Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 5:5
5. It is forbidden for a student to refer to his teacher by name,
even while not in his presence. This is only the case if his name is
unusual, such that anyone hearing it would recognize that it is
him [the teacher]. He should not mention his [the teacher's]
name in his [the teacher's] presence - even to call others by his
teacher's name - just as he behaves regarding his father's name.
Rather, he should alter their names - even after their death.
He should not greet his teacher or respond to his greeting as
friends greet each other and respond. Rather, he should bow in
front of him and say, with awe and respect: *Shalom Alekha,
Rebbe* (Peace be upon you, my teacher). If his teacher greets
him, he should respond *Shalom Alekha Rabbi uMori* (Peace be upon
you, my teacher and master).
Q1: Why the emphasis on "reverence" for his teacher's name?
YE (Yitz Etshalom): See Sandy's comments
below. The model here, as in other Halakhot, seems to be
reverence for parents - and one expression of that reverence is
not calling father/mother by name, not calling others by name if
it is the same etc.
It may be that all of this is, as Sandy says, "representational
reverence"; or, it may be that our Rabbis understood that the
prohibitions against misusing God's Name(s), as explicated in the
Torah, reflect a model of earthly awe, based on distance. The
difference between these two explanations is essentially one of
starting point - is God the essential model, upon which
parent/teacher awe is based? Or is the parent/teacher the
starting point, upon which - and around which - the Torah builds
our relationship with God?
Q2: Why the distinction between being in front of his teacher
or away from him (in front of him, we may not even call someone
else by name if his name is the same as teacher's - but away from
him, it is only referring to the teacher that is prohibited).
YE: Two possbilities: a) it may be (mis)understood that we are
calling our teacher directly; (see RaDBaZ, MT Mamrim 6:3) b) it
may be a greater form of disrespect in his presence - as if that
name takes on special impact when the teacher is around.
There is something subtly instructive about the way this Halakha
is formulated. Although it seems to point to "God-like" worship
of the teacher, at the same time it draws on the inherent
distinction. In the case of God, everywhere is "in front of Him"
- unlike the teacher.
Q3: Does the qualifier of "unusual names" apply only to the
first clause - referring to the teacher - or does it apply to the
second clause - calling others by the same name in front of
teacher - as well?
YE: From another location in MT (Mamrim 6:3) it seems clear that
this clause applies to both cases.
By the way, the Halakha in Mamrim is phrased in an unusual way,
considering the phrasing in our Halakha (TT 5:5): (in the context
of honor/awe for parents)"...If his father's name, or his
teacher's name are the same as other people, he must alter their
[the other people's] name. It seems to me that one need not be
careful about this except in the case of a name which is unusual
that is not commonly used. However, names which are [commonly]
given to people, such as Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'akov, Moshe etc.
- in any language and at any time - he may call others [by these
names] not in his [father's - and teacher's?] presence..."
The formulation is strange in several ways. First of all, R
includes, seemingly without reason, the teacher. Secondly, R
shares his innovation, of the unusual name, in this place only -
but in our Halakha (TT 5:5), it is treated as a given. (see
Kessef Mishneh, TT 5:5 - he is not comfortable with R's
innovation of the "unusual name").
R may be introducing the entire notion in Hilkhot Mamrim (where
he codifies the Halakhot of children's obligations towards
parents) to teach us that the basic problem with referring to a
parent/teacher by name stems from honor/awe for parents, which is
extended - perhaps by *Qal vaHomer* logic - to teachers. R
already set up this *Qal vaHomer* in 5:1. Therefore, the proper
place to introduce it is in the discussion of honor/awe for
parents. At that point, in order to demonstrate that the
teacher's-name-issue is an expansion of the parent's-name-issue,
R includes "the teacher" in that Halakha.
Q4: Why bow to his teacher? Doesn't this (again - see posting
on 5:1) bring us to the danger of "teacher-worship"?
YE: Yes! That may be why the Gemara in Berakhot (27a-b) states
that one should not pray facing his teacher. Tosafot explains
that that would look as if you were bowing to your teacher.
Evidently, Tosafot's reasoning is that since a student has (and
must have) a high level of reverence for his teacher, if he bows
in the teacher's direction during prayer - that may look as if
the student was worshipping the teacher.
Q5: Why is there a set formula for the greeting and response to
YE: On one hand, the student may feel that it is inappropriate to
respond at all - speaking itself (certainly in some cultures) is
considered a sign of "excessive" familiarity. (See, for
instances, the studies on children from immigrant families who
are told by their American teachers "Look at me when I am talking
to you" when they are being chastised - and the same behavior at
home [looking at the parent, instead of down at the ground, when
being "yelled at"] gets them into more trouble for being
disrespectful. In some cultures, even today, "familiarity" is
considered disrespectful and a lack of the proper awe due parents
and teachers.) Conversely, the student is, after all, with his
teacher for many hours and in many day-to-day circumstances
(which is how the student would "pick up" his teacher's
characteristics etc.) - and may feel that a casual greeting is
acceptable - especially if his teacher initiated it. Therefore,
we have a median - yes, a response, but not casual, rather quite
formal and structured.
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