Inclusion and Exclusion in the Mishnah: Non-Jews, Converts, and the Nazir
Compare the discussion of how rabbinic literature conceptualizes the “other” and the outsider in Christine Hayes, “The ‘Other’ in Rabbinic Literature,” in The Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, ed. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 243–69.
This paper is part of my current larger project on the social sciences and the Mishnah. The focus here is on social boundaries, where geographic boundaries are reviewed separately in the context of prohibitions of transporting objects on Shabbat outside of community
boundaries; marriage boundaries are reviewed fully in the context of intermarriage. An earlier paper explores the relationship between social hierarchy and the Mishnah (see Calvin Goldscheider, “Inequality, Stratification, and Exclusion in the Mishnah: An Exploratory Social Science Analysis,” in Gazing on the Deep: Ancient Near Eastern and Other Studies in Honor of Tzvi Abusch. eds. Jeffrey Stackert, Barbara Porter, and David P. Wright (Bethesda, MD: CDL Press, 2010), 565–84).
Simcha Fishbane, Deviancy in Early Rabbinic Literature: A Collection of Socio-Anthropological Essays: Brill Reference Library of Judaism (Boston: Brill, 2007) takes a different approach to the study of exclusion. He places the analysis in the context of deviancy of individuals who, for various reasons, appear to have no place in mainstream rabbinic Jewish society, or who may be perceived by that society as posing a threat to its norms and even to its very existence. Deviant groups studied include witches, prostitutes, Gentiles, bastards, Nazirites, soldiers, Kutites, the disabled, and the menstruate woman. His focus is also on the Mishnah. He has emphasized a framework of insiders and outsiders in the community. I tend to conceptualize the issue in terms of transitions from insider to
outsider status and include the modifier “not always” and “not for all social activities” as qualifiers to the simpler dichotomy.
Some have argued that we should always look at apparently voluntary self-exclusion with skepticism. In general, an individual or the members of a group may withdraw from participation in the wider society in response to experiences of hostility and discrimination. Our focus on this minimum exclusion in the Mishnah is “voluntary,” but the context within which it occurs still makes it a case of social exclusion. For the Nazir, there is every reason to assume the voluntary nature of the act of self-exclusion. Compare Brian Barry’s chapter in Understanding Social Exclusion, ed. John Hills, Julian Le Grand, and David Piachaud (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002). An example of temporary but not voluntary exclusion is women who are in their period of menstruating (nidda) or after childbirth. For either status, a woman is in a state of impurity and, thereby, excluded from performing certain religious rituals and is limited in her relationship to men. However, there are specific ways for women to transition back to the community. An entire tractate of the Talmud (Niddah) is devoted to these temporary separations from the community.
As in other analysis on other topics, I treat the evidence as presented in the Mishnah as complete and do not include ancillary evidence or elaboration in the Talmudic materials. See my discussion in “Social Science and the Mishnah: Family Structure, Kinship, and Life Course Transitions.” Paper presented at the European Association of Biblical Studies, Cordoba, Spain, July 2015 and compare to Jacob Neusner, The Evidence of the Mishnah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
Goldscheider, “Inequality, Stratification, and Exclusion in the Mishnah,” 565–84.
In the Mishnah sequence of tractates, the Tractate Nazir follows the Tractate Nedarim; the latter deals extensively with vows. Both tractates are part of the Mishnah’s limitations regarding women because of the special rules about vows made by women and how their vows may be nullified by husbands or scholars. The logic behind these three restrictions of hair, wine, and the deceased is not clear either from the Bible or the Mishnah. Wine consumption seems to symbolize joy, not cutting hair may symbolize distancing from the mundane and external beauty (also for war captives), and ritual defilement stands in contrast to holiness.
This may be a common feature of the Mishnah. The same characteristic of the Mishnah pertains to the presentation about the observance of the Sabbath, in particular, the lighting of Sabbath lights (Tractate Shabbat, chapter 2) and in the context of prohibitions and ritual activities of non-priests on Yom Kippur (Tractate Yoma, chapter 1). In these and other cases in the Mishnah, there is an assumption and description of an activity without a focus on motivation or a justification for it.
Although this rule violates the need for intentionality in Nezirut, since, in general, servants are treated as persons without intentionality.
The tractate is included in the Mishnah order of damages designed for judges and courts.
See Haym Soloveitchik on the development of this wine prohibition in Collected Essays (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2013), vol. 1: pt. 3. As a social historian, Jacob Katz exemplifies ways in which a social scientist can shed light on Talmudic and post-Talmudic Judaic texts. See, among others of his works, Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) and The Shabbes Goy: A Study in Halakhik Flexibility (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989).
There are seven Noachite, or universal, rules that apply to all persons, including non-Jews, although these are all negatives with no religious ritual component, for example, not to murder, steal, or commit adultery.
Voluntary contributions are accepted from non-Jews but obligatory ritual sacrifices and contributions to the Temple are not (see Shekalim 1, 5).
See Gary Porton, The Stranger within Your Gates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), chap. 2.
The Toseftah also has more details, and there are systematic differences between the Talmudic versions of conversions in the Talmud Yerushalmi and Bavli. See, by comparison, Porton, The Stranger within Your Gates, chaps. 5 and 6. See also the details in Shaye J. D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, chaps. 5–7.
See details in Porton, The Stranger within Your Gates, chap. 2.
The process seems to be mostly Babylonian and not mishnaic. See Moshe Lavee, “The ‘Tractate’ of Conversion—BT Yeb. 46–48 and the Evolution of Conversion Procedure,” European Journal of Jewish Studies, 4, no. 2 (2010): 169–213.
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