Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Who's Your Rebbe?

I. Who Is Your Rebbe?

The Gemara (Bava Metzi'a 33a) quotes a debate over who qualifies as your rebbe (in the sense of mentor) for various relevant laws, which include rising when he enters a room, tearing your shirt upon hearing of his death, returning his lost items before your father's, leaning during the Passover seder in his presence and issuing an halakhic ruling in his presence or publicly disagreeing with him.

According to R. Meir, it is someone who taught you wisdom rather than Bible and Mishnah, meaning your Gemara teacher who explained how to resolve contradictory passages in the Mishnah (Rashi). According to R. Yehudah, it is the person from whom you learned the majority of your Torah knowledge, regardless of which type of material (Bible, Mishnah, Gemara). According to R. Yossi, anyone who taught you anything, even a single Mishnah, is considered your mentor.

Click here to read moreII. Differences

It seems that R. Yehudah assumes that you can only have one rebbe while both R. Meir and R. Yossi accept that you can have more than one. It is, therefore, noteworthy that R. Yehudah and R. Meir disagree on the subjects that he must teach you in order to be a rebbe. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19a-b) strongly recommends learning texts from only one teacher but learning methods of analyzing multiple texts from more than one teacher.

Therefore, if a rebbe must be someone who taught you to analyze texts, and we accept the advice from Avodah Zarah 19a-b that you should learn this skill from more than one person, then either you have more than one rebbe or your rebbe has to teach you other subjects as well. R. Yehudah chooses the latter -- you can have only one rebbe but he can teach you other subjects. R. Meir chooses the former -- you can have more than one rebbe but he must teach you to analyze texts.

R. Yossi accepts that you can have more than one rebbe but, similar to the anonymous passage in Avos 6:3, considers almost every scholar you come across to be your rebbe.

III. In Practice

Which position do we follow? The Gemara (Bava Metzi'a 33a) seems to split the decision. It cites the practice of the scholars in Bavel who, regarding rising and tearing, follow R. Yossi (almost everyone is a rebbe) and, regarding returning lost objects, follow R. Yehudah (only one rebbe, who taught you most of what you know). However, it is not clear that this is the normative position.

  1. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 472:5) rules that you do not lean at a seder in the presence of any rebbe of yours, even if he is not the rebbe who taught you most of your knowledge.

  2. Regarding issuing an halakhic ruling, the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 242:4, 30) rules that this only applies to your rebbe who taught you most of your knowledge.

  3. You have to rise uniquely for the rebbe who taught you most of your knowledge (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 244:9).

  4. The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De'ah 340:8) rules that you tear your clothes (permanently) for your rebbe who taught you most of your knowledge, but the Rema mentions a custom that this is for a rebbe who taught you anything but does not recommend it.

  5. Regarding returning lost items, the Shulchan Arukh (Choshen Mishpat 264:2) rules that this only applies to your rebbe who taught you most of your knowledge.
In other words, we follow R. Yehudah's definition that you can only have one rebbe except regarding leaning at a seder.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More