We have learned that a nazir cannot cut his hair. The Mishnayot on our daf discuss whether the nazir would be allowed to perform activities – like shampooing his hair – that may lead to some of his hair being removed.
The first Mishna teaches that a nazir can be hofef or mefaspes, but he cannot be sorek.
While sorek is understood as combing hair, which is forbidden according to the Gemara because the intent of combing is to pull out dangling hairs, the other two terms are the subject of some discussion among the rishonim. Hofef is defined by the Arukh as meaning to simply scratch his hair. In his commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam explains hofef as rubbing one’s hair with one’s hand, while mefaspes means to use one’s nails or some other hard object. Tosafot and the Rosh understand hofef as meaning to use soap or shampoo to wash the hair, and mefaspes as separating the hairs from one another.
In the second Mishna of the daf, Rabbi Yishmael teaches that hafifa cannot be done using dirt, since it pulls out hair.
During Talmudic times, when acceptable soap was not available, it was common practice to use other materials that broke down fats and oils. These were usually specific types of plants or minerals that were available. On occasion people used earth that was known to contain such minerals for shampooing. Since these materials were very coarse, particularly when combined with earth, one could expect that their use would lead to some level of hair removal.
According to the Rambam, Rabbi Yishmael’s position in the second Mishna is not disagreeing with the first Mishna; he is simply making a point that shampooing with dirt will certainly cause hairs to be removed, which is forbidden. One of the commentaries quoted in the Shiṭṭah Meḳubbeẓet disagrees. His reading of the second Mishna adds the word “af” at the beginning of Rabbi Yishma’el’s statement, indicating that Rabbi Yishmael believes that even if the nazir does not intend to remove his hair, such a questionable activity is forbidden.