Tag Archives: Nazir

Nazirites, Levites, and Agriculture (N#194-230)

Read the full text here.

The most famous Nazirite was undoubtedly Samson, depicted here wrestling a lion.

Summary: Mitzvah #194 is not to consume yayin nesech, wine that was used or created for idolatrous purposes. The following mitzvah is not to be a glutton. The next four are not to eat on Yom Kippur, and not to eat chametz or something that has chametz in it on Pesach or the afternoon before Pesach. This is followed by the prohibitions of having any chametz be seen or found in one’s possession on Pesach. The next four are for a Nazirite not to consume any grapes or grape-related products, then two for a Nazirite not to become impure through proximity to a corpse, and for a Nazirite not to shave or get a haircut. Mitzvah #210 is not to harvest one’s entire field (but rather to leave a corner, pe’ah, to be freely consumed by the poor and disadvantaged). Similarly, #211 is not to gather fallen produce (leket), but leave them for the needy, and #213 is specifically not to gather fallen grapes. Mitzvah #212 is not to harvest undeveloped grape clusters, and #214 is not to gather in forgotten sheaves (but leave them for the needy as well). The next three prohibitions all deal with kilayim, crossbreeding different species. Mitzvah #218 is not to work two different animals together under one yoke, and #219 is not to muzzle an animal while it is working, but allow it to eat of the fields it is working on. The next four mitzvot all prohibit working the land in various ways in the Sabbatical shemitah year, followed by two similar ones for the Jubilee year. Mitzvah #227 is not to sell lands in Israel permanently, since plots of land must be returned to their original owners every Jubilee. Unlike the other tribes, the Levites were not given specific borders within Israel. They were only given specific cities, and mitzvah #228 is not to change the status of these cities or take them away from the Levites. This is followed by a prohibition of forsaking or abandoning Levites. The Jewish people are required to take care of the priestly class. Finally, there are three mitzvot dealing with lending money to a fellow Jew, including not seeking repayment after a shemitah.

Insight: Although true idolatry is uncommon and rare today, the default status of any wine produced by gentiles is still yayin nesech. In the full version of Sefer HaMitzvot, the Rambam notes that the Torah forbid specifically wine that was used in idolatry, but when it comes to all gentile wines – whether used in idolatry or not – these were prohibited by rabbinic decree. In fact, they were among the 18 laws instituted by Beit Shammai back in the first century CE, in that infamous incident of when Beit Shammai forcibly took the majority in the Sanhedrin and pushed their stringencies through! (See Shabbat 17b, for instance.) To avoid the prohibition of yayin nesech, wine can be “boiled”, mevushal. By flash-boiling it, the yayin mevushal becomes permissible. Most kosher wines on the market today are mevushal. However, more and more wines made in Israel and in Jewish-owned wineries around the world are non-mevushal. Some believe that the flash-boiling process affects the flavour and quality of the wine, and prefer consuming only non-mevushal wine.

Further Reading: ‘The Science of Chametz’

Mitzvot of Redemption, Purity, and Nazirites (P#80-109)

The Torah’s positive mitzvot continue.

Read the full text here.

Summary: The 80th mitzvah is to redeem a firstborn son, while the 81st is to redeem a firstborn donkey. The 82nd is to decapitate a firstborn donkey if it was not redeemed. Mitzvot #83-91 all have to do with more nuances of sacrifices, and these mitzvot do not apply today. The 92nd is for one who takes on a Nazirite vow to grow their hair long, and the 93rd is for the Nazirite to shave their hair once their vow is fulfilled and their term is over. The 94th is for a person to fulfil any promises that they might make, and the 95th is to follow the proper procedures of the nullification of vows if one is unable to fulfil a promise. Mitzvot #96-107 list various things that cause a person to become impure, including a woman in menses, a man who has had a seminal emission, and contact with a dead person or dead animal. The 108th mitzvah deals with the purification procedure that uses sprinkling waters of the Red Heifer ashes. The 109th is to immerse in a mikveh for purification.

‘Presentation of the First-born’ (1724 Illustration by Georg Puschner)

Insight: God declared that the entire Jewish people would be a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Originally, every firstborn male of every Jewish family was expected to serve as a kohen. However, following the sin of the Golden Calf, God designated the tribe of Levi alone to serve as priests, and specifically those male descendants of Aaron to be the kohanim. Henceforth, a firstborn male would have to be “redeemed”, hence the 80th mitzvah above. This means that the father of a child pays a kohen to “buy out” the child from priestly service, designating the kohen to serve instead. This is typically done with 5 silver coins. The ceremony is known as pidyon haben, and is still done today. A firstborn male adult who was not redeemed by his father as a child is still obligated to redeem himself from a kohen!