Gray Hair – A Halachic Analysis

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

At what age do we go gray, or better yet, when do we go white? This is not just a theoretical discussion – it has practical halachic significance. There is a Mitzvah in the Torah to arise before an older person and to respect Torah scholars. The Mitzvah (see Sefer HaChinuch #407) includes arising when in their presence.

SOURCE

The source for this Mitzvah is in VaYikrah (19:32), “Before a Saivah you should rise, and you shall honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your G-d – I am the L-rd.”

WHAT DOES “SAIVAH” MEAN?

The Hebrew word “Saivah” has been translated as everything from gray-haired, to white-haired, to hoary-headed, to elderly or aged. Most people think that the term “Saivah” applies to someone who has reached the age of seventy years. This is based upon the Rosh in Kiddushin (33a). The Rashbatz (in Magain Avos Kiddushin 5:21), however, cites a Targum Unkelus that the age is actually sixty years old.
The Minchas Chinuch (#407) writes that one should, in fact, be stringent and arise for someone who is sixty years old. The AriZal in the Shaar HaMitzvos on Parshas Kedoshim is also of the opinion that the correct age is sixty.

[It is interesting to note that there is a correlation between the hair color and to whom the Mitzvah applies – the hair color is a means in which we can tell whether the person is old. Indeed, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe (Responsa Tzemach Tzedek Yore Deah #93) forbids the shaving of the beard precisely for this reason because the Mitzvah of arising before an older person would be negated – as we will be unable to tell who is old!]

TO WHOM DOES IT APPLY?

The Mitzvah applies to all elderly people whether they are scholars or not. The matter was debated in the Talmud (Kiddushin 33a). The halacha was established in accordance with Issi Ben Yehudah who ruled that Saivah includes all older people. The reason, presumably, is the life experience that the elderly person represents.

This Mitzvah is an extremely important one, because whenever it is being fulfilled one fulfills another parallel Mitzvah called Vehalachta bidrachav, and you shall walk in His ways.. The Talmud in Shabbos states that just as Hashem is merciful and kind so too must you be merciful and kind. The Jerusalem Talmud (Bikkurim 3:3) states that Hashem Himself honors the elderly. Since this is the case, we are walking in the ways of Hashem each time we perform this Mitzvah.

OLDER WOMEN

There are numerous other questions about this Mitzvah, however. What about an older woman? Does it apply during Davening? Do elderly people have to rise for each other? Are there any exemptions?
As far as whether it applies to a woman, here is where we enter some controversy. The Sefer Chassidim (#578), which Ashkenazic Jews generally follow, writes that the obligation certainly does extend to an elderly woman as well. The Ben Ish Chai (Parshas Ki Taitzei #16 in the second cycle), however, cites the AriZal that the Mitzvah does not generally apply to an older woman unless her husband is a Torah scholar.

Does it apply to another elderly person? The Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah Siman 254) indicates that full standing does not apply, however they should honor and or acknowledge one another in some form. [See also response Michtam leDovid #54.] It should also be noted that the Chayei Odom writes that the Mitzvah applies to an elderly gentile as well.

EXEMPTIONS

As far as exemptions go, if one is in the employ of another and the rising will, even temporarily affect his work for his employer, the halacha is that he should not arise for the older person.
Indeed, the Mitzvah does not apply if there involves a loss of money in its performance (See Kiddushin 33a). Some Poskim have ruled that on account of this, one is not obligated in giving up one’s seat to an elderly gentleman on a bus, train, or subway, since having a seat is an item of value that one would pay at least a Prutah for. They do write that it is a Midas Chassidus – a praiseworthy act. It would seem, however, however that this may not be correct. Offering one’s seat also perforce involves other acts which involve charity that proper behavior – that we are obliged in performing even when there is a monetary loss. Also, not giving up one’s seat is the antithesis of vehalachta bidrachav aside from being a chilul Hashem.

