Nazirites & the Nazirite vow
The Nazirite vow is a vow of dedication and holiness to YHVH. In the Talmidi community, in the absence of priests, Nazirites may serve the functions of a priest, since the level of holiness of a Nazirite is actually equal to that of a High Priest. The vow allows a non-priest to attain the holiness of a priest.
In the modern Talmidi community, anyone who wishes to serve the community long-term, for the rest of their lives, and to dedicate themelves to God, may take the Nazirite vow. Such a Nazirite is termed ‘a ministering Nazirite’ (nazir meshareit).
Ministering Nazirites serve as pastors and counsellors, and participate in the ritual life of the community. When serving in the capacity of a meshareit, (ministering servant of God and of the community), Nazirites in the Massorite sect are required to wear a white linen kitton (tunic) and a white linen eifod (overshawl).
A member of the laity who wishes to spend time in dedication to YHVH, but not ministry, may also take the Nazirite vow. It may be taken for a minimum of 30 days, in multiples of months. Long-term Naziriteship is discouraged except for those who wish to enter the service of the community and become a meshareit.
The essence and purpose of Naziriteship in modern times
For the lay man or woman today, the vow is an act of personal piety; the purpose of taking the vow is to spend time in dedication to God, and devotion to God’s ways of holiness. During this time, one concentrates on devoting oneself to acting more compassionately, more justly, and on working to changing oneself to becoming a kinder and more loving person. One especially engages in acts of charity and helping others. Nazirites are not set apart from the community, but rather participate in it.
This is from the Yeshuinist community rulebook on Naziriteship:
“they shall make every attempt to lead their lives more closely according to the precepts of YHVH, and the laws of His kingdom, being more thoughtful and caring, more loving and more helpful and considerate. They shall also undertake to meditate and pray with greater diligence.
If one takes vows of service in addition to what the Nazirite vow requires, then one shall help others, aiding the homeless, the sick, the elderly or the hungry; if one takes vows of teaching in addition to the Nazirite vow, then one shall teach religious instruction in the community, and may be called upon to preach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. One may also vow to fast if one so wishes, but for no more than once a week, during the hours of daylight only, during which time one practises a fast pleasing to YHVH – by engaging in charitable work helping the poor.”
In daily life, it is not always possible to follow every ritual commandment of Torah, but as a Nazirite, one does one’s best to follow the mitzvot of Torah.
Three types of Nazirite
Two types of Nazirite have been covered above – the ministering Nazirite and the lay Nazirite, the first being a long-term vow, and the latter being a short term vow. In ancient times there was a third – the life-long Nazirite.
The mother dedicated her unborn child as a Nazirite. She drank no wine or strong drink, and vowed to dedicate the life of her child to God. This was usually done by barren women in thanks for bearing a child. This type is discouraged in modern times, in view of the difficulties involved with making a decision on someone else’s behalf. Children below the age of 13 are also discouraged from taking the vow.
Relevant History and background
From the juxtaposition of prophets and Nazirites in Amos 2:11-12, the vow must have been regarded as a calling. However, the vow was heavily abused in ancient times, so much so that the Pharisees saw Nazirites as an evil bunch of ex-drunkards and layabouts. People became Nazirites on the spur of the moment simply to force sobriety or abstinence on themselves. People ignored the fact that it was a vow of holiness and dedication to YHVH, instead turning it into a vow of self-denial and self-punishment and self-discipline.
To Talmidis, Jacob the Pious was the ideal Nazirite, the standard that all other Nazirites aspire to. His life of devotion, prayer, sanctity and service to the poor exemplifies what Naziriteship should be about.
What the Nazirite vow entails in practical terms
The most prominent outward mark of the Nazirite is long, flowing hair, which in ancient times was cut at the end of the vow and offered as a sacrifice (Num. 6:5.; Jer. 7:29). As well as meaning ‘consecrated’, nazir also means ‘unshorn’ or ‘unpruned’; in the Sabbatical year, vines were left ‘nazir’ i.e. unpruned. As long as they are under the Nazirite vow, no razor must ever touch any hair on their head, nor must their hair be cut or removed in any way, and men must not shave. Their hair is a sign, a constant reminder to them, that they have been consecrated to YHVH.
The second practical part of Naziriteship is abstaining from wine and alcoholic beverages, and from eating or drinking anything that comes from the vine plant – leaves, seeds, oil, fruit, grapeskin extract, grapejuice, wine vinegar etc.
