Appreciating Rami bar Chama on Nazir 10a
The illustration of today’s post, courtesy of DALL-E is a standing bovine herald, announcing that someone is a nazir. Read to the end to find out why.
Nazir 10a has competing analyses, of Rami bar Chama and Ravam of a Mishnah. The Mishnah reads:
מַתְנִי׳ אָמַר: ״אָמְרָה פָּרָה זוֹ הֲרֵינִי נְזִירָה אִם עוֹמֶדֶת אֲנִי״, ״אוֹמֵר הַדֶּלֶת הַזֶּה הֲרֵינִי נְזִירָה אִם נִפְתָּח אֲנִי״ — בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים: נָזִיר, וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים: אֵינוֹ נָזִיר. אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה: אַף כְּשֶׁאָמְרוּ בֵּית שַׁמַּאי, לֹא אוֹמְרִים אֶלָּא בְּאוֹמֵר ״הֲרֵי פָּרָה זוֹ עָלַי קׇרְבָּן, אִם עוֹמֶדֶת הִיא״.
MISHNA: If one said: This cow said: I am hereby a nazirite if I stand up; or if he said: This door says: I am hereby a nazirite if I am opened, Beit Shammai say he is a nazirite, and Beit Hillel say he is not a nazirite. Rabbi Yehuda said: Even when Beit Shammai say that the vow is effective, they say so only with regard to one who said: This cow is hereby forbidden to me as an offering if it stands up. In that case it is as if he took a vow that the cow is forbidden. However, Beit Shammai concede that although the vow takes effect, it is not a vow of naziriteship.
Upon this, Rami bar Chama says:
גְּמָ׳ פָּרָה מִי קָא מִישְׁתַּעְיָא? אָמַר רָמֵי בַּר חָמָא: הָכָא בְּמַאי עָסְקִינַן — כְּגוֹן שֶׁהָיְתָה פָּרָה רְבוּצָה לְפָנָיו, וְאָמַר: ״כִּסְבוּרָה פָּרָה זוֹ אֵינָהּ עוֹמֶדֶת — הֲרֵינִי נָזִיר מִבְּשָׂרָהּ אִם עָמְדָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ״. וְעָמְדָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ. וְהָלְכוּ בֵּית שַׁמַּאי לְשִׁיטָתָן וּבֵית הִלֵּל לְשִׁיטָתָן.
GEMARA: The Gemara asks: Does a cow speak? What is the meaning of the statement: A cow said: I am hereby a nazirite? Rami bar Ḥama said: With what are we dealing here? We are dealing with a case where there was a prone cow before him, and he tried, without success, to cause it to stand, and he said: This cow thinks it will not stand; I am hereby a nazirite and therefore will refrain from its flesh if it stands of its own accord, and in fact it stood of its own accord. Beit Shammai follow their standard approach and Beit Hillel follow their standard approach.
This is bracketed before and after with expansions by the Talmudic Narrator. Let us take a moment to appreciate the three points that Rami bar Chama is making, and how he deduces it from the Mishnah.
The question whether a cow indeed literally speaks is the impetus provided by the gemara itself.
The first point is that the cow is previously in a prone state. Rami is looking at the word עוֹמֶדֶת. For verbs, Hebrew has the perfect (often actions completed in the past), imperfect (often actions not yet completed, so in the future) and a neutral tense which is really the same as the noun. (Ani shomer means “I am a watchman” or “I am watching”.) Often that neutral form corresponds to present tense, but can also refer to the future based on context. Here, אִם עוֹמֶדֶת אֲנִי it isn’t a conditional on whether it is presently standing. Rather, it is if it will stand in the future.
Further, עוֹמֶדֶת could mean standing, that is being in a state of standing, in the future. Or it could mean the act of getting up from the prone position. Rami says that the latter is the meaning, the transition from one state to another. This would be similar to the door opening.
The second point is a diyuk in אֲנִי, or in אָמְרָה פָּרָה זוֹ. The conditional has to be something taken out of the control of the person taking the nazirite vow. He is putting it into the control of the cow itself, which will determine based on its own actions. עוֹמֶדֶת also has that implication.
The third point is: I’m a nazir from its flesh, הֲרֵינִי נָזִיר מִבְּשָׂרָהּ, this ties the vow specifically to the flesh of the acting cow. And then attaches it to the previous dispute of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel of vowing against figs with nazirite language.
