Nazir 28

Wine, women and wigs.

A mishnah on today’s daf examines whether a husband can cancel his wife’s nazirite vow on the final day of her naziriteship. 

If the blood from one (of her nazirite offerings) was sprinkled on her behalf, (the husband) cannot nullify. Rabbi Akiva says: Even once any of the animals has been slaughtered on her behalf, he cannot nullify. 

As we have learned previously, one of the concluding rituals for a period of naziriteship is the bringing of sacrifices. Here the mishnah rules that it is too late for the husband to revoke his wife’s nazirite vow once those sacrifices have already begun, though there’s some disagreement about exactly when that point is. 

It’s curious that the mishnah would have to say this, since in Tractate Nedarim we learned that a husband can only nullify his wife’s vow if he hears about it on the day that she makes it. It should be obvious then that a man, after living with his nazirite wife for a whole month (the minimum nazirite period, as we have seen, is 30 days), cannot then now nullify her vow. And why would he even want to just as the period of naziriteship is ending? There must be something else going on.

The mishnah continues:

In what case is this statement said? (It is when she is bringing the offerings) for her shaving of ritual purity. However, for her shaving of impurity, (her husband) can nullify, saying: I do not want a downcast wife. Rabbi Meir says: He can nullify even of her shaving of purity, as he can say: I do not want a shaven wife.

Here we learn a new detail: The mishnah is talking about a case where a woman is bringing her sacrifice at the end of her period of naziriteship. But that’s not the only time she might have to bring sacrifices. If she became ritually impure before the nazirite period is over, she would be required to bring sacrifices, shave and start a new 30-day period in fulfillment of her original nazirite vow. At that time, between the end of the truncated nazirite term and the start of a new one, her husband actually could nullify his wife’s nazirite vow. 

Why would he do that? The mishnah gives two reasons: because he does not want a downcast wife or a shaven one. The commentator Tosafot interprets a downcast wife as one who does not drink wine. While the husband may have signed on for one nazirite period, he may not want to drink alone for a second month-long period. Since abstinence from wine can be seen as self-affliction, which we learned in Nedarim is grounds for a husband to nullify his wife’s vow, he can now nullify the second period of naziriteship on those grounds.

And what of Rabbi Meir’s contention that the husband can nullify the wife’s vow, even at the conclusion of a standard nazirite period, because he doesn’t want a shaven wife? Is that too a case of self-affliction or is something else going on? After all, if he signed on to her naziriteship in the first place, he must have known that shaving the head — like abstaining from wine — was part of the deal. Perhaps the husband understood intellectually that shaving was part of the process, but now faced with the actual moment of his wife about to shave off her hair, decided he didn’t want to do so. According to Rabbi Meir, he can nullify her vow before the shaving occurs. 

But, says the Gemara, she can wear a wig! Then she will not appear to be bald. Rabbi Meir counters: 

By (wearing) a wig, since it is dirty he is not amenable. 

Today, many observant women choose to cover their hair with wigs that are typically beautiful, fashionable and expensive — and decidedly not dirty. But evidently this was not the case in talmudic times. While Rabbi Meir gives the husband an out by saying that the wig option is unpleasant for him, the author of our mishnah does not. 

The sweet spot in any relationship is compromise. On our daf, we see compromise in action: a husband has agreed (by virtue of his refraining from annulling it) that his wife can observe a period of naziriteship, complete with abstaining from wine and shaving her head when it’s over. But one period is enough for him, whether it ends naturally or is curtailed by her becoming ritually impure before its conclusion. Having a partner who abstains from wine for another month and who shaves her head again might have a deleterious effect on their relationship, and for that reason the husband can cancel his wife’s second period of naziriteship before it starts.

Read all of Nazir 28 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 20th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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