Eiruvin 63a-b - Showing respect for a teacher in his presence

May 10, 2013



On the previous daf (page), the Gemara set down a rule that we always follow the teachings of Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov. This rule leads to a discussion that focuses on whether a student is permitted to make a decision that follows Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov without deferring to his teacher. Generally speaking, a student was not permitted to issue rulings on issues of halakhah in the presence – or place – of his teacher, a tradition that stemmed from a concern for the teacher’s honor. Some argue that ruling in the place of one’s teacher is tantamount to a rebellion again the king – mored be-malkhut – which would mean that even were the student to receive permission, it would be forbidden for him to rule.
An example of a tradition that exemplifies this concern is that the shohet, the ritual slaughterer, would give his knife to the Rabbi of the community to check, even if he himself was a learned and knowledgeable person. The Gemara tells of a group of Rabbis in Rav Aha bar Ya’akov’s city who, while preparing a calf for slaughter, argued among themselves whether it was necessary to show the knife to Rav Aha bar Ya’akov.
Rav Abba bar Tahalifa said to them: Should we not be concerned with the respect of the Elder, Rav Aha bar Ya’akov, and present the knife to him for inspection, as this is his town? Rabbi Elazar from Hagronya said to them: That is unnecessary, since Rava said as follows: A Torah scholar may examine a knife for himself. Rabbi Elazar from Hagronya then inspected the knife, but he was later punished at the hand of Heaven for disregarding the honor of the senior rabbi.
The Gemara expresses surprise: What was Rabbi Elazar from Hagronya’s mistake? Didn’t Rava say: A Torah scholar may examine a slaughtering knife for himself? The Gemara answers: It was different there, as they had already begun to discuss the issue of the honor of Rav Aha bar Ya’akov. Had the name of Rav Aha bar Ya’akov never arisen, they would have been permitted to examine the knife themselves. Once his name had been mentioned, however, they should have approached him with the knife. Their failure to do so is considered a display of disrespect.
And if you wish, say instead: Rav Aha bar Ya’akov is different, as he was illustrious in age and wisdom, and thus deserved more honor than a regular Sage.

Rav Aha bar Yaakov was a second generation Babylonian amora who lived long enough to interact with Abaye and Rava, who were fourth century amoraim. He was well known for his piety and for miracles that took place on his behalf. His students included Rav Papa and his nephew Rav Aha the son of Rav Ika.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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