Perhaps this is motivated by both proximity to the prior Mishnah with the dispute, and Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel arguing even in this Mishnah, but really seems to come out of left field.
Further, Rava only seems to argue with point 2 and ask what in the Mishnah’s language indicates that it stood on its own accord. Further, on Rava’s contrary position, the gemara itself asks אֶלָּא דֶּלֶת — בַּת קׇרְבָּן הִיא. Just as a door cannot be a korban, we shouldn’t say the cow will be the korban via his declaration. This should be an issue for Rami bar Chama as well.
Despite Rava seeming to bolster his opponent Rami bar Chama’s interpretation with אָמַר רָבָא: תַּרְתֵּי תְּלָת. וְכֵן תָּנֵי רַבִּי חִיָּיא תַּרְתֵּי תְּלָת. וְכֵן אָמַר רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא תַּרְתֵּי תְּלָת, perhaps we can say that it is going on the figs, dried figs and barley.
Or even better — if we examine the parallel Yerushalmi, the same idea that this Mishnah is a continuation of the Beit Shammai / Beit Hillel dispute arises, voiced by Rabbi Abahu citing Resh Lakish or the resolution of a conflict within Resh Lakish, but without regard to the flesh of the cow. Rather, it is because we dismiss the very portion of the cow speaking entirely, and only focus on that portion where he mentioned nezirut. Thus:
וָמַר רִבִּי אַבָּהוּ בְּשֵׁם רִבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן לָקִישׁ. שֶׁהוֹצִיא מִנְחָה מִתּוֹךְ פִּיו. וָכָא הוּא אָמַר אָכֵן. אִית לֵיהּ הָכֵין וְאִית לֵיהּ הָכֵין. אִית לֵיהּ מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהוֹצִיא נְזִירוּת מִפִּיו. וְאִית לֵיהּ מִשּׁוּם כִּינּוּיֵי כִינּוּיִין. תֵּדַע לָךְ שֶׁהוּא כֵן. דְּתַנִּינָן. אָמַר. אָֽמְרָה פָרָה זוֹ. כּלוּם אָֽמְרָת. לֹא מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהוֹצִיא נְזִירוּת מִתּוֹךְ פִּיו. וָכָא. מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהוֹצִיא נְזִירוּת מִתּוֹךְ פִּיו.
And Rebbi Abbahu said in the name of Rebbi Simeon ben Laqish, because he mentioned “flour offering.” And here, he says so? He accepts one and he accepts the other. He accepts because he mentioned the state of nazir, and he accepts because of substitutes of substitutes. You should know that it is so since we have stated: “If he said, the cow said.” She did not say anything; it is because he mentioned the state of nazir, and here he mentioned the state of nazir.
So according to this, we dismiss the cow’s words entirely. (To cite Joey Tribbiani, it’s a moo point, like a cow’s opinion.) The reason is as Rabbi Yochanan earlier explained Beit Shammai’s reasoning regarding figs, מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהוֹצִיא נְזִירוּת מִפִּיו. This then has nothing to do with the flesh of the cow, or the substance of the door.
What is Rami bar Chama then saying? This might be a severe kvetch, but I am going to propose it anyway. Look at the second instance of the gemara mentioning the word מבשרה:
Our texts have הָכָא נָמֵי, כִּי אָמַר ״מִבְּשָׂרָהּ״ — הָוֵי נָזִיר, while Vatican 110-111 omits the word אמר, that he said.
Stripping away all of the Talmudic Narrator’s framing and positioning of one quote against the other, and rewording of some of those quotes, what if we change the nekudot in Rami bar Chama’s statement to הֲרֵינִי נָזִיר מְבַשְּׂרָהּ אִם עָמְדָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ, “behold I am a Nazir, she proclaims, if she stands of her own accord”. Assuming that that is in any way valid Hebrew. Alternatively, הֲרֵינִי נָזִיר מְבַשֶּׂרֶת אִם עָמְדָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ. Kol mevaser mevaser ve`omer. After all, Munich 95 shortens the word with an apostrophe diacritic, in both occurrences.
So, while Rava argues (like the Israeli Amoraim) that we discount the cow’s speech entirely, Rami bar Chama says that he is indeed conditioning it on the cow’s own actions, which constitutes speech. By standing up on her own accord, through that action, she is proclaiming that he is a nazir.