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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

2. What is “challenging the authority of your teacher” [referred to in Halakha 1] ? This is someone who establishes a *Beit Midrash* (House of study) where he sits, expounds and teaches without the permission of his teacher – if his teacher is still alive – even though his teacher is in another country. It is forbidden to give [Halakhic] instruction in the presence of one’s teacher at any time. Anyone who renders instruction in the presence of his teacher is worthy of death.

Q1: Why is teaching – and establishing a school -considered the paradigmatic form of “challenge”?

JB (Jay Bailey ): It pretty much indicates that you believe your own “brand” of teaching is in some way superior to the method/quality of your teacher. Otherwise, why start your own school? If the teacher were overwhelmed, he would _give permission_ to open another school. But R’s use of the phrase “Shelo Birshut Rabbo” – without the permission of his teacher – indicates that there is obviously some friction and that the student has decided he can do better. Personally, I have a problem with this. I have unfortunately met many bad teachers, and while it is important to nonethless respect them in the room, it should be an option to leave the nest, so to speak. I wonder why R was SO restrictive, or whether he really assumed that when it comes to passing down learning, as the previous generation is automatically superior. YE (Yitz Etshalom ): While I agree with Jay’s assessment here, I would like to “defend” this *p’sak* (Halakhic decision). Unlike the material in Chapter 2, Chapters 4&5 seem to be relating not to the school-situation where you may be stuck with a poor teacher (and, truth to tell, many people employed as teachers fit that description). The “teacher” may be impatient, insecure about his/her own knowledge, unorganized, unempathetic, apathetic, unable to convey concepts or just a poor role model. While that certainly applies to the “school-house” situation of Chapter 2 – which is why any teacher may open up his own schoolhouse, even next door to another one (TT 2:7) – it is not relevant here. Our Chapters are referring to adult students, who have followed the Rabbinic dictum *Aseh lekha rav* – “Make (or find) a teacher for yourself.” As that relationship develops, the student will either continue to grow in his discipleship – or leave for another teacher. These things happen all the time. Once the student and teacher have had this relationship long enough, such that the other Halakhot in this chapter would apply (see Halakha 9), then setting up a separate school, without the permission of the teacher, would be considered a “challenge”.

Q2: Why is this prohibition in place even if his teacher is in another country?

JB: Because it conveys the same message. Additionally, it means that (in R’s day, at least) the student could not consult easily with his Rebbe, meaning that he’s REALLY confident in his own skills. It also means he feels he has nothing else to LEARN, which he can’t do from so far away.

-Q3: When is setting up a *Beit Midrash* permitted and instruction still prohibited (as is alluded to by R when he says *L’olam* – at any time)?

JB: It’s not. What I think R means by L’Olam is that even if the teacher gives permission to teach (either with another Beit Midrash or just “on the fly”), it should not be done right in front of the teacher. Why? Possibly because people may not realize that permission was given and think that the rebbe is being superceded. More simply, a student who teaches or answers questions without deferring, even if he has permission, is in doing so telling the world that his words are enough. The L’Olam is just to compare it to the phrase before that differentiated between whether the teahcer is around or not. When it comes to him being right there, uh uh. YE: But, Jay, it IS different. R’s language clearly distinguishes between *hora’ah* (instruction) and *Midrash* (teaching/expounding). In the next Halakha, R goes into details about the distance beyond which hora’ah is permitted, and extenuating circumstances relating to that – but not about Midrash. I think that the difference is that the real “honor” issue – of dishonoring a teacher – comes down to “honoring his word” – i.e. his decision. The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (7a) presents a prohibition against asking a scholar a hora’ah-type question (practical and immediate) once you have asked and received an answer from another scholar. The minute you asked scholar #1 and he answered, it is an impingement on his honor to ask someone else – bringing the realibility of his word and decision into question. This is not so with Midrash-type teaching. I think that you alluded to this in your answer below. -Q4: Why is *hora’ah* (Halakhic instruction) more severe than setting up a Beit Midrash?

JB: First of all, we have to realize that this statement is not his alone, it is taken from Gemara Eruvin,63a. But to answer the question, I can only assume that R looked at establishing a new school as SOME form of tribute to the rebbe – the student wants to spread the Torah he has learned. Even if done wothout permission, there’s a kernel of positivity to it. After all, you could not be setting up a school if not for what you learned. But to simply jump in front of one’s rebbe, to ignore his learning and to answer questions without deferring or consulting him, that simply means that when given the choice, you choose your voice over his. That’s no sign of respect no matter how you look at it. It’s not as if you are saying “he’s taught me so well that I can do this,” because after all — and this is the crux of it all — this is not about a performance, it’s about giving the best possible psak. And your rebbe simply has more learning than you. Denying that is… lethal!

Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.