If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters nazarite’s vow, to set himself apart for the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and any other intoxicant; he shall not drink vinegar of wine or any other intoxicant; neither shall he drink anything in which grapes have been steeped, nor eat grapes fresh or dried. Throughout his term as a nazarite, he may not eat anything that is obtained from the grapevine, even seeds or skin. – Numbers 6:2-4

A Nazarite (nazir) is a person who voluntarily takes a vow to separate her- or himself (l’hazir) for God. Nazarites are readily identifiable to others from specific ascetic behaviors which affect their social interactions and appearance. They abstain from consuming intoxicants and anything derived from a grapevine; becoming ritually contaminated by contact with human remains; and cutting their hair. Jacob Milgrom identifies the voluntary adoption of these “priestlike abstentions” with satisfying inner emotional needs.

Nazarites are often likened to “lay priests,” but have more differences than similarities to Aaron and his descendants. A Nazarite’s restrictions partly resemble those of a priest’s, but are much more extreme. Intoxicating drinks, such as beer and wine, are prohibited to a priest before entering the sanctuary (Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21), but are permitted at other times. Nazarites must abstain at all times. Grapes and raisins, as well as any product made from or with them, including wine vinegar, are also off limits while their vows are operative.

Further, a priest inherits his status, along with its ritual responsibilities and restrictions, through his father’s lineage and retains it throughout his lifetime. A Nazarite incurs only personal obligations. With the exceptions of Samson and Samuel who were lifelong Nazarites consecrated at conception (Judges 13:7; I Sam. 1:11, 21), both women and men become Nazarites by taking a vow voluntarily. Upon its conclusion, they return to their prior unconsecrated status.

As bakers, we prepare desserts, bread, and other foods for people who abstain from consuming a variety of common ingredients for diverse reasons. Some of their restrictions are religiously, culturally or biologically inherited. Others are self-adopted individually. They may be short-term or lifelong, observed to greater and lesser degrees. May we understand and honor these “separations” to the best of our abilities.

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