SALT - Monday, 19 Tammuz 5778 - July 2, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            As we have seen in our last two installments, the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Batra (119b), amidst its discussion of the story of Tzelofchad’s daughters presenting their request to Moshe, addresses the manner in which this question was posed.  One view maintains that the women first brought their question to lower-level scholars, and only later, after these scholars could not answer the question, they approached Moshe.  According to the other view, Moshe and the other scholars were sitting together, and the five women posed the question to everyone assembled.  The Gemara explained that the first view did not accept this possibility because it is disrespectful to accord a rabbi’s disciples honor in his presence, which Tzelofchad’s daughters would have done had they presented their question to everyone together.  In its conclusion, the Gemara establishes that if a rabbi has expressed a desire to give honor to his disciples, then it is permissible to show his disciples honor in his presence, as this in effect gives honor to the rabbi.
            The Chida, in his Birkei Yosef (Y.D. 244:1), references the Gemara’s conclusion amidst his discussion of the question of whether one should rise from this seat during prayers in the synagogue if a Torah scholar enters the room.  He cites a responsum from a certain scholar whom he does not name, claiming that one should not interrupt prayers in order to give honor to a Torah scholar, as it is disrespectful to compromise the honor of the Almighty in order to give honor to a mortal human being.  This unnamed scholar points to the example of Yaakov, who, as Rashi (Bereishit 46:29) cites from the Midrash, did not kiss Yosef at the time of their reunion after over twenty years of separation, because he was reciting Shema at that moment.  Yaakov refused to interrupt his recitation of Shema to show respect and affection to Yosef, seemingly proving that it is inappropriate to disrupt one’s prayers for the sake of showing respect to a human being, even to a prominent and distinguished individual.
            The Chida strongly disputes this position, pointing to, among other sources, the Gemara’s aforementioned conclusion in Masekhet Bava Batra.  The Gemara explicitly establishes that if a teacher accords honor to his students, then others may accord honor to his students in his presence, because this gives the teacher gratification.  Therefore, once God commanded us in the Torah to give honor to Torah scholars, He clearly expressed interest in according honor to His “students,” and thus it is certainly appropriate to accord honor to a scholar even in God’s “presence,” so-to-speak – meaning, during prayer.  As for Yaakov’s delaying his display of affection for his son while reciting Shema, the Chida contends that Chazal likely meant that Yaakov was reciting the first verse of Shema, a recitation which requires special concentration and during which no interruptions are allowed.  At other points of the prayer service, however, rising in honor of a scholar is appropriate.  In fact, as the Chida adds, the Mishna in Masekhet Berakhot (2:1) famously allows greeting somebody whom one respects during certain points of Shema and its blessings (though the precise details are subject to debate).  The Chida also cites a hand-written responsum of the Radbaz ruling explicitly that the requirement to stand in honor of a Torah scholar applies even in the synagogue.
            Similarly, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld is cited as responding to this question by noting that just as God commanded us to read the Shema and recite the prayers, He also commanded us to show honor to Torah scholars.  Therefore, there is no infringement whatsoever on God’s honor by standing out of respect for a Torah sage in the synagogue during prayers.  This is also the ruling of Rav Ovadya Yosef.