February 14, 2023

Nedarim 19

Today’s daf (Nedarim 19b) compares the laws of a נזיר ודאי – ‘a definite nazir’ with a נזיר ספק – ‘a doubtful nazir’, and explains that the latter is treated more strictly than the former: ‘whereas a definite nazir may shave [his hair] and bring an offering which is eaten [when the period of Nezirut ends], a doubtful nazir [may not bring an offering because it is possible that they are not a nazir and, consequently, they] may not shave’.
As I have previously discussed, doubt is treated differently by our Sages based on its in different contexts. When it comes to doubts concerning Torah laws, we generally rule stringently (ספק דאורייתא לחומרא), whereas when it comes to doubts concerning Rabbinic Law, we generally rule leniently (ספק דרבנן לקולא).
However, what I think we see from the case discussed in today’s daf about the doubtful nazir is that when it comes to doubts relating to personal identity in halacha, we oftentimes find that a more stringent view is adopted.
But why is this so? Perhaps it is simply because we, as a society, struggle with doubt. But in addition to this, I think it is because when people have doubts about who and what they are they are often harder on themselves and, in order to compensate, they try and live multiple lives since they have yet to make peace with, or be accepted for, the life that is theirs.
Admittedly, it is unlikely that you’ve ever met someone who is a ‘doubtful nazir’. However, there are many people who live in doubt about who they are and who oftentimes find themselves asking, like the doubtful nazir, whether they will ever live with the kind of clarity that others seem to have.
This may be you. It may be a friend. Or may be a neighbour, or work colleague, or just the person sitting opposite you on the bus or train. Still, whoever it is, it is essential to know and be considerate of the fact that while some people are comfortable in themselves, others are not, and that living with doubt about who you are is brutal.
So whoever you meet and speak to today, be kind to them – not just because this is what you should do every day, but especially because other people’s life experience can be radically different to our own, and that while many of us may know ourselves, some continue to live in doubt.
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