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Respecting Teachers

student and rebbeBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times

As Yeshivos start across the country, it is important to review the Torah’s value system in how we relate to our Rebbeim and teachers.


The Torah places much emphasis and value upon respecting one’s teachers. This includes not just teachers, but also deans, menahelim, and Roshei Yeshiva. The Sifri in Parshas Voeschanan (34) writes, “HaTalmidim kruim banim..v’harav karui av – students are called children and the teacher is called a parent.” The relationship between the two should reflect this. There are numerous Halachos and sayings throughout Torah literature that demonstrate this.

• Rav Eliezer Ben Shamoah says (Pirkei Avos 4:12), “The honor of your student, should be as precious to you as your own honor. The honor of your the honor of your teacher, and the honor of your teacher like the honor of Heaven.” There is no greater honor than that which one must extend to teachers.

The Midrash (Midrash Saichel Tov Shmos 17:9) informs us as to where exactly each of these three concepts are derived.

Moshe told Yehoshua – his student, “Choose, for us, people” – he did not say, “Choose, for me, people.” He thus included his student with his own honor. Shaul did the same (Shmuel Aleph 9:5) where he told his servant, “my father will worry about us..” Because he used the inclusive term “us” he merited to become king.

The honor of one’s friend is derived from Aharon HaKohain when he referred to Moshe Rabbeinu, who was his equal (and 3 years younger too), with the words, “Bi Adoni -Please my master,” (Bamidbar 12:12).

The honor of one’s teacher is derived from Yehoshua (11:28), where he says to Moshe Rabbeinu, “My Master Moshe, shut them [referring those that have prophesied before Moshe, i.e. Eldad and Meydad] in!” Just as Hashem has done so with them – [shutting them in the camp], so too should you do with them.. Yehoshua thus compared Moshe Rabbeinu with Hashem.

• Just as a person is obligated in honoring and fearing one’s parents, so too is there an obligation in honoring and fearing one’s Torah teachers. [See Shulchan Aruch YD 242:1 AH].

• One who is meharher (thinks negative thoughts) after his teacher is like one who is meharher after the Shechina (statement of Rabbi Abahu, Sanhedrin 110a), as it states, “And they spoke about Hashem and of Moshe..(BaMidbar 21:5).” This refers to the time when Klal Yisroel complained as to why they were taken out of Egypt without bread and without water.

• One who disputes with his or her teacher, it is as if he or she has disputed with heaven (statement of Rav Chisda in Sanhedrin 110a). He brings his proof from the posuk in Bamidbar (26:9) concerning Dasan and Aviram who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korach, when they strove against Hashem. Here the Torah shows that disputing with Moshe and Aharon is, because they were their teachers, equal to disputing with Hashem.

• Indeed, if one comes across two lost items, one belonging to a parent and one belonging to a teacher, the halacha is that one must first return the item belonging to his or her teacher (Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Hashavas Aveida YD Vol. III). Even though, we rule that if the teacher is hired by the parent, the parent’s lost item does come first, the fact that the teacher’s item comes first in other scenarios is highly significant. The explanation for this halacha is based on the Mishna in Bava Metziah – that the teacher brings a person to the eternal world.

Respecting, or rather disrespecting one’s teacher is even one of the “al chaits” that is recited on Yom Kippur – “Al Chait shechatanu lefanecha b’zilzul horim vemorim – On the sin that we have sinned before You in disrespecting our parents and teachers.”


1. The Imrei Yosher explains that without students demonstrating respect and honor toward their teachers, the very continuity of the Torah would be threatened.

2. An additional reason behind the obligation to demonstrate respect is out of the notion of Hakaras haTov – the feeling of gratitude. A teacher of Torah has the additional factor of bringing us to an eternal world (See Mishna Bava Metziah 33a). We must show eternal gratitude for this.

3. A third reason for the obligation to respect teachers is on account of Tikkun Olam – maintaining the structure of the world order. It is important to ensure the proper transfer of information from one generation to another. If an atmosphere of respect and discipline is not maintained, then the ability to transfer this information will become compromised. The world will suffer on account of this.

4. A fourth reason lies in the fact that all of us are created in the Divine Image and each person contains within his or her soul a “Chailek Elokah Mimaal – a Divine portion or spark from Above.” Since all knowledge stems from the One Above – respecting those who provide us with knowledge is a means of showing reverence and awe toward Hashem. This reason applies, therefore, to all teachers, secular as well as Torah.

