasuk indicates that it was only in this instance that he did not see, but he is generally able to see. A blind person who kills another unintentionally is considered a victim of circumstances beyond his control. This is the statement of רַבִּי יְהוּדָה. Conversely, רַבִּי מֵאִיר says the pasuk serves to include a blind person in the category of those who are exiled, as he too does not see. This shows that רַבִּי מֵאִיר does not distinguish between different kinds of lack of knowledge, whereas the Mishnah suggests that he does accept such a distinction. The opposite is true of רַבִּי יְהוּדָה, who, unless it is otherwise indicated, is assumed to be the one who argues with in all places.
The outcome will boil down whether or not one holds that people are accountable only for what they have knowledge of, or for the lack of acquisition of knowledge in general, shades of the phrase in the fourth perek of הוֹשֵׁעַ.
With regard to one who vows that benefit from him is forbidden to his son-in-law, but he nevertheless wishes to give his daughter, i.e., the wife of that same son-in-law, money, then, though he cannot do so directly, as anything acquired by a woman belongs to her husband, he should say to her: This money is hereby given to you as a gift, provided that your husband has no rights to it, but the gift includes only that which you pick up and place in your mouth.
רַב said that they taught this halacha only in a case where he actually said to her: That which you pick up and place in your mouth is yours. But if he said: Do as you please with the money, his stipulation is of no effect, and the husband acquires the money. And Shmuel says that even if he said: Do as you please with the money, the husband does not acquire it. רַבִּי זֵירָא objects to this statement of רַב:
כְּמַאן אָזְלָא הָא שְׁמַעְתָּא דְּרַב — כְּרַבִּי מֵאִיר, דְּאָמַר: יַד אִשָּׁה כְּיַד בַּעְלָהּ — In accordance with whose opinion among the tanna’im does Rav’s halacha correspond? It is in accordance with the opinion of רַבִּי מֵאִיר, who said as a principle that the hand of a woman is like the hand of her husband. According to רַבִּי מֵאִיר, a slave has no independent right of acquisition, and anything given to a slave belongs to his master even if it was stipulated otherwise (see Kiddushin 23b). רַב assumes that similarly, a married woman has no independent right of acquisition, but rather, anything that she attempts to acquire for herself is automatically acquired by her husband.
You may recall that earlier in Nedarim (and this comes up in masechesEiruvin as well) we discussed the issue of rights to a courtyard (see here). The Gemara says this last statement, יַד אִשָּׁה כְּיַד בַּעְלָהּ (the holdings of the wife are considered to be holdings of her husband) only applies to property they own jointly. But if the wife has possessions she came into (such as inheritance of property) independent of her husband, then it belongs to her.
Rather, רַב אָשֵׁי said: In the mishna in Eiruvin, we are dealing with a woman who possesses a courtyard of her own in that alleyway, i.e., it is a case where the husband had earlier stipulated that she should have property of her own, to which he renounces all his rights. As, since she acquires the eiruv food for herself by virtue of the courtyard that she owns in that alleyway, she likewise acquires it for others.
You know how when theres’ a split day/night doubleheader (usually the make-up of a postponed game) the fans at the first game have to clear out and the second set of fans are admitted or re-admitted with new tickets? Young fans don’t realize that in the old days they used to have pre-scheduled back-to-back doubleheaders, where the same fans attended both, and there was only a brief intermission between the two.
Well … last evening we were treated to an old-fashioned doubleheader, and this is the second of the two events as we begin with the Mishnah on דף פ״ז עמוּד א. This is going to be a relatively fast one, with Rabbi Stern’s video lasting only 10 minutes.
If a woman said: Tasting these figs and grapes is konam for me, and her husband upheld her נֶדֶר with regard to figs, the entire נֶדֶר is upheld, but if he nullified it with regard to figs it is not nullified until he also nullifies the נֶדֶר with regard to grapes. If she said: Tasting a fig and tasting a grape are konam for me, these are viewed as two separate נְדָרִים; if the husband upholds one of the vows it has no effect on the other one.
Whose opinion is expressed in the mishna? The Gemara answers: It follows the opinion of רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל, as it is taught in a baraisa: The verse concerning vows that states: “Her husband may uphold it, or her husband may nullify it” (Bamidbar 30:14), may be expounded as follows. If a woman said: Tasting these figs and grapes is konam for me, and her husband upheld her נֶדֶר with regard to figs, the entire נֶדֶר is upheld.
