Friday, December 5, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Deuteronomy 23:23

So I’ve been saying that normally, people only bring sin offerings for non-willful transgression of the 365 negative commandments, and the nazir only brings a sin offering because the Torah says so.  But the rabbis weren’t happy with that and tried to find a rationale for it, and that feeds into Jewish culture.
The rabbis said that the nazir causes himself pain.  One of the pains he causes himself is a certain amount of social ostracism.  Say you’re planning a party and you know one of your friends is an alcoholic.  Do you invite him, knowing he’s probably going to get shit-faced and do something stupid?  Or do you force everybody else to drink sparkling cider?
In olden times, people didn’t have money to spend on making sure that everybody’s whims were satisfied.  People had a right to expect wine to be served at a party.  If the hosts made sure they had wine, they didn’t have money left to buy apple juice.  That sort of thing. 
So they wouldn’t invite the nazir.  That includes Passover, brises, weddings, congratulations for business successes, welcome home trips from journeys, birthday parties, and all the other happy events of life.  Neither can the nazir attend a funeral to comfort his friends. 
One way of putting it is that the nazir is trying to be “righter than Gd.”  He is trying to pretend that he knows better than Gd what he should and should not do.  He might move on to try to prohibit himself from doing other things Gd allows, and then to prohibit himself from things Gd commands him to do.  An example would be sex.  Gd set up sex and marriage to renew the population.  A man who does not obey the first commandment, “be fruitful and multiply,” (Genesis 1:28) violates Jewish law.  What will he do next?
In fact Judaism rejects all kinds of asceticism.  Giving up leavening for Passover is a commandment; giving it up in the 12/13 months between Passovers has no support in Jewish law.  Taking the nazir vow is limited to 30 days, one Jewish month, yadda yadda yadda.  Mishnah and Gemara discuss people who take on lifetime nazir vows; but who is going to do that knowing that he will have to bring a sacrifice – a substantial expense in those days – every 31st day?
So why allow the nazir vow?  Because people sometimes want to be hard on themselves.  The nazir vow is temporary; that is foreseen in the commandment to end the vow, bathe and shave and bring the offerings.  Hopefully the person who does this will realize how much social interaction he misses out on and avoid the vow in future, and reason from that to other possible prohibitions he might impose on himself, and avoid other such vows in future.
And that is all good.  Deuteronomy 23:23 says “If you avoid making vows there is no sin.” 
Next week I’m going to start on the subject of tameh/tahor, or taharot.  Start by reading Leviticus 12.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment