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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

6. Similarly, he should not take off his *Tefillin* (phylacteries) in front of his teacher. He should not recline in his presence, rather he should sit as one who sits before a king.

He should not pray in front of his teacher, in back of his teacher or on the side of his teacher – and it is obvious that he should not walk next to his teacher. Rather, he should distance himself in back of his teacher, not directly behind him and then pray.

He should not go in to a bathhouse with his teacher. He should not sit in his teacher’s place. He should not *Makhria’* (see Q3) his words in his presence, nor should he contradict his words.

One should not sit in his presence until he says: “Sit”. He should not before him until he says to him: “Stand” or until he receives permission to stand.

When he leaves his teacher, he should not turn his back to him, rather he should walk backwards while facing him.

Q1: Why is taking off *Tefillin* a sign of disrespect (or is it?)?

YE: The source for this Halakha is BT Sanhedrin 101b (referring to taking off *Tefillin* in front of the king as a sign of defiance). Rashi explains that “it is improper to be bare-headed in front of the king.” (When taking off the head *Tefillin*, the head is invariably bared – at least partially). The Gemara in Kiddushin (29b) records an incident where a student appeared before his teacher bare-headed – and the Vilna Ga’on (Bi’ur haGra, Orach Hayyim 8) infers from here that covering one’s head when standing before sages and teachers is a Halakhic requirement, unlike wearing a head-covering all the time, which is purely a matter of custom. So it seems that the problem of taking off Tefillin in front of the teacher is the disrespect implicit in baring the head in his presence.

Q2: Why the emphasis on where he prays relative to his teacher?

YE: The source of this Halakha is BT Berakhot 27a-b: “A student should never pray , not *k’neged* (either “in front of” or “next to”) his teacher and not in back of his teacher.” Rashi explains that *k’neged* means “next to” – and that “he demonstrates as if they are equals”. As far as praying in back of his teacher, Rashi explains that the problem is also one of “arrogance” – although he doesn’t explain. Tosafot quotes that opinion -and adds another possible explanation – “it looks as if he is bowing (praying) to his teacher.” (see above, response to Q4 on Halakha 5, above). Rabbenu Yona adds another option – that, by praying in back of his teacher, he may prevent his teacher from taking the mandatory three steps backward at the end of the prayer- until the student has completed his own prayer. (When we study Hilkhot Tefilla, this issue will be discussed in detail, with God’s help).

There is an added phrase in the Rif’s manuscript (Rif = R. Yitzchak Alfasi, 11th cen., Morocco) – “A student should never pray , not in front of his teacher, not in back of his teacher and not *k’neged” his teacher.” Apparently, R preferred this manuscript – and interpreted *k’neged* as “next to”.

Putting all three issues together, we can explain as follows: A person should not pray in front of his teacher – that is arrogant, putting his teacher in back of him. (Or, alternatively, it may mean “facing” his teacher – where we employ Tosafot’s argument – that it looks as if he is “worshipping” his teacher). A person should not pray next to his teacher – for that demonstrates an “equality” which is disrespectful. A person should not pray in back of his teacher – for one of the three reasons listed (arrogance, appearance of “teacher-worship” or preventing the teacher from taking the mandatory steps backward until the student completes his own prayer.)

Q3: The word *Makhria’* might be understood as “favor” – as in argue in favor of his teacher’s position; it might also be understood as “side against” – as in presenting argument against his teacher’s position. (Teshuvot [Responsa of] Rambam 264). Which is it?

YE: From the context, it seems as if *Makhria’* should mean “to support” – i.e., not only contradicting his teacher is inappropriate, but also supporting his teacher in an argument smacks of disrespect, as if to say “my teacher needs my help”. This understanding would have a source in the Torah (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 25:11-12), where the woman who intervenes to save her husband in a fight is punished for the shame she brings upon him. The reason that this is most likely from context is because the next prohibition listed is “contradicting”. On the other hand, R himself, in the responsum cited, explains the prohibition of *Makhria’ et d’varav* as providing arguments against the teacher’s position. This would explain the slight variation – in the case of *Makhria’*, R adds the word *B’fanav* – in front of the teacher. The Halakha then lays out as follows: in the teacher’s presence, the student should not present arguments (to the teacher) against the teacher’s position; whereas away from the teacher, he should not contradict his teacher’s words.

One of our Haverim, Frank Jackson , asked: – Q3a: What is a pupil to do, or not to do, if he is sure that his teacher is wrong?

YE: An excellent question. It somewhat depends on the nature of “wrong”. If the teacher is misquoting or corrupting a text, that’s one circumstance. In that case, the student may (or probably must) find some way to point out the mistake – but probably in private (unless it will lead to a public misunderstanding which may have irreversible consequences). If, on the other hand, the “wrong” is in a varied interpretation, application etc. of given premises – that is a different can of beans. In that case, the student could judiciously and respectfully raise the objectionable points of his argument (even in front of others) – but he should be prepared to find that his teacher has already thought of those sources and has reasons to understand them differently. By the way, you will find in Halakha 9 that we are not discussing any teacher, rather *Rabo Muvhak* – the teacher who is the source of the majority of the student’s wisdom. It may even happen that someone has a *Rebbe Muvhak* at one age, and then “moves” to another as he grows older and progresses.

Q4: Why so much “protocol” – sitting, standing, walking backwards?

YE: The source for this Halakha is in BT Yoma 53a: (commenting on the Mishna [52b] which states that the Kohen Gadol would leave facing the same direction in which he entered – )”…similarly, Kohanim at their worship, Levi’im at their singing (or “on their platforms”) and Yisrael at their observations (*Ma’amad*) – when they depart, they would not turn their faces away and walk, rather, walk sideways – similarly, a student who departs the presence of his teacher should not turn his face away and walk, rather he should turn sideways and walk…” (See MT Beit HaBechira 7:4). This fits very nicely with Sandy’s response to Q2 on Halakha 7, below.

Additional Questions

SR (Sandy Riemer ): –

Q4: Does not the Talmud have several instances of students and their teachers meeting in the bathhouse and the Mikvah without any discussion as to whether or not this was an appropriate action?

Q5: What does this prohibition do to the “free swim time” at the Mikvah around the High Holy Days and on Shabbat morning for those with a Chasidic bent?

YE: The Gemara (BT Pesahim 51a) states: “A student should not bathe with his teacher – but if his teacher needs him [Rashi: to help him in the bath] it is permissible.” If there are instances of students and teachers meeting in a bathhouse, it may have been in that circumstance. (see Kessef Mishna on our Halakha, who explains that since R codified that a teacher may forgo the honor due him, it is forgiven, there was no need for R to mention here that a teacher may ask his student to accompany him into the bathhouse.)

By the way, there are several instances of students who, in other ways, violated the honor due their teachers (see BT Berakhot 62a) – in order to learn from their behavior in the most private and intimate situations. Although the teachers did not approve of this intrusion in any of these cases, they are recorded in a positive sense.

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