Sunday, February 14, 2010

Standing Up For The Elderly

I was at a wedding recently and the gentleman sitting next to me at the chupah complained that people stood up for every rabbi who was called up to the chupah but not for the elderly laymen. They also didn't stand when old people walked down the aisle. My neighbor said: "Who knows if that rabbi is a talmid chakham but there is a mitzvah in the Torah to stand for the old man." I was in a contrarian mood so I said that I'm not sure there is a mitzvah to stand up for any of them. Why not?

Click here to read moreThe Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 244:2, 9) rules that you are obligated to stand for an old man or a Torah scholar when he walks within four cubits of you until he passes. For your own teacher, however, you must stand when he enters the room (or eyeshot) and remain standing until he leaves or sits down. This is all straight out of the Gemara (Kiddushin 33a-b).

Why, therefore, is there any need to stand up for a rabbi or an old man who is in the room with you just because he goes up to the front? This is especially so for a rabbi who is not your teacher when he doesn't enter your four cubits. Quite the opposite, it is possible to say that the chupah has the status of a different room, so the rabbi or old man is leaving the room in which you are. The obligation is to stand when he enters!

This is also true when a rabbi is called to speak in front of an audience. Why do you have to stand up for him?

When elderly people walk down the aisle, then if you are sitting near the aisle you must stand when they come within four cubits of you. But those sitting farther away do not need to stand.

I can think of two reasons to stand when a rabbi or old man goes up to the front:

  1. This has become the custom and therefore is a legitimate form of showing honor to someone. Once it becomes the custom, it is required -- I guess, but I'm not quite sure.

  2. The Gemara (Kiddushin 33a) learns the rule of four cubits because you have to stand up for the scholar or old man in a way that shows respect for him. Rashi (sv. she-yesh) explains that when you stand up for him when he comes near you, it is obvious that you are standing up for him. Perhaps we can say that it is also obvious when you stand up for him as he goes to the front of the room. While that is true, it seems methodologically questionable to advance an alternative to the Talmud's derivation, which might have been an attempt to support a tradition rather than derive a new rule.
In the end, I just do the same as everyone else in my community on these issues. While I suspect that there is no need to, this is something that requires a rulling from a prominent halakhic authority. Please let me know if you know of any discussions of this issue.

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