Why would someone become a Nazarite?

Clicking around, I went to the Wikipedia page a saw a bunch of restrictions required to become a Nazarite. You know, like the Biblical Samson. But I can’t find a reason for why a person would do this. I Googled for it, and found a link to the Nazarite priesthood, I’m guessing the only way to be an ancient Hebrew priest would be to be born a Levite, or endure the restrictions of the Nazarite. Is this the only reason why? And was this particularly common? Was Sampson not unique in having a superpower associated with being a Nazarite (his great strength,) or did a Nazarite expect some benefit from his vow?

The only way to be an ancient Hebrew priest was to be born a priest. The Nazarite vow wasn’t a priesthood. It was just a vow people took, presumably to be more holy. For the term of the vow, Nazarites couldn’t cut their hair, eat grapes or wine, or be in the presence of a dead body or a building that contained a dead body.

Yes, and Wikipedia mentions 2 or 3 times on the associated page that they had to make 3 special sacrifices. So that’s it, walking around brownie points on the holiness scale? I suppose being a televangelist in a tent is a similar personal boost but, really, no other reason? So you’re wealthy (you’d have to be to afford all the sacrifices,) grow your hair out, camp out like a 1960’s era hippie drink just water, and … well, that’s it? Seriously, they’re not celibate so, did they get laid more for being more holy? Or something?

Nazarite was not the only type of vow, and in Numbers 30 you will find a bunch of regulations about how to deal with vows in general. Apparently vowing was reasonably common - they hoped for some sort of extra blessing in return. E.g. Samuel’s mother had no sons and vowed that her son will be a Nazarite if she had one. Another obvious sort of blessing to hope for would be recovery from an illness for themselves or for a relative.

In more recent times, why would people take monastic vows? There may be economic component in some cases, but in many other cases it may be all about the individual’s desire to practice his religion better in this way than he could have without the vow.

It isn’t uncommon for religions to have a process where people take temporary vows for no reason other than spiritual purity. Lent is starting this week, and tens or hundreds of millions of people around the world are going to “give up something” for Lent, for no other reason than they think it’ll make them a better person or more holy. In Thailand, most young men take temporary monastic vows. Catholicism has a bunch of lay orders and the controversial Opus Dei, who dedicate themselves to daily prayers and masses.

Am I the only person who parsed the OP’s title as Nazi-rite and wondered whether this was something new crossing the boundary between Naziism and Catholocism?

I’m glad to fiond out that it was “Nazarite”…

MODERATOR NOTE: I’ve fixed the spelling error in the title, so this joke no longer makes sense. – CKDH

Tons of people in India shave their heads as, if I understand correctly, fulfillment of their promises to the gods. Then the hair gets made into wigs and weaves for rich Americans.

To be Holier Than Thou, of course.

I went to the discussion page on Wikipedia and someone has chosen to discuss it in just that way - nazi rite. I’m guessing he thinks its funny. O r he’s proud to be stupid, in that particular way.

Anyway, I am understanding the whole idea a little bit better. I’m guessing that the Wikipedia article didn’t mention why because it didn’t have to, just stuff people have done often within their particular religious practice.


Yeek. So did I when I wrote the header for this topic. Yikes. Thanks to everyone who was patient and didn’t lunge for my jugular. Mods, please, correct my misspelled header.

As you wished.

Nope. In Jewish philosophy, the route to holiness is by harnessing the physical world in serving God, not by abstaining from it. See for example, Wikipedia on Abstinence in Judaism.

But if abstaining from pleasure is looked down upon, so is indulging in pleasure for its own sake. Becoming a nazirite, or taking some other vow, was seen as a potentially useful tool by which a person could temporarily force himself to curb his indulgences, and hopefully come back to the “golden mean”. Naziriteship, and the other vows, generally lasted 30 days, though one could opt for a different term if he so chose.

The case of Samson was very unusual for many reasons, such as being lifelong and decreed by God, rather than temporary and voluntary. Therefore, using it as a model for understanding these topics is usually not helpful.

Both spellings seem to be about equally accepted (it’s a transcription, after all). With an “a,” Google returns about 240,000 hits, and with an “i,” about 95,000. Wikipedia’s article uses the “i” and suggests the “a” as an alternate.

Priest: The Fuhrer be with you.
People: And also with you.
Priest: Let us heil.
People: Heil Hitler!

There are people in India who go much further than shaving their heads for the purposes of religion.

Anyway, how is this any different from going to church on Sundays? Or eating fish on Fridays? Or following the strictures of Leviticus as Orthodox Judaism requires? They are different only in degree.

Lee Boyd Malvo - the younger of the “Beltway Snipers” was practising the rules during the time of the killing spree. He believed that it would make him stronger and invincible, like Samson.


I think this is a key: This was a public vow, with visible, external evidence of the vow (in addition to not cutting the hair, I seem to recall that there was a mode of dress that went along with it, but I could be remembering wrongly). The fact that everyone could see that you were under such a vow would make it difficult to partake of whatever forbidden indulgence without somebody calling you out on it (hey, what’s that priest doing doing in the adult video store?).

I think it’s similar to what I did when I quit drinking back when I was 28. I had spent several years getting drunk almost every single night, and after an unfortunate incident one night that led to me telling myself, “Enough of this shit!”, I quit cold turkey. I didn’t attend any kind of treatment, but I made a point of telling pretty much everybody I knew that I had quit drinking, and once I’d done that I was too worried that somebody I’d told might see me if I was buying booze or going to a bar, and so fear of that embarrassment/shame kept me from doing so. Once some time had passed, I found I was simply no longer interested in alcohol.

(That said, after 13 or so years of complete sobriety, I did pick it up again on a much smaller scale; now I indulge maybe twice a year, and attempt moderation on those occasions. The personal issues that contributed to my desire to get obliterated on a nightly basis when I was younger are behind me and no longer factors.)

Because taking a Nazarite vow was completely voluntary. Fish on Fridays, for Catholics, was in response to the fasting requirement up until Vatican II, and Sunday (or Sat. evening after Vatican II) was/is required under pain of mortal sin, subject to certain saving qualifications. Nothing in Judaism says that you are going to hell if you don’t become a Nazarite. So they aren’t really equivalent.

Yes, those are indeed very helpful factors. But it’s not what I meant. What I meant was that in some cultures, oaths and vows and swearing is taken VERY seriously. In such cultures, if one goes through some sort of ritual to swear off whatever it is that he’s working on, then that vow helps his self-control much more than if he merely resolved to do that thing.

We see such things nowadays, such as when a witness is “sworn in” in court. There are some people who might lie to the police, even though it is illegal; but once they’ve sworn in and are now liable to a perjury charge, they’re much more hesitant to lie. So too even when the government isn’t involved, but God is.

(I recall a letter once to Dear Abby, where the person asked, “What’s the difference between promising to do something, and swearing to do it?” Her answer was, “There shouldn’t be a difference, should there?” Her point was that a person’s word ought to be as good as gold, no matter whether it is described as a promise or an oath or whatever. But human psychology what it is, these rituals do help us mean things more strongly.)

Even Jesus himself said, “Don’t swear oaths; let your yes be yes and your no be no” (paraphrased since I don’t have the actual verse in front of me).

I like the way the Lolcat bible put it:


33 Ceiling Cat iz liek “dont break oath or i break u!!1!”

34 but im like "omgwtf? dont swear by Ceiling Catz pad

35 "or by Ceiling Catz paws on floor

36 "or by ur fir

37 “ya rly:=ya rly; no wai:=no wai. else evil kitteh.”