Nezirus and Annulling Vows

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

R’ Eli Stefansky recently publicized an interview he had with a Nazir Shimshon. Although the Nazir’s wife was not present at the interview, she was a Nazirah Shimshon as well. There are three general prohibitions a regular nazir has. He cannot consume grape products, he can’t allow himself to become tamei meis, and he can’t cut his hair. Regular nezirus is out of the question nowadays because we are all considered tamei meis. However, a Nazir Shimshon only has two restrictions: consuming grape products and haircutting. That solves the tumah issue. Still, virtually all poskim will advise against the adoption of Nezirus Shimshon. One major reason is that Nezirus Shimshon is a life-long commitment. While a standard term of an ordinary Nazir is thirty days, Nezirus Shimshon lasts forever. There is another type of Nezirus, called Nezirus Olam. It, too, is a lifelong commitment. A Nazir Olam is more stringent than a Nazir Shimshon in that he may not enter a cemetery. Still, a Nazir Olam has two major leniencies. Whereas a Nazir Shimshon may never take a haircut, a Nazir Olam may take one occasionally. Indeed, years ago a Nazir Shimshon asked Dayan Rav Yitzchak Weiss, zt”l, if he could be matir his vow of acceptance of Nezirus Shimshon. The individual complained that his extremely long hair made him appear freakish. It was causing major social issues for his family. This leads to the next major leniency a Nazir Olam has over a Nazir Shimshon. The Torah taught us that there is a mechanism to undo vows that one accepted. This very useful tool is hataras nedarim. A few hundred years ago, a custom developed to perform this rite every year on Erev Rosh Hashana. A few hundred years before that, the custom of reciting Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur Eve was established. According to some Rishonim, the purpose of both customs is the same: to release one from having to observe vows that he declared. Some Rishonim opine that the wholesale release of vows is of dubious value. Still, it has become an accepted custom. Nevertheless, in this situation, Dayan Weiss was asked if a beis din may be convened for the sole purpose of permitting the Nezirus Shimshon that was accepted. The Gemara states (Nazir 14a) that one may not utilize hataras nedarim to undo a vow to be a Nazir Shimshon.

In this regard, a Nazir Shimshon has a major stringency over a Nazir Olam. A Nazir Olam has an escape route via hataras nedarim if he finds his lifelong nezirus unbearable. No such escape route exists for a Nazir Shimshon. In the end, Dayan Weiss, zt”l, found several reasons to allow the Nazir Shimshon to be released from his vow. However, many of the halachic leniencies employed were only relevant to the questioner and his unique life circumstances. They would not be relevant to the Nazir Shimshon mentioned above who accepted Nezirus Shimshon, knowing full well what he was getting himself into. However, there may be some loopholes for him as well. For example, if he simply accepted his nezirus by saying, “I am a Nazir Shimshon,” whether in Hebrew or English, he is not a Nazir Shimshon. See the Mishna (4a) and the commentaries regarding why this formulation is invalid. (Sorry but the proper formulation will not be mentioned in this article in the interest of safety.) However, the above discussion leads to a major question on the text of hataras nedarim that many recite on Erev Rosh HaShanah. An accepted version of the text has the petitioner asking for a release from his Nezirus Shimshon vows. Yet, that is impossible! The Gemara states there can be no release of a vow to be a Nazir Shimshon. Therefore, many opine that the text should read that the petitioner is asking for a release of all nezirus vows except for Nezirus Shimshon. Yet many theories are offered in defense of the standard text. A few examples are enumerated here. The Mabit suggests that if one can put forth a rational reason why he never would have uttered a Nezirus Shimshon vow had he been fully aware of the consequences, then even a Nezirus Shimshon vow can be released with a beis din. The Gemara only meant that general regret cannot be utilized to release a Nezirus Shimshon vow. The Ri Migash suggests that one can be released from a Nezirus Shimshon vow if he did not actually start his nezirus yet. If someone vowed to be a Nazir Shimshon on a certain date, he may be released from his vow before that day passes. Perhaps the standard text of hataras nedarim is referring to such a scenario. The Nidrei Zrizin suggests that hataras nedarim may actually work on a Nezirus Shimshon vow if an individual recited the prescribed text the year before. After hataras nedarim is recited on Erev Rosh Hashana, there is a custom to preemptively annul any future vows one recites. This proclamation is not without its limitations. However, the Nidrei Zrizin suggests if someone declared this proclamation in the year before, he may utilize hataras nedarim this year even on Nezirus Shimshon vows. Another possibility is that, in fact, hataras nedarim is not actually effective on vows of Nezirus Shimshon. However, the release will minimize Heavenly wrath against someone who inadvertently violated his vow of Nezirus Shimshon. The message is clear: Do not try Nezirus Shimshon at home!

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

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