When a nazirite’s term is complete, their head must be shaved. Today’s daf considers a rather obvious question: What happens if the nazirite is bald? Do they just skip the shaving part? Do they go through the motions and shave their already bald scalp? Or does their inability to shave preclude them from ending their naziriteship altogether?
Today’s daf cites a beraita with a difference of opinion on at least one of these questions:
With regard to a bald nazirite, Beit Shammai say: He need not pass a razor over his head, and Beit Hillel say: He must pass a razor over his head.
On its face, the beraita suggests a difference of opinion about how to handle the situation of a bald nazirite. Beit Hillel says they perform the shaving ritual even though no hair is present, and Beit Shammai says this is not necessary. Either way, it seems that being bald does not prevent a nazirite from ending their term — that is, until the Gemara chimes in:
Ravina said: What is the meaning of “need not,” stated by Beit Shammai? It means he need not shave, and he has no remedy. According to Beit Hillel he does have a remedy.
According to Ravina, Beit Shammai holds that ending a period of naziriteship must involve the shaving ritual. But since in this case the person has no hair, they have nothing to shave. They “need not” pass a razor over the head because doing so would make no difference: They simply cannot end their period of naziriteship. Beit Hillel on the other hand does offer this person a remedy. The nazirite can pass a razor over their head even in the absence of hair and fulfill the obligation.
Ravina’s understanding restores Hillel and Shammai to their traditional positions, with the former holding the lenient position and the latter the restrictive one. But before you get too comfortable with this familiar arrangement, the Gemara (surprise, surprise) shares an alternate way to read the beraita:
Rabbi Avina said: What is the meaning of “he must,” as stated by Beit Hillel? It means he must shave. (And if he fails to do so) he has no remedy. According to Beit Shammai, he has a remedy.
In this read, the positions are reversed. It is now Beit Hillel who says that a nazirite must pass a razor over their head to complete the naziriteship. And if they cannot because there is no hair there, they’re stuck. Beit Shammai, on the other hand, says that not only does a bald nazirite not have to shave, but they don’t even have to go through the motions. They can just skip that part.
In case this isn’t complex enough, a parallel version of our discussion appears in Yoma 61b. Except there the positions are reversed again.
A bald nazirite: Beit Shammai says: He must pass a razor anyway. And Beit Hillel says: He need not pass a razor. And Rabbi Avina said that when Beit Shammai say “must,” they mean he must do so. (Since it is impossible) he has no remedy.
Luckily for bald nazirites, in the end, it all falls their way. Maimonides rules (Mishneh Torah, Naziriteship 8:5) that a bald person may still become a nazirite and does not have to pass a razor over their head at the conclusion of their term. But does that opinion square with Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai? In this case, we don’t actually know. It could be either!
Read all of Nazir 46 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 10th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.