Nazir 5

Long, beautiful hair.

The mishnah on yesterday’s daf introduced the concept of a permanent nazir, which is exactly what it sounds like — someone who vows to be a nazir forever, not just for a limited period of time. The Gemara asks where we even get the idea of a permanent nazir. The answer? Absalom.

As it is taught: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: Absalom was a permanent nazirite, 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).

Who isAbsalom? He’s the third son born to King David, and the first with Ma’acah, the daughter of Talmai. Among the many things Absalom is famous for is his luxurious head of hair. According to 2 Samuel 14:26, “When he cut his hair — he had to have it cut from days to days, for it grew too heavy for him — the hair of his head weighed two hundred shekels by the royal weight.” The internet tells me that 200 biblical shekels weighs five pounds, so that’s a lot of hair! 

Reading 2 Samuel carefully, the rabbis notice that Absalom both takes a vow and has long hair, features that they associate with a nazirite. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi thus concludes that Absalom must have actually been a Nazirite. But as we’ve seen, he also cuts his hair regularly. How can that be? 

Well, yesterday’s mishnah tells us that a permanent nazirite can in fact cut his hair if it becomes too heavy, and five pounds hanging off your head sounds pretty heavy. So how often did Absalom cut his hair? The Bible says “days to days” (yamim l’yamim in Hebrew), but how long is that actually? On today’s daf, the rabbis try to figure this out: 

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi offers a gezeirah shavah, a verbal analogy. In Leviticus 25:29, we learn that one who sells a house in a walled city has yamim to redeem the sale. Leviticus 25:30 states that this means he has a full year. So Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi argues that Absalom had to cut his hair once a year. But his is not the only opinion. 

Rabbi Nehorai says: Absalom cut once every 30 days. 

The Gemara later explains that 30 days is the time it takes to grow enough hair to become heavy, which would allow a permanent nazir to cut it. 

Rabbi Yosei says: He cut from one Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve, as we find that the sons of kings cut from one Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve.

Rabbi Yosei thinks the royal family could not possibly look unkempt, so even a permanent nazir could cut his hair once a week before Shabbat. Of course, since the biblical verse tells us that when Absalom cut his hair, he would cut off five pounds’ worth, by Rabbi Yosei’s interpretation, Absalom’s hair grows unbelievably quickly. 

The rabbis all assume that Absalom, as a permanent nazir, cut his hair only when it was halakhically permissible, meaning when it got too heavy for his head — however long that took. But if you read 2 Samuel (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it), it’s worth noting that if Absalom was a nazirite, he wasn’t a terribly good one. Because as we learn in yesterday’s mishnah, a permanent nazir is still not supposed to be near dead bodies. And beyond having luxurious (and possibly very fast-growing) hair, Absalom is also a warrior who kills his brother (who deserved it) and attempts a coup against his father. And the place you’re most likely to encounter dead bodies is a battlefield. A helpful reminder that whether Absalom was a nazirite, and whether he was a good nazirite, are two very different questions.

Read all of Nazir 5 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 28th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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