Saturday, 19 September 2015

Nazir 29: Parents' Vows for their Children

Is a mother obligated by Torah law to educate her children?  Is a father obligated by Torah law to educate his daughter as well as his son?  The rabbis discuss these questions to determine whether or not a father can vow that his son will be a nazirite.  If that son is still a minor, with fewer than two pubic hairs, does the father's positive commandment to educate his son override the negative mitzvah regarding offerings that would be incorrect if a minor brings those offerings?   If that son has more than two pubic hairs and has thus reached the age where he can take responsibility for his own vows, can a father impose a vow on that almost-grown young man?  

Another question that the rabbis take on involves shaving one's head. There is a Torah based negative prohibition against cutting the corners of one's hair.  But there is a positive rabbinic commandment to shave one's entire head at the conclusion of one's nazirut.  The rabbis suggest that the instruction to shave one's head after nazirut is from Sinai, and thus has the status of Torah law.  As such, that commandment overrules the negative commandment to "not shave the corners" of one's head.  

The daf also discuses the parallel issue of uncertain sacrifices, the offerings of zavot and zavim, when offerings are eaten and when they are burned, and the differences between women and men when it comes to uncertain sacrifices.  Our notes sum up much of this discussion in listing of halachot:

  • one who slaughters a bird in order to eat meat should use the 'pinching' method of slaughter
  • uncertain bird offerings (for example, as brought by women who are unsure whether or not their miscarriages should be considered 'births' or an uncertain zava) are not eaten but burned like invalid offerings
  • Definite sin: a man brings a sin-offering when he unwittingly transgresses a prohibition punishable by karet if it had been transgressed intentionally
  • Definite sin: a woman after childbirth and a lava bring a pigeon or turtledove as a sin-offering
  • Uncertain transgression: a man brings a provisional guilt-offering if he committed a sin where its accidental performance obliges him to bring a fixed sin-offering
  • Uncertain transgression: a zava or a woman who is unsure whether or not her miscarriage should be considered a birth brings an offering due to uncertainty
  • a man who is unsure whether he has accidentally committed a sin that, if performed intentionally, results in karet, must bring a provisional guilt-offering.  This offering is eaten by priests in the Temple courtyard.
A story is told of Rabbi Chanina - it is unclear whether this is the well-known Rabbi Chanina bar Chama or not.  As a boy, his father vowed that Chanina would be a nazirite.  He went to Rabban Gamiliel to be examined.  Before the examination, Chanina said, "My teacher, do not go to the trouble of examining me; if I am a minor I will be a nazirite because of my father's vow, and if I am an adult I will be a nazirite due to my own vow".  Rabban Gamiliel then kissed Chanina on the head and predicted that he would become an authority of halacha for the Jewish people.  

The notion of perfecting our "Jewish parenting" continues to be alive and well.  Certainly we believe that it is our duty to ensure that our children are well-educated.  But more of the focus in current generations rests on children's emotional well-being.  And because it is more difficult to measure and ensure the 'best' emotionally aware parenting strategies, we do not necessarily raise children who are excellently educated or necessarily well adjusted.  

What is the best way to ensure that our children are well educated.  Should we do it ourselves, as is suggested in today's daf?  Or should we hire teachers and tutors to do that job?  Personally, I cannot imagine doing a 'good enough' job as my child's educator.  But what is he missing out on without experiencing a more rigorous education?  Certainly my values suggest that his emotional well-being comes first.  Perhaps this generation of Jewish children will be very, very different from past generations.  

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