But if he nullified it with regard to figs, it is not nullified until he will also nullify the נֶדֶר for grapes. This is the statement of רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל. However רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא says that the pasuk states: “Her husband may uphold it, or her husband may nullify it.” Just as the words “may uphold it” [יְקִימֶנּוּ] should be understood as if they read: He may uphold part of it, implying that if he upheld part of the נֶדֶר he has upheld all of it, so too, the words “he may nullify it” [יְפֵרֶנּוּ] should be understood as if they read: He may nullify part of the נֶדֶר. And Rabbi Yishmael retorts: Is it written: He may nullify part of it, with a mem, as it is written with respect to a husband who upholds the vow? And Rabbi Akiva replies: The verse juxtaposes nullification to upholding; just as upholding means part of it, so too, nullification means part of the נֶדֶר.
רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא said that רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן said: This opinion, that a נֶדֶר is treated as a single unit, so that the entire נֶדֶר is upheld even if the husband upheld only a part of it, is the statement of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva. But the חֲכָמִים say: The pasuk juxtaposes (makes a hekesh) upholding to nullification (הֲפָרָה); just as with regard to nullification, that which he nullified he has nullified, so too, with regard to upholding (הֲקָמָה), that which he upheld he has upheld.
The Mishnah teaches that if a woman said: Tasting a fig and tasting a grape are konam for me, these are viewed as two separate נְדָרִים. Rava said: The mishna is in accordance with the opinion of רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, as רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן said that one is not liable to bring multiple offerings for taking false oaths to multiple people in the same utterance, for example, if he says: I take an oath that I do not have your item, nor yours, nor yours, unless he states an expression of an oath to each and every one of the creditors, for example by stating: I take an oath I do not have yours; I take an oath I do not have yours. Here too, only if she says: Tasting, with respect to each fruit are they viewed as two separate נְדָרִים.
If a man’s wife took a vow and he thought that it was his daughter who had taken a vow, or if his daughter took a vow and he thought that it was his wife who had taken a vow, or if his wife vowed to be a נָזִיר and he thought that she had vowed to bring a קָרְבַּן, or if she vowed to bring a קָרְבַּן and he thought that she had vowed to be a נָזִיר, or if she took a vow that figs are forbidden to her and he thought that she had taken a vow that grapes are forbidden to her, or if she took a vow that grapes are forbidden to her and he thought that she had taken a vow that figs are forbidden to her, and he nullified any of these נְדָרִים, in each case, when he realizes his error with regard to the נֶדֶר, he must repeat the action and nullify the נֶדֶר a second time.
The ר״נ adds that just like הַפָרָה בְּטָעוֹת (nullifying the נֶדֶר in error) can be overturned, so too can הַקָמָה בְּטָעוֹת (affirming the נֶדֶר in error) be overturned:
הרי זה יחזור ויפר – דהקמה או הפרה קמייתא כיון דבטעות הוי לא מהני ולא מידי והכי איתא בתוספתא (פ”ז) בהדיא שאם הקים בטעות יכול להפר דתניא התם נדרה אשתו וקיים לה וסבור בתו נדרה בתו וקיים לה וסבור אשתו נדרה הרי זה יפר וכו’
The Gemara elaborates on the need for specificity:
לְמֵימְרָא דְּ״יָנִיא אוֹתָהּ״ דַּוְקָא הוּא — With regard to the Mishnah’s ruling that if a man’s wife took a vow, but he thought that it was his daughter who had taken the vow and he nullified the vow, he must nullify the vow a second time, the Gemara asks: Is this to say that the phrase “וְ֠אִ֠ם בְּי֨וֹם שְׁמֹ֣עַ אִישָׁהּ֮ יָנִ֣יא אוֹתָהּ֒” (Bamidbar 30:9) is precise? In other words, does the use of the word her, אוֹתָהּ (with the dot in the middle of the “הּ”, or the מַפִּיק), indicate that a man can nullify a נֶדֶר only for the specific woman who took it?
The Gemara comments: But is it not so that with regard to the tears in one’s clothing that are made for the dead, as it is written “for,” “for,” and about which is written: “And David took hold of his garments and rent them, and likewise all the men that were with him, and they wailed, and wept, and fasted until the evening, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel, because they were fallen by the sword” (II Samuel 1:11–12). The use of the word “for” with regard to each of them indicates that one must make a separate tear in his garment for each person who died.
