Monday, May 14, 2012

Calling Former Teachers by Name

Note to fellow members of the blogosphere: If anyone was wondering why I haven’t been terribly active lately, it’s because I have been busy with something that will be occupying most of my time until mid-June. Until then however, comments and suggestions for future posts are still welcome (of course). Anyway.

A recent Hirhurim post noted the following:

You must also respect someone who taught you a little Torah–even just one word. However, the respect you must show him is less than what you must show your mentor (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:30). The Sedei Chemed (Ma’arekhes Khaf, no. 104) quotes the Tzapichis Bi-Dvash who argues that you may call such a teacher by name, without a title, while the Tzelach (Berakhos 4a sv. va-ani) holds you must use a title although you need not call him just “rebbe.” The Tiferes Yisrael (Avos 6:3 no. 50) also contends that you are obligated to call him by a title.[1]

As I have not had the opportunity to look up the Tzelach or the Tiferes Yisrael, I do not know what their position is based in. However, I believe there is a clear Tosafos from which we can easily infer the position held by the Tzapichis Bi-Dvash, that no special title is necessary when addressing a teacher who is not one’s mentor.

The Gemara discusses a particular opinion of R. Hiyya which he changed in his later years. The Gemara is trying to ascertain exactly what he held later on, and to this end cites a baraisa which records a dialogue between him and Rebbi (R. Judah the Prince) Keep in mind that the technical aspects of the dialogue are not relevant to our discussion; all we are looking at is the way they address each other. Here’s the baraisa:

בדקה בעד שאינו בדוק לה והניחתו בקופסא ולמחר מצאה עליו דם רבי אומר טמאה משום נדה ורבי חייא אמר טמאה משום כתם אמר לו ר' חייא אי אתה מודה שצריכה כגריס ועוד א"ל אבל אמר לו א"כ אף אתה עשיתו כתם.

If she checked with a cloth that was not checked prior [to know whether or not it was clean], and she then placed it into a box, and the following day she found blood on it, Rebbi says she is temei’ah because of Niddah. R. Hiyya said temei’ah only because of stains. Said R. Hiyya to Rebbi: Do you not admit that the stain has to be greater than the size of a gris? Rebbi answered: Yes. R. Hiyya said: If so, you must also consider it only a stain![2]

As I said earlier, the Gemara is somehow trying to prove from this baraisa what R. Hiyya held in his later years. Ignoring the technicalities of the dialogue, the simple question is, how exactly do we know that it took place during R. Hiyya’s later years?

Rashi provides a simple explanation. He writes that since Rebbi was R’ Hiyya’s mentor, it is not reasonable to assume that R. Hiyya would have openly disputed him when he was still young. Therefore we can assume that the dialogue in this baraisa took place later on in R. Hiyya’s life. Tosafos, however, is not satisfied with this answer. (s.v. Mai):

פרש"י מדפליג על רבי ואין נראה דמצינו הרבה תלמידים שחולקים על רבם בילדותם … ועי"ל מדקאמר רבי חייא אף אתה עשיתו כתם ולא קאמר אף אתה רבי ש"מ דבזקנותו היה דהוה תלמיד חבר כדאמר בשילהי מי שמת (ב"ב דף קנח:) בן עזאי תלמיד חבר של רבי עקיבא דאמר ליה שב אתה ולא קאמר שב מר.

Rashi explains it from the fact that he argues with Rebbi, but this does not appear correct, for we find [in the Talmud] many students who argue on their mentors even in their youth.

…It is also possible to answer that from the fact that R. Hiyya said “You must also consider it only a stain” and not “You, teacher, must consider it only a stain,” we can infer that it was in R. Hiyya’s later years, because then he was [upgraded to] a student/friend (a term denoting a student who is not on a significantly lower level than his teacher). And as it says in the end of Mi She-Meis: Ben Azzai was a student/friend of R. Akiva, for he said to him “Sit” and not “Master, sit.”[3]
It is clear from Tosafos even a student/friend, who was once a full-fledged student and considered this teacher his mentor in every way, is still not obligated to refer to him or address him with a special title, now that they are pretty much equal. Surely where someone has always been on equal footing with someone else and simply happened to have learned one thing from him, this one thing does not obligate one to always refer to the other as “rebbe.” In truth it’s not just Tosafos; it’s the Gemara in Bava Basra which Tosafos cites as well. Seems pretty clear-cut to me. I guess I have to go look up those other sources the Sedei Chemed cited and see why they disagree.


  1. I think the answer for the Tzlach is as follows:

    He is commenting on the Gemara in which King David states that he would always consult with Mefiboshes and say to him "Mefiboshes my teacher, have I judged properly..."

    In a prior paragraph, the Tzlach had said that Mefiboshes was not King David's primary teacher. He now uses that to answer a different question. The Parshas Derachim asks how David could refer to Mefiboshes by name, and answers that it was permitted because he also said "my teacher". (This conforms to the Rema's ruling in 242:15 that one can say his teacher's name if he also gives him a title.) The Tzlach points out that the Shach limits the Rema's ruling to a case where the student is not in the teacher's presence. In the teacher's presence, however, the student cannot use his teacher's name, even with a title. Accordingly, the Tzlach rejects the Parshas Derachim's answer, as David was talking directly to Mefiboshes. Instead, the Tzlach answers the question by saying that since Mefiboshes was not David's primary teacher, David could say his name as long as he he used a title as well. (I.e. the Shach's limitation on the Rema's ruling is only in a case of a primary teacher.)

    It seems, then, that the Tzlach holds that a title is necessary by a non-primary teacher, contrary to Tosafos. However, I think the difference is that the Tzlach only says that a title is necessary in order to permit the use of the teacher's actual name. In the cases of R' Chiya and Ben Azzai, the teacher's actual name was not used - R' Chiya said "you" and Ben Azzai said "sit".

    Even if the above is true, the Tzlach is contradicted by a different Tosafos. Tosafos in Yevamos 57b asks how Rav Kahana could call Rav by his name (e.g. in Berachos 62a) and answers that he was a student-friend. Thus, according to Tosafos it is permissible to use the teacher's name even without a title (when he is not the student's primary teacher). Although, perhaps we can answer this by differentiating between a teacher-friend and a teacher who is merely non-primary, wherein the latter requires a title while the former does not. (If true, this could also answer the question from Tosafos in Niddah without having to resort to differentiating between the actual name vs. "you" or "sit".)

    Neither of these answers suffices for the Tiferes Yisrael, though. He says that one must use a title even if he is greater than the person who taught him one piece of Torah (thus, the first answer doesn't help). He proves this from the fact that David was allowed to honor Achitofel even though as a king he should not be allowed to relinquish his own honor - clearly it must have been an obligation. If the Tiferes Yisrael agreed that a title is only necessary when using the person's actual name, David should have had to never address Achitofel by name in order to avoid having to give him a title. (Thus, the second answer does not help either.)

    1. Great stuff. And a good chazara for me of an inyan I hadn't thought about in three years. :)