The Jewish Nazirite and the Hindu Sanyasin: Challenge, Sociology, and Theology

Amir Mashiach

Abstract


The present article sets out to introduce and to compare abstinent and renunciant practices in Judaism and Hinduism. In the Jewish sources, the abstinent individual is referred to as a “Nazirite,” while in Hinduism the widely used term is “Sanyasin.” In what follows, I describe the actual practices associated with renunciation in each of the two religions; what brings someone to take vows of the renouncing kind, and the objective which the renouncer aspires to achieve. Parallel with these considerations, I also study the social attitude toward the abstainer among the Jews and among Hindus; is the practice seen in a positive, or – perhaps – in a negative light? Is the renunciant a hero, a righteous individual, an exemplary figure – or, possibly, a transgressor treading an iniquitous path, so that criticism should be leveled at the way of life he or she has chosen?

The conclusion of the article is that the Nazirite and the Sanyasin has very little in common, in their reasons to become a renunciant, in their goals they both try to achieve, in their ways to achieve them and in the attitude of the communities towards them.


Keywords


Nazir (Nazirite); Sanyasin; Judaism; Hinduism; Rabbinic Literature; Chazal; Bhagavad Gita

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