Nazir 9

Go fig-ure.

Figs are delicious — dried, fresh, whatever. Yum! But nazirite vows aren’t about what’s delicious, but about what’s defined by the Torah. And Numbers 6:4 is very clear that a nazirite shall abstain from wine, grapes and any kind of intoxicant. It says nothing about figs.

So the mishnah on today’s daf asks: What happens if the person making a nazirite vow does mention figs?

If one says: “I am hereby a nazirite from dried figs and from cakes of dried figs.” Beit Shammai says: Nazirite. Beit Hillel says: Not a nazirite.

Beit Hillel concludes that if figs are not part of the nazirite restrictions, then they don’t make sense as part of the vow. And a vow that doesn’t make sense is not effective. 

Beit Shammai maintains that such a vow is actually effective in making one a nazirite even though figs are not mentioned in the Torah. Beit Shammai’s position is so surprising to Rabbi Yehuda that he reframes it entirely:

Rabbi Yehuda said: Even when Beit Shammai said this, they only said it regarding one who said: Figs are prohibited to me like a sacrifice. 

Rabbi Yehuda insists that Beit Shammai holds that such a vow is not effective — neither making someone a nazirite or in prohibiting them from eating figs — unless it’s clear that the vower really made two separate vows, a vow of naziritehood and a vow not to eat figs. If it was phrased as a single vow, according to Rabbi Yehuda, everyone agrees it is ineffective — both at making one a nazirite and at prohibiting figs.

The Gemara rejects the mishnah entirely, finding a different rabbi’s version of the debate more compelling:

Rabbi Natan says: Beit Shammai says: He has vowed (not to eat figs) and is a nazirite. Beit Hillel says: He has vowed and is not a nazirite. 

According to Rabbi Natan, everyone agrees that the vower’s statement not to eat figs is effective; the dispute is only about the first half of the statement — the mention of a nazirite vow.

And then, just to make things even more interesting, the Gemara brings yet another version of this dispute.

Rabbi Natan said: Beit Shammai says: He has vowed (not to eat figs effectively) and is not a nazirite. Beit Hillel says: He has not vowed and is not a nazirite. 

This version of Rabbi Natan’s teaching is the reverse of the first one. Now, everyone agrees that the man is not a nazirite, they only disagree about whether he is prohibited from eating figs. 

Ultimately, we get three versions of this dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. In the first one, everyone agrees that the vow is ineffective; only if it’s two separate vows does Beit Shammai (and only Beit Shammai) think it works. In the second, everyone agrees the vow prohibits figs, and disagree only about whether it also makes someone a nazirite. And in the third, everyone agrees the vow does not make someone a nazirite, and they disagree only about whether it prohibits figs. 

Frustratingly, though unsurprisingly, the Gemara never tells us which version the rabbis ultimately adopt. But I’d like to think that the one thing all three versions can agree on is this: Figs really are delicious!

Read all of Nazir 9 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 1st, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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