5. A fifth reason is that the success of a student is directly connected to his or her respect for the teacher (See Bais Av p. 160, Rav Grossbard, Mashgiach of Ponevech Yeshiva). Indeed, it can be said that Shmuel HaNavi was only able to receive Nevuah from Hashem because he thought he was being called by Eli (See Masais HaMelech, Kiddushin 57a).

6. It is also important to note that aside from the fact that showing disrespect in and of itself is wrong, it undermines the respect that other students should have for their teachers too. This is a violation of the severe prohibition of “veLifnei Iver Lo Sitain Michshol – do not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

To Whom It Applies

There is such a concept as a Talmid/Chaver – a person who is both a teacher and a peer. If one’s classmate, for example, constantly tutors and explains items to another classmate, the student classmate does not have to conduct oneself in the same manner of a student before a teacher, according to the Rambam.

Other authorities, however, write that such a relationship does require respect. Certainly it applies to a teacher who has taught the student for a significant time. Chazal also discuss a teacher called a “Rebbe Muvhak”, one who taught the student the overwhelming majority of the student’s knowledge. Such a teacher must be treated with even more respect.

Women Teachers As Well

The Poskim (See Yechaveh Daas e.g.) have ruled that all the halachos that exist for teachers apply to a woman teacher as well. One must stand up for them when they enter the room and extend them the honors due a teacher just as a Yeshiva student must do so for his Rebbe.

Interesting Tidbits

• The Shla writes (Meseches Taanis, Perek Ner Mitzvah #24) that it is a proper minhag to fast on the day of the yartzeit of a Rebbe as well – because of the notion of Kavod and Yirah to a teacher.

• The Ramban’s opinion (See Nimukei Yosef Bava Metziah 33a) is that even if a student has surpassed his or her teacher, one is still obligated in honoring them.

• The Responsa She’eris Yoseph (#19) writes that one must give one’s teacher’s teacher more honor than one’s teacher because both of you are bound to honor that teacher.

Action, Speech, and Thought

Some of these halachos apply to all teachers, while other halachos apply exclusively to teachers of Torah. We must demonstrate this respect, in our actions, our speech, and in our thoughts. There are actions that we must do, and there are actions that we must avoid. Chazal (see Mesilas Yesharim Chapter 7) tell us “Chitzonios meoreros es hapnimius – outer actions affect inner thoughts.”

Active actions that we should do are:

• Letting the teacher go first (YD 251:9).

• If a teacher seems to be looking for a marker, it is a Mitzvah to volunteer to quickly get the marker (based upon above source).

• Standing up when the teacher enters within dalet amos or seven feet of the student in the room. [Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that 4 amos are approximately 7 feet, Rav Chaim No’eh rules that it is six feet.] The student must fully stand up and remain standing until the teacher reaches his or her spot. (Pri Magadim MZ 141:7). The custom, however, is that all students in the classroom stand up, even if they are not technically within the seven foot area.

• Holding the door for a teacher (YD 251:9)

• Visiting the teacher on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov. The Mogain Avrohom (OC 301:7) writes that one should visit their Rebbe on Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, but it is just a Mitzvah – not an obligation. On Yom Tov, however, it is an obligation. Where the custom is not to do this, one should first seek permission and perhaps do so in a group and for a limited time.

• It is a Mitzvah to serve one’s teacher food and drink (YD 242).

Actions that we must avoid are:

• When one is sitting in front of a teacher one should sit straight and properly and not have one’s feet on the desk in front (SA YD 242:16).

• Ruling issues of halacha in front of one’s teacher

• Davening in front of a teacher (within seven feet unless there is some sort of mechitzah) is considered disrespectful (See OC 90:24)

• One should not sit in their teacher’s seat or spot (See SA YD 242:16)

• One should not be Machmir (take on a stringency) in something that the teacher does not do in front of the teacher (See Mishna Brurah 63:6)

• Rolling one’s eyes when a teacher says something.

• Studying another subject during that teacher’s class. This is very disrespectful, as it implies that the material now taught is not as important to the student as is other material. This message is being told to oneself, to other students, and to the teacher. If one is doing so for a test, it is tantamount to saying, “My grades are more important to me than both this material, and the respect that teachers should be given.”

