ו׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (November 18, 2015)

Sota 23a-b: A Woman Cannot Vow that Her Son Shall Become a Nazirite

The Mishna on our daf  lists a number of differences between men and women with regard to a variety of issues of Jewish law. Among them are:

  • When declared a metzora a man must rend his clothing and loosen his hair (see Vayikra 13:45) while a woman does not.
  • A man can accept upon himself his father’s nezirut, but a woman cannot (see the Gemara in Massekhet Nazir 30a).
  • A man can declare his son a nazir, but a woman cannot.

With regard to this last halakha, the Radak points out that the example of Hannah that appears in the Book of Shmu’el would seem to stand in contradiction with the law of our Mishna, for there we find that Shmu’el’s mother appears to successfully commit him to a life of nezirut (see I Shmu’el 1:11). The Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishna in Nazir (9:5) suggests that Hannah’s statement should not be understood as a full, complete neder, but rather as a suggestion that she would encourage her husband to do so. In any case, it is difficult to see Hannah’s statement as a neder, given that it was made before the unborn child had even been conceived.

Moreover, it is not clear that Hannah’s statement referred to nezirut at all. In the last Mishna in Massekhet Nazir there is a disagreement as to whether the prophet Shmu’el was actually a nazir. Rabbi Nehorai points to the prayer said by Shmu’el’s mother, Hannah, prior to his birth where she promises u-morah lo ya’aleh al rosho (I Shmu’el 1:11). He interprets this to mean that his hair will not be cut, similar to the statement made about Shimshon (see Shoftim 13:5), perhaps the most famous biblical nazir. Rabbi Yosei argues that morah simply means “fear” and that Hannah is saying that should he be born, her son will show no fear of man.

Most of the commentaries on Tanakh, including the Septuagint, translate morah in our context as “metal” – that is to say, a razor. Targum Yonatan, however, suggests that the root of morah is marut: ownership or leadership.

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