by Linda Kates
I had never thought of asceticism as a Jewish practice until I read Naso, the second portion in the book of Numbers, which explains the procedure for a man or woman (yes, it specifically mentions women) to become a nazir, or one who dedicates his or her life to God. The nazir takes a vow, usually for a specific period of time, to refrain from wine and grape products, contact with dead bodies (even of their own relatives), and cutting of the hair. At the end of the stated period, the nazir sacrifices a burnt offering, a sin offering, and an offering of well-being.
Biblical commentators disagree on the merit of being a nazir. Some see virtue in separating oneself from worldly passions and pleasures, and in serving as an example for those who need to moderate their behavior. Others, such as Maimonides, believe that there is holiness in all the good things on Earth and that they should be enjoyed in moderation unless they are forbidden. Indeed, Rabbi Eleazar points out that it is because of the sin of denying themselves the enjoyments of life that nazirs must make a sin offering at the end of their vows.