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NAZIR (Heb. נָזִיר; "Nazirite"), fourth tractate in the order Nashim, in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. It deals, as its name indicates, with the laws of the *Nazirite (Num. 6:1–21), and its position after the tractate *Nedarim ("Vows") is determined by the fact that the assumption of Naziriteship was by vow. In the Babylonian Talmud it comes before Sotah ("The Unfaithful Wife")–although in the Bible it follows it–because "whosoever sees the degradation of an unfaithful wife will forbid himself the use of wine as leading to such behavior" (2a).

The tractate consists of nine chapters. Chapter 1 deals with the various verbal formulas used in undertaking the vow and their implications, and the duration of the three forms–the ordinary, the Samson, and the lifelong Naziriteship. Chapter 2 continues the same theme and discusses whether it is possible to limit Naziriteship to only part of its obligations. Chapter 3 deals with multiple Naziriteships, the procedure of polling the head at the end of the Naziriteship, and the intervening of ritual uncleanness terminating the Naziriteship. In Mishnah 6 of this chapter, there is the story of Queen *Helena of Adiabene who fulfilled a vow that if her son returned safely from war, she would take a Nazirite vow for seven years; this incident confirms the statement of Josephus (Wars, 2:313) that it was the custom for someone in trouble or danger to undertake a Nazirite vow. Chapter 4 deals with Naziriteship made dependent upon that of another, a stranger, husband, or wife; the consequences of annulling a Naziriteship; the father's power to impose Naziriteship upon his son; and the son's right to utilize his deceased father's Nazirite money. Chapter 5 discusses vows made in error and the situation which arose when the destruction of the Temple made the adoption of the complete Nazirite vow impossible. Chapter 6 discusses the duties of a Nazirite in greater detail, as well as the sacrifices to be brought either when the Naziriteship is interrupted by uncleanness or when it is completed in cleanness. Chapter 7 discusses on which occasions the Nazirite may defile himself for the dead, and which sources of uncleanness interrupt the Naziriteship. Chapter 8 deals with uncertain breaches of the vow. Chapter 9 discusses the fact that gentiles cannot, but women and slaves can, become Nazirites and whether the prophet Samuel was a Nazirite.

It can be demonstrated that several mishnayot of Nazir belong to the Second Temple period. Among them are 1:1, which predates the schools of Shammai and Hillel (Tosef., Naz. 1:1 and 2:1), and mishnayot 7:2–3, the laws of which were disputed by the zekenim ha-rishonim ("the first elders," who lived during the Second Temple period; Tosef., 5:1 and Naz. 53a). The remainder of the Mishnah of Nazir derives from the Mishnayot of Akiva's disciples, Meir, Yose, and, especially, Judah and Eleazar (Epstein, Tannaim, 386). The six chapters in the Tosefta to Nazir follow a different order from that of the Mishnah. Many mishnayot have no corresponding Tosefta and vice versa. The Tosefta includes some aggadic material. Noteworthy is the story of the high priest Simeon the Just who, though in principle opposed to people taking Nazirite vows, made an exception for a handsome youth from the south. When Simeon asked him why he had decided to cut off his flowing hair, he replied that on beholding his reflection in a pool he had become vain of his beauty and had taken a vow to "shear these locks to the glory of Heaven" (4:7).

The Babylonian Talmud to Nazir differs from the rest of the Talmud in language and is similar to that of the Jerusalem Talmud (cf. Pseudo-Rashi on Nazir 32a, S.V. amar mar). Epstein claims that it was compiled in Maḥoza and Pumbedita, where a special Aramaic dialect was used (Amoraim, 72–83), and that the anonymous discussions in the Jerusalem Talmud were taken from Rava's discussion in the Babylonian Talmud. A. Weiss, however, maintains that there is an essential difference in style, content, and the names of the rabbis quoted, and attributes the differences to the fact that the study of Nazir was neglected, and therefore lacks the post-amoraic embellishments given to the other tractates. The Babylonian Talmud has an important passage (23a) dealing with the importance of motive in action. It also contains the dictum (23b): "A man should always occupy himself with the Torah and its precepts even though it be for some ulterior motive, for the result will be that he will eventually do it without ulterior motive."

The rabbinic attitude to *asceticism can be seen in the dictum of Eleazar ha-Kappar (19a); that the Nazirite is called "a sinner by reason of the soul" (Num. 6:11) because he denied himself wine: "If then one who denies himself wine only is termed a sinner, how much so then one who is an ascetic in all things!" Support for this point of view is also found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Kid. 4:12, 66d): Man is destined to be called to account for everything (permitted) he saw (and desired) but did not partake of. After the destruction of the Temple, since it was impossible to complete Naziriteship by offering the sacrifices on its conclusion, the practice fell into disuse. Tractate Nazir was not studied in the academies of the geonim, nor were there any halakhot on it in the Halakhot Pesukot, Hilkhot Re'u, or Halakhot Gedolot (B.M. Lewin, Oẓar ha-Ge'onim, 11 (1942), 8, and Epstein, Tannaim, p. 72). The commentary to Nazir attributed to Rashi was apparently written by his son-in-law Meir b. Samuel, who recorded the commentaries of Isaac b. Eleazar ha-Levi, Rashi's teacher. According to Epstein the tosafot to Nazir were written by the disciples of Perez of Corbeil. The talmudic tractate in the Soncino edition was translated into English by B.D. Klien (1936).


Halevy, Dorot, 3 (1923), 48ff.; A. Weiss, Hithavvut ha-Talmud bi-Shelemuto (1943), 128–57; Epstein, Tanna'im, 383–93; Epstein, Amora'im, 72–83; Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Nashim (1954), 189–93; Z.W. Rabinowitz, Sha'arei Torat Bavel (1961), 299ff.; D. Halivni, Mekorot u-Masorot (1968), 353–433.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.