Daf 32b continued

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 17

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Our past two shiurim have addressed the obligation to honor parents, teachers, the nasi and the king, and whether or not these people can forgo their honor. We continue this week with the Gemara's discussion of honoring "elders." We are up to the two dots on 32b.

The rabbis taught: "'In the presence of an old person you shall rise;'

one might [think] even a guilty old person?

[Scripture] teaches: 'an elder,'


and an elder means only a scholar,

as it states: 'Gather me seventy men of the elders of Israel.'"

Rabbi Yosei the Galilean says: "An elder is only one who has acquired wisdom,

as it states: 'God has created me at the beginning of His course.'

ת"ר (תנו רבנן): מפני שיבה תקום -

יכול אפילו מפני זקן אשמאי?

ת"ל (תלמוד לומר): זקן,

ואין זקן אלא חכם,

שנאמר: אספה לי שבעים איש מזקני ישראל.

רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר: אין זקן אלא מי שקנה חכמה,

שנאמר: ה' קנני ראשית דרכו.   

The gemara begins with a beraita that quotes a verse from Vayikra (19:32): "You shall rise in the presence of an old person and you shall honor the presence of an elder and you shall fear your God - I am God." This verse is the source of the obligation to honor elders, and its directive in this respect can be clearly divided into two halves: 1) "You shall rise in the presence of an old person (seiva, literally: old age)." 2) "You shall honor the presence of an elder (zaken)." The beraita learns from this double expression: If the verse had referred simply to "an old person" one might have thought that one must rise in honor of any old person, even if he is "ashmai." I have translated the word ashmai as "guilty," which is how Rashi (s.v. zaken ashmai) understands the word, meaning that the older person is a rasha, an evildoer. Tosafot (s.v. zaken ashmai), however, argue that we could never have thought that one must honor evildoers, and therefore understand the word to mean "empty." It would thus refer not to an evildoer but to an ignoramus, someone who is uncouth and unlearned, and as such is not deserving of respect. 

In any event, the beraita notes that we could have thought that the Torah requires us to honor even old people whose lives do not appear to have earned them any honor at all. However, the second half of the command teaches us that this is not the case. There, the pasuk uses the word zaken. This word connotes someone who is a scholar. As a proof to this assertion, the beraita cites the verse in Bamidbar (11:16), in which God commands Moshe to gather seventy of the zekeinim (plural of zaken) of Israel so that they can share the mantle of leadership with Moshe, thus lightening his load. In this context, the word zaken is clearly being used with regard to people who have acquired wisdom. Thus, the command to honor elders should also be understood as referring to people who have acquired wisdom and not to those under the category of zaken ashmai.

The beraita continues by quoting Rabbi Yosei the Galilean, who also asserts that the term zaken refers to someone who has acquired wisdom. His proof is from Mishlei (8:22), where "wisdom" is presented as saying that "God created me (kanani) at the beginning of His course." We see that the term kana is used (the last syllable is a grammatical suffix) regarding wisdom. Thus, the term zaken can be understood as a combination of the words zeh kana, "this one has acquired wisdom." The gemara will question what the practical difference is between the first opinion cited in the beraita (the tanna kamma) and Rabbi Yosei's opinion. 

Let us continue with the beraita's explication of the verse from Vayikra.

"One might think that one must stand before him from a far place?

[Scripture] teaches: 'You shall rise and you shall give honor;' I have only said stand in a place where there is honor.

One might think one must honor him with money?

[Scripture] teaches: 'You shall riseand you shall give honor;' just as standing does not entail loss of money,

even giving honor that does not entail loss of money.

One might think he should stand before him in a bathroom and in a bathhouse?

[Scripture] teaches: 'You shall rise and you shall give honor;' I have only said stand in a place where there is honor.

יכול יעמוד מפניו ממקום רחוק?

ת"ל: תקום והדרת; לא אמרתי קימה אלא במקום שיש הידור.

יכול יהדרנו בממון?

ת"ל: תקום והדרת, מה קימה שאין בה חסרון כיס,

אף הידור שאין בו חסרון כיס.

יכול יעמוד מפניו מבית הכסא ומבית המרחץ?

ת"ל: תקום והדרת, לא אמרתי קימה אלא במקום שיש הידור.

The beraita here continues with a series of derashot (derivations) based on the juxtaposition of the words takum (you shall stand) and ve-hadarta (you shall honor). The directives to stand and honor are understood to be interdependent. Standing for someone who is far away does not accord him honor, because it is not clear that you are rising because of him; therefore, one need not rise at all until the elder is in close proximity (within four cubits, which is approximately six and a half feet). Similarly, one need not rise in honor of an elder in the bathroom or bathhouse; these are places devoid of honor, and therefore the obligation to stand also does not apply.

The connection between standing and giving honor goes in the other direction as well: One might have thought that the command to "honor" may include monetary obligations. Since standing does not cost any money, we can infer that the required "honor" also does not require one to spend money.

Let us continue with the conclusion of our beraita:

"One might think he can close his eyes like one who did not see him?

[Scripture] teaches: 'You shall rise and you shall fear;'

it is stated of something given to the heart, "And you shall fear from your God."

Rabbi Shimon son of Elazar says: "From where that an elder should not trouble [others to stand for him]?

[Scripture] teaches: 'An elder and you shall fear.'

Isi son of Yehuda says: You shall rise in the presence of an old person' - even all old people are implied."

