Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 5:9
9. A student who saw his teacher violating the words of the Torah
should say to him: "Our teacher, haven't you taught us such and
such?" Every time that he mentions a teaching in his presence, he
he should say: "Thus you have taught us, our teacher." He should
not mention anything which he did not hear from his teacher,
unless he mentions the source/author of the statement. When his
teacher dies, he should rend all of his garments until he reveals
his heart and he should never mend them. In what case does this
apply? To one's *Rebbe Muvhaq* - (outstanding teacher) - from
whom he learned most of his wisdom. However, if he did not learn
most of his wisdom from him, he is a colleague-student and he is
not obligated to honor him in any of these [above-mentioned]
ways. Nevertheless, he should stand up in his presence, rend his
garment at his [death] as he does for all of the deceased for
whom he mourns. Even if he only learned one thing from him,
whether a small or great matter, he should stand in his presence
and rend his garments at his [daeth].
Q1: Does the student "point out" the violation in front of
others, or just privately?
YE: From the classic examples in the second chapter of Mishnah
Berakhot (involving Rabban Gamliel), it seems pretty clear that
this type of "correction" was exclusively done in front of the
other students. Every example of "Our teacher, haven't you
taught us such and such?" that I found in both Talmuds was done
in front of other students. Perhaps this is not only the proper
method for "correction"; it also may be an educational experience
which should specifically occur in the presence of the students.
Q2: What if his teacher was _about_to_ violate the Torah; does
the student then speak "more sharply" to keep him from sinning?
YE: Certainly - if the student is allowed (even encouraged) to
"violate" the teacher's honor by stopping another from sinning in
the teacher's presence, it follows that the student should
certainly do whatever is necessary to prevent his own teacher
from violating the Torah. However, it is equally obvious that
the grerater extent that the student can accomplish this without
embarrassing his teacher, the better (and likely more
efficacious) this "rebuking" will be.
Q3: Why can't the student say something, not of his teacher's
teaching, without citing the source?
HH: So that the teacher will not be held responsible by default.
YE: Good point. See the Kessef Mishneh (on our Halakha) who
points out that anything the student says is assumed (by
listeners) to be a quote from his teacher - unless he cites
Q4: What is the reasoning behind the category of *Rabo Muvhaq*
HH: If one had to rend one's garments to shreds everytime any
teacher died, and never mend the garments, one would run out of
clothes very soon. (This reminds me of an argument in Berakhot
about tearing one's clothes in the face of blasphemy.)
YE: In addition, the teacher is compared to the parent (see TT
5:1 - see also BT Bava Metzia 33a) - and, in a unique piece of
homiletica, to God (BT Bava Kama 41b). In each case, there is a
unique member of the model set - either the parent (one mother,
one father - to whom the comparison is usually made - see our
discussion on TT 5:1) or God. It follows that only one teacher
can be classified as that special individual to whom we owe this
Q5: What is the exact parameter within which we measure "most
wisdom", such that one individual becomes *Rabo Muvhaq*?
YE: Although R does not specify here, in Hilkhot Gezela va'Aveda
12:2, he adds the following: "*Rabo Muvhaq* - from whom he
learned most of his _Torah_ wisdom.
The source of this definition is the Tosefta in Horayot 2:5:
"What is *Rabo*? His teacher who taught him Torah, not his
teacher who taught him a trade. Which one is this? The one who
taught him first (or: opened him up (to learning) first); R. Meir
says: *Rabo* who taught him wisdom and not *Rabo* who taught him
Torah (!); R. Yehuda says: anyone from whom the majority of his
*Talmud* (study) comes; R. Yossi says: Whoever enlightened him in
his Mishna-study." (This Tosefta is quoted, with slight
variations, in the central *sugya* dealing with *Rabo Muvhaq* -
BT Bava Metzia' 33a). The Gemara in Bava Metzia 33a accepts R.
Yehuda's opinion, which is reflected in R's ruling(s).
Q6: What about an auto-didact? Is it a given that everyone has
a *Rebbe Muvhaq* - or is it possible, even to be a great scholar,
without having one?
YE: Although we are commanded/advised (Avot 1:6) to get a
teacher, there doesn't seem to be anything inherently invalid
about self-teaching. Although in the times of the Talmud this
would be virtually impossible, because of the ban against writing
down the oral law, in our days, all of the classical works of
Jewish law are available in print. Nevertheless, it is clear
that there is still an "oral" tradition which cannot be gained
from the detached written word alone - this includes "how to
read" a text, how to balance various concerns within the Halakhic
A comment on the ban against writing down the oral tradition (BT
Gittin 60b). R. Eliezer Berkovitz zt"l gave a beautiful
explanation (I believe that it is found in his "Not In Heaven" -
very worthwhile reading). Since the nature of the written word
is to become static and unyielding - and since the Torah is
ideally a living, breathing, interactive system which is
constantly reflecting the interchange between underlying concepts
which are eternal and changing realities which those concepts
must address - therefore this tradition was to remain unwritten
and, thus, unstatic. Another possible explanation which is also
borne out by today's reality - by not writing down the tradition,
a dependence upon teachers and, thereby, upon tradition, remained
part of the learning process. It is impossible to learn without
a teacher if he is the only source of knowledge. This dependence
creates an almost inescapable reliance on tradition, which
insures that the academic enterprise of learning does not eclipse
and pervert the ultimate goals and principles of Torah.
Q7: According to this Halakha, if I hear of the death of anyone
who taught me anything at any point in my life, am I obligated to
"tear *Q'ria'* (rend my garments) out of grief for his death?
This is certainly not the common custom.
YE: Not exactly. The one added stipulation is that this person
is indeed a *Hakham* - a sage. In that case, even if you only
learned one lesson from him, you would still tear *Qeria'* upon
learning of his death - but not the intense *Qeria'* reserved for
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