Numbers 6:2 – The Nazirite Vow

Numbers 6 introduces a special vow: the Nazirite vow. This article explains this vow and gives some examples of people who were Nazirites.

There are many details about the Nazirite vow that I will not cover in this article. In fact, here is an entire tractate in the Mishna and Gemara devoted to the Nazirite vow.

This article will explain the meaning and definition of the Nazirite vow, the Nazirite’s prohibited activities, and Nazirites in the Bible.

Definition of Nazirite

Let’s start with the easy question: how is this word spelled? There are two common variations: Nazirite and Nazarite.

This English word is from the Hebrew “nazir.” Therefore, “Nazirite” seems like a better spelling, but both are common.

A nazir is a person who has accepted to adopt the 3 restrictions of a particular vow for a minimum of 30 days.

The 3-letter root is nun-zayin-reish.

As a Hebrew verb this word means separated or to abstain from.

As with many Hebrew roots, there is also a noun form. The noun “nezer” means:

  • crown
  • shorthand for the long hair of the Nazirite
  • the status of being a Nazirite
  • abstinence
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Numbers 6:2

This verse is first time the Nazirite vow is mentioned in the Bible.

Numbers 6

2. Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When either man or woman articulates [Hebrew: yafli] to vow a vow of a Nazirite [Hebrew: nazir], to separate themselves for the Lord.

Let’s look at the unusual words and phrases in this verse.

articulates [Hebrew: yafli] – The 3-letter root of this word is pey-lamed-aleph. This root has several different uses in the Bible, but common usages do not seem to applicable in this verse.

Rabbi Steinsaltz writes the root appears here and in some other places meaning to articulate or fulfill a vow (see Leviticus 27:2 and Numbers 15:3).

The Hebrew word yafli indicates that the Nazirite vow must be made willingly without any coercion [Malbim].

Daat Mikra takes a different approach and writes that it means to separate and be different from most other people. I think this touches on the idea that being a Nazirite is not easy and not meant for everyone.

a vow of a Nazirite [Hebrew: nazir] – Rashi comments that the word “nazir” always means separation from something, here it means separation from wine.

As I will write in the next section, the nazir has 3 restrictions. However, only the prohibition of grapes and grape products can be called a separation.

Daat Mikra adds that this is a specific type of vow, that is, the person making this vow needs to specify that it’s a vow to become a Nazirite.

to separate themselves for the Lord – How is this done? By separating himself from wine for the sake of heaven [Rashi].

Nazirite Vow Requirements

Any Jewish man or woman may take on a Nazirite vow.

The minimum length of the Nazirite vow is for 30 days, but a person may accept it for more days.

During those 30 days the person must refrain from:

  • drinking wine and eating anything derived from grapes (verses 6:3-4)
  • cutting the hair (verse 6:5)
  • contact with the dead (verses 6:6-7)

The prohibition against drinking wine is stated in Numbers 6:3. The verse also forbids drinking “shechar.”

Numbers 6

3. He shall separate himself from wine and shechar, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of shechar, nor shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried.

Usually “shechar” means any intoxicating beverage. In fact, many English translations use the phrase “strong drink.”

But according to Jewish tradition, in this verse it means only a beverage made from grapes. Some translate it as old or aged wine to distinguish it from regular or new wine.

Rabbi Hirsch emphasizes that these restrictions are not the essence of being a Nazirite. The true essence is being “holy to God” (Numbers 6:8) and these restrictions are a result of this holiness.

Practical Results of the Nazirite Vow

The 3 restrictions that the Nazirite must follow will affect his or her daily life.

When a nazir approaches a vineyard he is warned to not walk through it but to go around. This is a reminder that the best way to avoid sinning is to stay far away from temptations.

Therefore, not drinking wine likely means not attending parties or banquets to avoid the temptation.

Haircuts are a significant part of grooming and beautifying the body. The nazir is refraining from this.

Not only that, but at the end of the 30 days he or she will be required to completely shave all the hair from his or her body. This is an act that could be humiliating to some people.

In Jewish practice male priests need to keep away from the dead but may be involved in the burial of close relatives.

The Nazirite prohibition of contact with the dead includes even for close relatives. This elevates the Nazirite to the level of the high priest who is also forbidden to come into contact with a dead relative.

The person with the Nazirite vow is attempting to elevate himself spiritually. Contact with the dead contrary to that goal.

The Conclusion of the Nazirite Vow

There is a procedure for the Nazirite to follow at the end of 30 days.

The Nazirite is required to bring several animal offerings: a sin offering, a burnt or elevation offering, and a peace offering.

Then the person shaves all of the hair from his or her body. That hair is thrown into the fire being used to cook the peace offering.

Samson the Nazirite
Samson the Nazirite having his hair cut by Delilah.

Nazirites in the Bible

There are very few mentions of Nazirites in the Bible. We only know of 2 men who were Nazirites and one who may have been.

Samson the Nazirite

Samson did not choose to become a Nazirite.

Judges 13

5. For, behold, you shall conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb;

An angel appeared to his mother and announced that she would have a son who would be a Nazirite his entire life.

Absalom Son of King David

There is no verse that states plainly that Absalom took a Nazirite vow.

2 Samuel 14

26. And when he [Absalom] shaved his head, for it was at every year’s end that he shaved it; because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he shaved it; …

There is a Jewish tradition based on this verse that Absalom became a “permanent Nazirite.” That is, he accepted on himself to be a nazir his entire life.

This status allowed him to shave his head whenever the hair become too heavy for him. In his case, he shaved his hair once a year.

Samuel the Prophet

The Mishna Nazir 9:5 records a dispute if Samuel was a Nazirite or not. The dispute is based on how to understand this verse:

1 Samuel 1

11. And she [Hannah] vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant, and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give to Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no “morah” come upon his head.

This is part of Hannah’s prayer. God answered her prayer and she gave birth to Samuel.

Those who say that Samuel was a Nazirite from birth understand the Hebrew word “morah” to mean razor. In other words, he would be a Nazirite and not cut his hair. This is similar to what the angel instructed Samson’s mother.

However, the word “morah” can also be translated as fear. According to this understanding, Hannah was praying that her son would serve God and never be afraid of a mere mortal.

Picture Credits

Samson and Delilah, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Print by the Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden, about 1508.

A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
Click here to grab your copy of my free ebook How to Learn Chumash with Rashi.

2 thoughts on “Numbers 6:2 – The Nazirite Vow”

  1. Abshalom’s death in Samuel ll describes his hair getting caught in a tree branch, leaving him hanging for Joab and his men to attack him. Abshalom must have had SOME thick hair for that to happen! So, is the opinion that Abshalom might have been a Nazir derived solely from his annual hair cuts????

    • Hi Pam: I suspected that someone would mention Absalom’s long hair getting caught in a tree.

      But, the Gemara in Nazir 4b derives it from the verse I quoted. Here’s the Soncino translation of the relevant section (slightly edited for clarity):

      It has been taught: Rabbi said that Absalom was a life-nazirite, for it says, “And it came to pass at the end of forty years that Absalom said to the king: pray thee, let me go and pay my vow which I have vowed unto the Lord in Hebron.” (2 Samuel 15:7) He used to cut his hair every twelve months, for it says. “And when he polled his head,” (2 Samuel 14:26).

      The vow could have been about anything. Combining the fact of a vow with the periodic cutting of his hair leads to the conclusion that he was a permanent Nazirite.

      I should mention that the Radak writes that these verses are not compelling and it must have been that our Sages had an independent tradition that Absalom was a Nazirite.

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