Question: What should a child call his father who is also his rebbe muvhak?

Short Answer: The prevalent custom is for a child to refer to his father as “Father” (or Daddy, Totty, Aba, etc.) as opposed to “Rebbe,” even if his father is also his rebbe muvhak. Nevertheless, there were certain poskim who referred to their father by the title of “rebbe.”



I. Rebbe Greater Than Father

The Mishnah (Bava M’tzia 33a) states that returning the lost object of your rebbe takes precedence to returning the lost object of your father. The Mishnah explains that a person’s father brings him into this world, while a person’s rebbe “brings him” into the World to Come via the Torah that is learned under his tutelage.

The Darchei Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:1) infers from the Gemara that if a person’s father is also his rebbe muvhak, he should refer to his father as “Rebbe” and not “Father” (nor Daddy, Totty, or Aba). Since a person must provide a greater kavod to his rebbe than to his father (i.e., return the rebbe’s item before returning the father’s item), he must call his father by the greater of the two, i.e., call him “Rebbe.” The Darchei Moshe supports this ruling from the Gemara in Bava M’tzia (44a) where Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi teaches his son, Rabbi Shimon, a halachah and, in response, Rabbi Shimon refers to his father by the title of “Rebbe.”

The Rama (ibid) adopts this ruling, that a son should call his father “Rebbe” if his father is also his rebbe muvhak. Notably, the sefer Divrei Sofrim (117) explains that the Rama is only discussing a son referring to his father to his face. Certainly, a son may refer to his father, even if he is also his rebbe muvhak, as “Father” (or Daddy, Totty, etc.) if he is not in front of his father.

II. Shach’s Explanation

The Shach (242:1) wonders why no one appears to follow the words of this Rama and instead simply calls a father/rebbe muvhak by the plain name of “Father” (or Daddy, Totty, etc.). He suggests that (i) it is greater [i.e., more of a kavod] to call your father “Father,” as it is a name that the son only calls him (and not others) and has been calling him since a young age; and (ii) presumably, the father waives any “kavod” requirement for his son. The Shach supports this view that a father presumably waives his kavod right from Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:5), which states that a son must lean in front of his father/rebbe muvhak, even though a student may not lean in front of his rebbe.

The Shach subsequently explains that the Rama’s proof from the Gemara (Bava M’tzia ibid) is not dispositive, as Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi was a unique individual whose combination of Torah and greatness was comparable only to Moshe Rabbeinu. Thus, while it was fitting for Rabbi Shimon to call his father “Rebbe,” this is not the case for other situations.

The Aruch HaShulchan (242:37) appears to adopt the ruling of the Shach.

III. Analysis of the Shach

The Rishon L’Tziyon (p. 96, cited in Toras Chacham, Vol. 2, p. 863) views the Shach as being contradictory. On one hand, the Shach appears to understand that the name “Father” is greater than “Rebbe,” as the son starts using “Father” even from a young age. But, on the other hand, the Shach then suggests that a son uses the name “Father” only because the father waives his right to be called “Rebbe,” implying that the name “Rebbe” is indeed greater than “Father.”

The Rishon L’Tziyon thus suggests that the Shach is simply trying to explain why the general populace (at least, those who are fortunate to have their father as their rebbe muvhak) does not call their father “Rebbe.” The Rishon L’Tziyon adds that, in truth, the name “Father” is more appropriate. Yehoshua referred to Moshe Rabbeinu as “Father,” as did Elisha to Eliyahu HaNavi, implying that “Father” is a greater title than “Rebbe.”

The sefer Toras Chacham (ibid) cites the Chadrei Dei’ah who likewise proves that “Father” is a greater title, as this was the title that Yitzchak called Avraham, Yaakov called Yitzchak, and Yosef called Yaakov. Each of these fathers was also the rebbe muvhak of his son.

Notably, the Shelah (Parshas VaY’chi) disagrees. He writes that the Gemara (P’sachim 51a) says that the Sh’vatim said “Sh’ma Yisrael...” to Yaakov before he died. How could they refer to their father by his name “Yisrael”? Rather, the name “Yisrael” was a greater title than “Father,” as Yisrael was the equivalent of “Master.” The Shelah then proves from here that a son should call his father/rebbe muvhak by the title of “Rebbe” and not “Father.”

IV.  Prevalent Custom

The custom appears to be for a son to call his father by the name “Father,” even if the father is also his son’s rebbe muvhak. This is the opinion of the Ben Ish Chai (cited in Toras Chacham, ibid.).

The sons and daughters of the Chasam Sofer, however, reportedly (see sefer P’ninei Mishmar Levi, p. 125) called the Chasam Sofer by the title of “Rebbe.” As an aside, the Chasam Sofer himself (Toras Moshe, Parshas VaYeira) uses this halachah to explain why Avraham referred to Sarah as his “sister” to Avimelech. According to the p’sukim in Parshas B’reishis, a man is “mosheil” over his wife, but not necessarily over his sister. Since a person should always refer to his father by the greater title, i.e., Rebbe instead of Father, so too Avraham referred to Sarah, who was greater than him in prophecy (according to Rashi on Chumash) by the title “sister,” which is a greater title than “wife.”

Moreover, the sefer Otzros HaTorah (Vol. 22, p. 86) recounts that Rav Yisroel Moshe Dushinsky zt”l referred to his father, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky zt”l (who was a talmid of the grandson of the Chasam Sofer), by the title of “Rebbe.” Rav Dovid Cohen shlita (Harchavas Gevul Yaavetz, Vol. 2, p. 82) notes that the Tur repeatedly refers to his father, the Rosh, as “Adoni Avi” because of this halachah.

Finally, Rav Itamar Rosensweig shlita (Beis Yitzchak Vol 44, p. 290) suggests a novel idea that the custom is for a son to call his father/rebbe muvhak by the title of “Father” because the very essence of fatherhood is to instill Torah values and to teach Torah to one’s son. Accordingly, the name “Rebbe” really stems from the name “Father,” and thus “Father” is a greater title.

Next Week’s Topic: May a person greet his rebbe muvhak with the same greeting that he normally greets his friends, such as “Shalom aleichem”?

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..