By Rabbi Daniel Travis
When Yaakov concluded his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet
the bed and breathed his last, and he was gathered to his people.
The previous essays explained that one is permitted to deviate from
factual integrity in order to preserve one’s humility. Since fleeing from
honor is a commendable trait, the question arises: how should a Rav deal
with the inflated titles that have become commonplace? Furthermore, is
there an element of falsehood in using a title which the recipient does
not really deserve?
Different rabbanim dealt with the excessive honor they were given, in
different ways. Rav Elyah Lopian often received correspondence containing
lengthy introductory titles praising him, yet he would always fold over
the top of the page before reading it, so that he would not see the titles
lavished upon him. The Chacham Tzvi, on the other hand, read every title
written to him, turning the experience into an opportunity to work on
improving himself, so that the praise people attributed to him would not
be altogether false.1
Although the title “Rav” has come to be used quite loosely in recent
times, Rav Elchanan Wasserman said in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that
only one who decides halachic matters, or a Rosh Yeshivah, should be
called “Rav.” Referring to anyone else as “Rav,” he said, is a violation
of the Torah’s injunction to distance oneself from sheker.
Rav Meir Feist zt”l took this ruling very seriously. For forty years he
woke up very early every morning to learn Gemara Chulin (which deals with
the laws of kashruth). When asked about this practice, he explained that
he was tested in this Gemara in order to receive his semichah (Rabbinical
ordination). The certificate he received stated that he was expert in
Gemara Chulin. Since there was no expiration date on the semichah
certificate, he reviewed the laws constantly so that his semichah would
not be false. 2
Today, we give the title “Rav” to many people who do not have any of the
qualifications mentioned above. How can we justify this custom? Rav Shlomo
Zalman Auerbach explained that nowadays the title “Rav” is no longer
reserved strictly for a posek or Rosh Yeshivah, and that this ruling is
dependent upon the custom of any given generation and community.3
Furthermore, people today recognize and accept the custom of applying
honorary titles loosely, and therefore the use of such titles is not
considered sheker.4 Still, although it is important to give Torah
scholars the respect they deserve, one should avoid giving lavish titles
to people who do not deserve them.
1. MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 149.
3. Cited in Titain Emeth L’Yaakov
4. Responsa Zacher Yosef, 70.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org