What about during davening? The Birchei Yoseph (YD 244) rules that one must stand up even during davening. The Talmud (Kiddushin 33b) does tell us that when one is holding a Sefer Torah, however, the Mitzvah does not apply using the expression, “Does a Sefer Torah stand before those that study it?”
What happens when you are not sure whether or not the elderly gentleman has reached the age of seventy? Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l (Responsa Yabia Omer Yore Deah 3:13) rules that since it is a doubt in a Biblical Mitzvah, the principle of safek deoriasah lechumrah (we are stringent in regard to any doubt regarding a Torah Mitzvah) comes into play and we assume that he is fact seventy. Rabbi Yoseph rules, however, that for the stringency of arising for someone who is sixty years old we are not stringent when we are not sure.

ANOTHER INTERPRETATIONgray2

One final thought. The Zohar in Parshas Pinchas (page 227b) has a unique reading of this Posuk in VaYikra: “Before the grey hair, arise” – arise in doing Teshuva – repentance before you reach the age of having gray hairs.

The author can be contacted by email at [email protected]


10 COMMENTS

  1. If the poskim rule that one need not give his seat on a bus to an elderly person, it is not Hoffman’s place to invent an opinion overturning them because he thinks the goyim won’t like that psak din.

  2. The good Rabbi seems to have omitted an obvious exemption. Respecting others does not apply to the rude self-injecting commentators at YWN. To be sure, they refer to themselves as the all powerful “moderators” but have no concept of respect for opinions other than their own. Rather than allowing one to think they are very comfortable with telling people what to think and altering (ahem editing) posts to that end. Either let it go or not but don’t change content. Now, let the immature disrespectful name calling begin.

    No alias here. I am Dr. B. Mazel from K.G.H. My name is indeed Mazel. I am a medical doctor and Dr. is not my name. It is simply a (deserved) title much like Rabbi and although I am proud of both titles, I use them only when relevant. They don’t define me. I define them.

    CC: Rabbi Y. Hoffman, FTJT

  3. Sadly, it seems that Lior has lost his Ohr – his light has gone out. Your comment is disrespectful and uncalled for. Rabbi Hoffman is certainly within his rights regarding giving up a seat. I would proffer that you are probably a nice, decent person – but you are going through a hard time in your life – perhaps issues with sholom bayis, parnassah, kids etc – and that has brought out the negativity. I wish you hatzlacha on overcoming those hurdles and in rekindling your light!

  4. Dr. Mazel: What is your second title after doctor? And can you please provide an example of an alteration made on a previous comment which you speak of?

  5. #3: The author of this piece is free to give up his own seat but not to tell others to give up theirs when poskim rule it is unnecessary to do so.

  6. My point was that the issue of giving up a seat involves other Mitzvos that we are, in fact, obligated to perform even when there is monetary loss. So while they may be correct in saying that this Mitzvah does not warrant loss of money, the issue of giving up one’s seat involves other Mitzvos too.

  7. R. Hoffman: But if those poskim ruled it unnecessary to give up ones seat to an eldery person, clearly those poskim considered the other reasons that you posit requires them to give up their seat and nevertheless ruled it not required. Otherwise they couldn’t have ruled it not required.

  8. @ujm – How do you know in what context the Poskim gave their psak. R Hoffman pointed out that Poskim hold only in this aspect of Seiva, the Torah wouldn’t mandate getting up if there’s chesaron mamom but the other mitzvos might mandate us to get up for an older person

  9. In my uneducated opinion, I think that giving up ones seat to someone else usually stems from good middos of ve’ahavta le’rayacha kamocha, but if anyone needs an intellectual motivation then:
    If with chillul Hashem one may even need to give up their life not to transgress it, then with with kidush Hashem (like giving up one’s seat), it becomes a no brainer.

  10. There is an interesting shaila in Shar Ephraim. Do we have to stand up for a blind person? Yes, as we stand up for a sefer torah which cannot see.