Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 4:7
7. One shouldn't ask a question while standing, and one
shouldn't answer while standing. One shouldn't ask from a high
place, from a distance or from behind the elders. One may ask the
teacher questions only on the topic which he is teaching. One
should ask with an attitude of reverence and a person should ask
concerning only three Halakhot while studying one topics.
Q1: Why must we be seated when asking and responding? How was
this dealt with when Torah study was done standing up? (see 4:2
and the Yahrzeit shiur posting on that section.)
YE: See answer c) to Q1 above. This may explain the two
presentations of this idea,as follows: In the previous Halakha, R
was dealing with the concern that all members of the session be
settled in and focussed before asking; in this Halakha, R is
addressing the concern that asking and answering are part and
parcel of TT and therefore, just as the teacher and students must
both be sitting when studying (see 4:2), similarly, that is the
rule for asking and responding. That is why, in this Halakha, R
adds (from the Tosefta) - "Éfrom a high place, from a distance
or from behind the elders" - here, the emphasis is on the teacher
and student being in proximity of each other as asking and
responding are part of the shared process of inquiry and
Rema (YD 246:13) cites authorities who opine that questions must
be asked while standing. The source for this is Tosafot (Bekhorot
36a s.v. Amad) who quotes from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim
10:8). The Yerushalmi rules that not only must a litigant stand
in front of the judges, a questioner must also stand when asking
a question. Standing is an extension of the Beit-Din format;
according to the theory presented in the Yahrzeit shiur, now that
TT is further removed from *hora'ah* (halakhic instruction), we
understand why R codifies that we sit. See Shach (YD 246) who
seems to understand R in a similar fashion.
As noted below, most of the rulings in these Halakhot come from
the Tosefta (Sanhedrin 7:7); the context there is a session of
the *Beit-Din* - (court). To the extent that the Beit-din model
reflects the connection between questioners and respondents
(facing each other, not being far away) - that model is retained
in post-2nd Temple TT.
Q2: How is the phrase "one may ask the teacher..." different than
the phrase in Halakha 6: "The teacher should not be asked a
question on a subject which is different [from the one which he
YE: The first Halakha is oriented towards the appropriate way to
conduct oneself in order not to embarrass anyone and to make sure
that questions are relevant etc.; these ideas are probably
transferrable to other disciplines and situations; the second
Halakha is pointed at TT specifically. One of the Halakhot of TT
is "joint-process" - hence we all sit; another one is "focus" -
therefore, the questions must be on the topic we are studying.
Q3: Why the limit of three Halakhot?
HH (H.H.): So that other
students will have the opportunity to ask questions themselves.
YE: Also to allow the course of study to continue and not be
terminally waylaid by questions.
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