Where Is Rashi?

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

Daf Yomi learners relish when the daf that they learn relates to their daily lives, but that is somewhat difficult with this particular tractate, as nezirim seem hard to find. Some suggest that perhaps for this reason Tractate Nazir wasn’t studied regularly in ancient yeshivos and that is why the text of Nazir is not consistent with other tractates of Shas. Certain phrases are employed differently than elsewhere in the Talmud. The Rosh often makes note of this in his commentary. For example, on 19b, he writes, “Shitas nazir meshuneh.” We find the same phenomenon in regard to Tractate Nedarim. Another similarity between the two masechtos is the lack of Rashi’s commentary. In regard to Nedarim, it is almost universally accepted that the commentary printed with the Vilna Shas and labeled as Rashi was not written by Rashi. In relation to Nazir, the authorship of the commentary printed in Rashi’s place is a matter of some dispute. Some say that it is certainly not Rashi, while others say it is at the very least based on Rashi’s commentary. Many opine that it was written by Rashi’s son-in-law. Rashi’s commentary is the standard one used when learning any Gemara, but in these two tractates, students tend to use other commentaries in place of the one printed as Rashi. Kinnah 22 recited on Tishah B’Av was written in response to the massacre of Jewish communities in France. Many eminent scholars and Tosafists were killed in those attacks. The Kinnah laments, “Who will now interpret the nazirite vows and who will arrange the laws of oaths?” The second half of the rhetorical question is readily understandable. The author is lamenting that there aren’t scholars left of great enough caliber to decide matters pertaining to vows. However, what was the intent in the first half of the question?

Was there a community of nezirim in France? After the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, nezirim have been virtually unheard of. There have been anecdotes of someone who unwittingly uttered a nazir vow and had to become a nazir, but those instances are extremely rare. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, offered a novel interpretation of that verse in the kinnah. He said the author is lamenting that there is no one left to explain Tractates Nedarim and Nazir. The student of the Talmud needs a replacement for Rashi for these two tractates. Sadly, the author laments after the massacres that there is no one left of the caliber to write a similar commentary. However, even though there are (almost!) no nezirim nowadays, there are still relevant halachos that can be learned from this masechta. At times in Russian history, there was mandatory conscription into the national army. However, for the right price, one was able to purchase a “Get Out of the Army” card. At some point, this program, which was officially sanctioned by the government, ended. However, the government declared that anyone who had previously purchased this army exemption may still use it. Furthermore, the cards were not restricted for use by the original purchaser; the right was transferable to a new owner. Therefore, the price for these exemption cards on the open market skyrocketed as they were becoming exceedingly rare and were no longer offered for sale by the government. A man with several sons owned one such exemption card. He passed away with instructions that the exemption card should go to his youngest son.

One can possibly conjecture that this was the weakest son and the father thought he most needed the exemption. The family followed the father’s wishes and gave the exemption card to the youngest brother. When it came time for the young man to present himself to the army for conscription, he did not immediately present the card. Instead, he submitted to an army physical. Indeed, he failed the physical and was freed from his army obligation. The enterprising young man, realizing his windfall, attempted to sell the now superfluous exemption card on the open market. His brothers, however, argued that the profits should be split evenly. They argued that the card was only offered for his personal use and not as an added inheritance. The youngest brother reasoned while that may have been the intent, once it was given to him it was his to dispense with as he saw fit. They agreed to ask Rav Yosef Rosen, known as the Rogatchover Gaon (Rogachev, 1858-Vienna, 1936) to decide their dispute. He said the dispute may be readily resolved from a passage in Nazir (24a). The Gemara discusses the case of a husband who provided his wife with an animal to use for her required korban, and she sanctified the animal. But in the end, the vow that necessitated the sacrifice was void. Rava says that the animal was not sanctified because she cannot sanctify an animal that isn’t hers! The husband provided the animal only for her personal need; once it has been determined that she no longer needs it, it reverts to him. The Rogatchover argued that the same can apply to the exemption card. The father only offered it for the youngest son’s personal use. Now that it has been determined that he no longer needs it, it should revert to the brothers’ shared inheritance. The young man accepted the analogy and relinquished his personal claim.  

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@gmail.com.

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