יכול יעצים עיניו כמי שלא ראהו?

ת"ל: תקום ויראת;

דבר המסור ללב נאמר בו ויראת מאלהיך.

רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר: מנין לזקן שלא יטריח?

ת"ל: זקן ויראת. 

איסי בן יהודה אומר: מפני שיבה תקום - אפילו כל שיבה במשמע.

The beraita continues here by discussing the relevance of the concluding phrase of the pasuk, which exhorts us to fear God. The verse emphasizes that requirement here because this is an area in which it may not be externally recognizable whether or not one is fulfilling the command. One may try to avoid having to stand by closing his eyes or looking away as the elder approaches so as to make it appear as though he does not notice that the elder is drawing near. The pasuk therefore reminds us to fear God; He certainly knows what is in our hearts, and whether or not we are fulfilling our obligations. 

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar derives a different law from the juxtaposition of the word zaken with the command to fear God: the zaken himself must be afraid, meaning that he should be afraid of unnecessarily inconveniencing the general populace. Thus, if he can enter a room in a way which will not cause everyone to have to stand, he should do so.

Finally, the beraita quotes the opinion of Isi ben Yehuda, who argues that all old people are included in the pasuk's command to stand in honor of old people. His opinion apparently disputes the assertion of the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yosei, who argued that one must stand only for an old person who has acquired wisdom.

Let us see the beginning of the gemara's discussion about our beraita before we engage in our own analysis. We are on the third to last medium sized line on 32b.

Rabbi Yosei the Galilean is the same as the first tanna!

There is between them a youthful scholar:

the first tanna holds that a youthful scholar [one does] not [have to honor],

Rabbi Yosei the Galilean holds that even a youthful scholar [one must honor].

רבי יוסי הגלילי היינו תנא קמא!

איכא בינייהו יניק וחכים,

ת"ק סבר: יניק וחכים לא,

רבי יוסי הגלילי סבר: אפילו יניק וחכים.  

The gemara questions why the beraita found it necessary to mention Rabbi Yosei's statement at all: seemingly, he agrees with the tanna kamma that only an old person who has acquired wisdom is worthy of honor! The gemara answers that the difference between them is with regard to a case of a youthful scholar. The tanna kamma holds that one does not have to honor a youthful scholar, while Rabbi Yosei argues that even a youthful scholar is worthy of honor.

In the final analysis, we are left with three opinions that are quoted in the beraita:

1) The tanna kamma rules that one must rise in honor only for an older person who has acquired wisdom.

2) Rabbi Yosei holds that one must also rise for a youthful scholar.

3) Isi ben Yehuda argues that one must rise as a sign of respect even for an old person who has not acquired wisdom.

There is a dispute among the commentaries as to the full opinion of Isi ben Yehuda. The tanna kamma apparently holds that in order to be worthy of respect, one must be both old and wise. Rabbi Yosei argues that wisdom itself is enough to earn honor. What is Isi ben Yehuda's view? Does he consider wisdom to be irrelevant in this discussion or hold that either old age and wisdom are enough to earn someone honor? What would he hold about the youthful scholar?

Rashi (s.v. I salka da'atach) seemingly understands that dispute between Rabbi Yosei and Isi ben Yehuda as a relatively minimal one: Isi ben Yehuda agrees that a youthful scholar must be honored, and simply adds that an old person should be honored as well, even if he has not acquired wisdom. Thus, according to Rashi, Isi ben Yehuda asserts that both old age and wisdom are enough to earn respect.

Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi disagrees. Commonly known as the Rif, this 11th-century North African scholar wrote a work in which he complied all the selections of the Gemara which he felt were relevant with regard to practical Halakha; his work on each tractate is published at the back of standard editions of the Talmud. In his view, Isi ben Yehuda holds that the only relevant factor is old age; an old person must be honored even if he has not acquired wisdom, while a youthful scholar need not be honored at all.

The gemara (33a) rules in accordance with Isi ben Yehuda, and therefore the parameters of his opinion, disputed by Rashi and the Rif, have halakhic ramifications. An old person must be honored even if he has not acquired wisdom; must we honor youthful scholars as well? Rashi argues that Isi ben Yehuda would require one to honor even a youthful scholar, while the Rif would seem to disagree. Practically, we assume that a youthful scholar is deserving of honor, as Rashi rules.

What is the source of respect due to elders according to Isi ben Yehuda as explained by Rashi and according to the opinion of the Rif?

The dispute between these commentators may reflect as well a difference of opinion with regard to the source of the honor due a zaken. According to the Rif, it seems quite clear that old age makes one worthy of honor by itself, as he holds that this is the only criterion for honor according to Isi ben Yehuda. Perhaps he would reason that if God has had mercy on the person and granted him long life, we too should grant him respect. Alternatively, long life necessarily implies that a person has been through a lot, and we should have respect for someone who has made it through the many challenges of life.

According to Rashi, we have two approaches to understanding Isi ben Yehuda:

1) Old age and wisdom are each, inherently, significant enough achievements to make one worthy of honor.

2) In reality, the only criterion is wisdom. Hence, a youthful scholar is deserving of respect. However, there are different types of wisdom. A youthful scholar has acquired wisdom through his learning, but an old person has acquired wisdom through his life experiences, regardless of his level of formal education. This type of wisdom, too, makes one deserving of respect. This seems to be the opinion of the Sefer Ha-chinukh (Mitzva 257).