Here is the complete version of the two פְּסוּקִים being referenced from שְׁמוּאֵל בּ:
וְתַנְיָא: אָמְרוּ לוֹ ״מֵת אָבִיו״ וְקָרַע, וְאַחַר כָּךְ נִמְצָא בְּנוֹ — יָצָא יְדֵי קְרִיעָה – The Gemara asks: And yet it is taught in a baraisa: If they said to him that his father had died and he rent his garment over his death, and afterward it was discovered that it was not his father who died, but his son, he has fulfilled his obligation of rending his garment. This shows that even if a person mistakenly tore his garment for the wrong person he has nevertheless fulfilled the obligation. Here too, if a man nullified the נֶדֶר of his wife, thinking that it was the נֶדֶר of his daughter, his nullification should be effective.
אָמְרִי, לָא קַשְׁיָא: הָא בִּסְתָם, וְהָא בִּמְפָרֵשׁ – The Gemara responds: The apparent contradiction is not difficult. That baraisa refers to a case where he received a non-specific report, i.e., he was told that an unspecified relative died. In such a case his obligation to rend his garment has been discharged. And this mishna refers to a case where the bearer of the news mistakenly specified that his daughter had taken the vow, when in reality his wife had. In such a case, his nullification is ineffective.
The Gemara proceeds to qualify what the time frame is during which he heard about the mistake or error — רַב אָשֵׁי אָמַר: כָּאן בְּתוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִבּוּר, כָּאן לְאַחַר כְּדֵי דִבּוּר. Rav Ashi says the apparent discrepancy is that one baraisa is referring to when he heard that he had erred within תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִבּוּר, and the other is when it is not תוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִבּוּר. What does “within the time required for speaking” mean? It is the time that it takes to say: “שָׁלוֹם עַלֵיכֶם מוֹרִי” (greeting one’s teacher).
The halacha is: The legal status of a pause or retraction within the time required for speaking a short phrase is like that of continuous speech, and so a person can retract what he first said if he issues the retraction within this period of time after he finished speaking. This principle holds true in almost every area of halakha, except for the case of one who blasphemes God; or in the case of an idol worshipper, who verbally accepts an idol as his god; or one who betroths a woman; or one who divorces his wife. In these four cases, a person cannot undo his action, even if he immediately retracts what he said within the time required for saying a short phrase.
What is the distinction that these four cases confers, in which תּוֹךְ כְּדֵי דִבּוּר (תכ”ד) doesn’t apply? The ר״נ notes:
והלכתא תכ”ד כדבור דמי בר ממגדף ועובד עבודת כוכבים ומקדש ומגרש – ובפרק יש נוחלין לא חשיב אלא תרי בר מעבודת כוכבים וקדושין ולא פליגי דמגדף בכלל עובד עבודת כוכבים ומגרש בכלל מקדש דאיתקש יציאה להויה מגדף היינו שאם גדף וחוזר בו תכ”ד לא הויא חזרה ועובד עבודת כוכבים שאם אמר לעבודת כוכבים אלי אתה וחזר בו לא הויא חזרה ומקדש ומגרש שאם קדש או גירש וחזר בו תוך כדי דבור לא מצי הדר ביה ולא ידענא מ”ש הני ומנא להו לרבנן הכי ונראה בעיני דבשאר מילי דלא חמירי כולי האי כשאדם עושה אותם לא בגמר דעתו הוא עושה אלא דעתו שיכול לחזור בו תוך כדי דבור אבל הני כיון דחמירי כולי האי אין אדם עושה אותם אלא בהסכמה גמורה ומשום הכי חזרה אפי’ תוך כדי דבור לא מהני וראיתי לרבינו משה בר נחמן ז”ל בפרק יש נוחלין שכתב בשם ר”ת ז”ל דתוך כדי דבור כדבור דמי תקנתא הוא דתקון רבנן משום תלמיד הלוקח מקח ופגע בו רבו שיוכל ליתן לו שלום והשוו מדותיהן בכל מילי בר מהני ולא ניחא לי וכי ב”ד מתנין לעקור דבר מן התורה לעולם בקום עשה בנדרים אלא ודאי כדאמרן
The bottom line here is that normally there is a window in time where someone has the opportunity to briefly reflect on what he said, and express that this was not his intent. It is as if the utterance never occurred. But the four cases above are so weighty and ominous that he “doesn’t get any backsies” – you can’t say I was just kidding, or I didn’t mean it, or I misspoke. You have to live with the consequences of what came out of your mouth.