• Chewing gum or eating when a menahel, teacher, dean or speaker addresses an audience.

• Engaging in serious doodling in a speech, Dvar Torah, or class is also disrespectful.

• Passing notes or photographs during a teacher’s class or looking at pictures in a camera

• Texting during a teacher’s class

• For girls, passing hand cream or lotion during a teacher’s class

• For girls, doing another student’s hair in class

• Looking at the clock in the back during class

• Getting up immediately as soon as the bell rings.

Speech that we should engage in includes:

• Although it is not obligatory, many students address their teachers in the third person. Some authorities write that based upon Bava Basra 158b – it is, in fact, obligatory to do so for one’s primary Rebbe.

• We must always use respectful titles.

• If we are asked to speak at an affair, or event, one should obtain consent from one’s teacher if they are present. One may simply say, “With the permission of my teachers,” and then begin. This is considered sufficient, even though the speaker will continue. The consent obtained is thus an acknowledgement.

Speech that we should avoid:

• Referring to a teacher by his or her first name (See SA 242:15). Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal (Igros Moshe YD Vol. I #133) writes that this also includes doing so in writing. The Yam Shel Shlomo Kiddushin (1:65) writes the same thing as well. Thus, we should not even refer to a teacher in writing without a proper title.

• Referring to a teacher just by his or her last name (pashut). A typical example is, “Parsha is going to be during Goldstein – good I did not study for his quiz.”

• Remarking to a fellow classmate, “Boring.”

• Insulting a Teacher. Example: Saying a statement such as, “Doesn’t she (or he) know how to teach?” Another example, “I think Rabbi ___ forgot to shower this morning..”

• Making fun of a teacher’s clothing – either in front of them or to a friend.

• Speaking disrespectfully, as in, “You marked me wrong.” – Even if one precedes the statement with respectful words.

• Disagreeing with a teacher in a disrespectful manner. Obviously, the learning process involves a certain give and take, but disagreeing should always be voiced respectfully.

• Sarcasm with a teacher. As an example, when a teacher makes a joke responding with a sarcastic, “Hilarious.”

• Excessive friendliness can also, at times, be disrespectful. Such questions as, “Hey, what’s up?” may, under some circumstances, be inappropriate to be used with a teacher. However, it depends upon the situation – certainly a relationship with a teacher should be cultivated and encouraged as much as possible.

Thoughts that we should engage in:

• When standing before a teacher one should view it as standing before the Shechina. (Rashi, Shmuel Aleph 3:1)

• When standing before a teacher one should contemplate that they are the next link in an unbroken chain that stretches back to Har Sinai itself – the first source. The teacher is thus providing us with a life-line and the opportunity to grasp hold of our birthright received at Sinai.

• One should be in a state of Simcha when standing before a teacher in class that one is meriting to study Torah (Ateres Paz 1:3)

• One should view oneself before a teacher as a droplet in front of the great sea. (Eitz Avos on Pirkei Avos)

• One should develop deep feelings of devotion and ahavah, love, toward one’s teachers (Naizer HaTorah p.7)

Thoughts that we should avoid

• It is wrong to think and to express with our body language the notion that the material the teacher is presenting is boring, superfluous, or off in some manner or form. Rolling one’s eyes is quite often a physical expression of this thought process.

• One should not think that the teacher is ineffective without him or her personally being present as a sharp student (Sanhedrin 68).

When we merit to honor our parents and teachers in our actions, speech, and thought we will merit to achieve unbounded growth in ruchniyus – spirituality and closeness to Hashem. It also indicates that we are good people and not evil or rotten people (See Shaarei Teshuvah 3:148).

The Teacher’s Obligation Too

It is important to emphasize that teachers must always keep the respect of the student in mind as well. It is the teacher who has the greatest opportunity in building up the confidence and self-esteem of a student. On the other hand as well, a teacher has the capability of utterly destroying the self-esteem of the student too, and must be very careful never to do so.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

One Response

  1. Remember the Gemara says that if your Rebbe is like a Malach, you should learn from him and not, you should NOT LEARN FROM HIM. In my experience, most of my children’s teachers would not pass this requirement. On the other hand, the ones that do, fully deserve the honor stated above.

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