The third part of the vow was to keep oneself from contact with the dead. It wasn’t actually part of the vow, rather something that polluted the holiness of the vow. If they have to make contact with a dead person – like when a close family member dies – then 7 days after contact with the dead, they shave all their hair, and on the 8th day, they restart the period of their vow from the beginning. While the hair is growing back, one can wear a Hebrew turban.
At the completion of the vow, since there is no Temple in which to offer the appropriate sacrifices, gifts of food are made to the poor. When a Nazirite completes the time of their vow, there are special prayers said in the synagogue for their purification. They give notice of the time of the end of their vow, so that everything can be prepared for them. When they come to the synagogue for the prayers at the end of their vow, they offer a small a basket of unleavened bread made of quality flour with oil, and biscuits brushed with olive oil; thick loaves made of flour mixed with olive oil; and a cup of wine. These are later given to the poor.
- Abstain from wine, alcoholic drink, and any product of the grapevine
- Abstain from cutting the hair of your head and from shaving one’s moustache and beard
- Do not touch or come near the physical presence of any human corpse
To become a Nazirite
There is no set formula of words, but then again, there is no ceremony involved in starting the vow. One can merely say,
“I take the Nazirite vow. I vow that no razor shall touch the hair of my head, and that I shall not touch the fruit of the vine. I take the vow for (eg thirty days), and I dedicate the time of my vow to the holiness and service of YHVH my God. ”
If one made further vows in addition to what was required, then one can mention these next.
The practice of additional vows was something that was also heavily abused in ancient times. People used to bargain with God and say, ‘If You do X for me, then I will do Y as part of my vow’. This is not how it works. Additional vows are intended to heighten to devotion of the soul to God during the time of the vow, not expecting any reward for them.
This is what the book of Numbers 6:1-21 says with regard to the Nazirite vow:
1Then YHVH said to Moses:
2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When a man or a woman solemnly takes the Nazirite vow to dedicate themselves to YHVH, 3 they shall abstain from wine and strong drink; they may neither drink wine vinegar, other vinegar, of any kind of grape juice, nor eat either fresh or dried grapes. 4 As long as they are a Nazirite they shall not eat anything of the produce of the vine; not even unripe grapes or grapeskins.
5 While they are under the Nazirite vow, no razor shall touch their hair. Until the period of their dedication to YHVH is over, they shall be sacred, and shall let the hair of their head grow freely.
6 As long as they are dedicated to YHVH, they shall not enter where a dead person is. 7 Not even for their father or mother, their sister or brother, should they die, may they become unclean, since their head bears their dedication to God. 8 As long as they are a Nazirite they are sacred to YHVH.
9 If someone dies very suddenly in their presence, so that their dedicated head becomes unclean, they shall shave their head on the day of their purification, that is, on the seventh day. 10 On the eighth day they shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent. 11 The priest shall offer up the one as a sin offering and the other as a holocaust, thus making atonement for them for the unintentional transgression they have committed by reason of the dead person. On the same day they shall reconsecrate their head 12 and begin anew the period of their dedication to YHVH as a Nazirite, bringing a yearling lamb as a guilt offering. The previous period is not valid, because their dedicated head became unclean.
13 “This is the ritual for the Nazirite: On the day they complete the period of their dedication they shall go to the entrance of the meeting tent, 14 bringing as their offering to YHVH one unblemished yearling lamb for a holocaust, one unblemished yearling ewe lamb for a sin offering, one unblemished ram as a peace offering, along with their cereal offerings and libations, 15 and a basket of unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil and of unleavened wafers spread with oil.
16 The priest shall present them before YHVH, and shall offer up the sin offering and the holocaust for him. 17 He shall then offer up the ram as a peace offering to YHVH, with its cereal offering and libation, and the basket of unleavened cakes.
18 Then at the entrance of the meeting tent the Nazirite shall shave their dedicated head, collect the hair, and put it in the fire that is under the peace offering. 19 After the Nazirite has shaved off their dedicated hair, the priest shall take a boiled shoulder of the ram, as well as one unleavened cake and one unleavened wafer from the basket, and shall place them in the hands of the Nazirite. 20 The priest shall then wave them as a wave offering before YHVH. They become sacred and shall belong to the priest, along with the breast of the wave offering and the leg of the raised offering. Only after this may the Nazirite drink wine.
21 This, then, is the law for the Nazirite; this is the offering to YHVH which is included in his vow of dedication apart from anything else which their means may allow. Thus shall they carry out the law of their dedication in keeping with the vow they have taken.”