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Nazir 20

And me!

At this point in our journey through Tractate Nazir, we’ve become experts in the kinds of language used to make a nazirite vow, as well as the intricacies of how to fulfill one. But today we learn something new — apparently nazirite vows could be contagious! 

One who said: I am hereby a nazirite, and another heard and said: And I. And another heard him and said: And I. They are all nazirites. 

According to the mishnah on today’s daf, nazirite vows spread like wildfire. As other folks join in with someone’s nazirite vow, they too become nazirites. But these vows are actually linked in another way too. The mishnah continues: 

If the first was dissolved, they are all dissolved. The last was dissolved, the last is dissolved, and all (others are) bound. 

Because all three nazirite vows are built on the first person’s vow, if that initial vow is annulled by a court, then everyone’s vow is annulled. But if the final vower’s vow is annulled, then only their vow is annulled. While the final vow was associated with the others, the others had already vowed successfully, so a dissolution of the third vow does not affect the pre-existing ones.

The Gemara then stipulates that, according to Reish Lakish, these subsequent vows are only associated with one another if they are made “within the time required for speaking.” But speaking what? After all, both “hey!” and Marc Antony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar are spoken, but they take wildly different amounts of time.

The Gemara explains: 

For greeting. And how much (is the time) necessary for greeting? For a student to say: Peace to (his) rabbi.

In order for one person’s nazirite vow to be associated with someone else’s, it has to be said within the amount of time it would take for a student to greet their teacher. That’s a helpful metric, to be sure, but it leads Rabbi Yehuda Nesia to point out that this standard is profoundly unfair in at least one very specific scenario. 

Let’s say one man declares he is going to be a nazir, and his friend is about to chime in and say “And I!” when at that very moment, they see their teacher. Obviously, they must greet their teacher, but that’s the exact amount of time that the friend has to associate his vow with the other. So the second man has lost his chance to associate his vow with his friend’s. If he wants to become a nazir, he’ll have to make the whole vow himself. 

Rabbi Yehuda Nesia’s critique doesn’t lead Reish Lakish to change his mind. But even though his point isn’t picked up further, it highlights just how intensely the rabbis respected their teachers. After all, the easiest way for this imagined man to attach his vow to his friend’s is to ignore his teacher, at least until he states “And me!” And yet Rabbi Yehuda Nesia assumes that respect for teachers is so strong that students would not hesitate even a moment to greet them — even if it means that they have to make their own nazirite vows.

Read all of Nazir 20 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 12th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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