Rabbinic Disrespect

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The Gemara in Gittin (7a) tells the story of Mar Ukva’s troubles with Geniva. Geniva was a talmid hakham, as we shall see soon, who would insult and curse Mar Ukva, the av beis din in his locale, and this behavior caused Mar Ukva great pain. Mar Ukva was so troubled by this conduct that he asked R’ Elazar whether he was permitted to turn Geniva over to the gentile authorities (it is unclear for what offense, perhaps for undermining communal authority). R’ Elazar told him that he may not but should, instead, make sure to enter the beis midrash before Geniva and leave after him (i.e. learn Torah for more hours). In other words, Geniva was someone who was seriously learning in the beis midrash but was still greatly lacking in proper interpersonal behavior. Mar Ukva followed this advice and Geniva was soon thereafter taken by the gentile authorities and sentenced for execution.

This story was just intended as background. The Gemara later in Gittin (62a) relates that Rav Hisda and Rav Huna were sitting and they saw Geniva walking by. One asked the other whether they should stand for this Torah scholar and the other replied that they should not because Geniva was a “palga’ah” – a divisive person, someone who disagreed with hakhamim. Interestingly, Geniva approached them and, despite their lack of respect towards him, greated them with a great show of respect.

Some lessons from this story:

1. Even in the times of the Gemara, a talmid hakham could have bad midos.

2. Sinas hinam was not a post-talmudic development (although that should be obvious because it was a cause of the destruction of the Second Temple), nor was the baseless undermining of communal authority by respected members of the society.

3. One need not show respect to a vicious talmid hakham. On this last point, the Meiri is careful to state that a talmid hakham (like Rav Hisda and Rav Huna) need not show respect to a vicious talmid hakham. The implication is that normal people like I am must show respect to such a person. If Rav Elazar Shach or someone similar shows disrespect to a talmid hakham whom he considers to be destructive, we may not follow his lead on this. (Granted, the exact parameters of who may do what remain only vaguely defined.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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