Question: May a person greet his Rebbe Muvhak with the same greeting that he normally greets his friends, such as “shalom aleichem?”
Short Answer: The Rama rules that a student must greet his Rebbe Muvhak with the words “shalom alecha Rebbe.” The Aruch Hashulchan, however, permits greeting him with “shalom aleichem” nowadays.
I. Rabbinic Greeting
The Gemara (B’rachos 27b) lists certain behaviors and activities that cause the shechina to leave the Jewish people. One of the actions on the list is “giving sholom to your Rebbe.” Another action is “responding sholom to your Rebbe.” [The end of Kallah Rabasi actually says the student is chayav misah].
What is the meaning of this Gemara? Is the prohibition of greeting your Rebbe limited to greeting him in a manner that is normal to greet a friend or does the prohibition encompass any greeting?
II. In A Different Manner
Rashi (B’rachos ibid) writes that the prohibition is to greet your Rebbe in the normal manner as you would greet your friend. Greeting your Rebbe with the words “shalom aleche Rebbe,” however, is permitted. Tosafos (ibid), in his first explanation, rules similarly. Indeed, the Gemara (Bava Kama 73b) notes that the halachic time-period of “toch kidei dibbur” is the amount of time it takes for a student to say a greeting to his Rebbe. This implies that a student is permitted to greet his Rebbe, but he must do it in a manner that is different from his normal greeting to other people.
Likewise, the Rambam (Hil. Talmud Torah 5:5) writes that a student may greet his Rebbe with the proper respect and with a greeting of “shalom aleche Rebbe,” which is different than his normal greeting to a friend.
III. No Greeting Whatsoever
Tosafos (ibid), however, also provides a second answer. The Gemara in Bava Kama which states that the time-period of “toch kidei dibbur” is the amount of time it takes for a student to say a greeting to his Rebbe, is only talking about an exceptionally advanced student, a “talmid chaver.” A regular student, who has not yet attained the level of his Rebbe, may not greet his Rebbe (Muvhak) at all.
Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah (B’rachos ibid) holds that a student may not greet his Rebbe at all. He cites a proof from the Gemara (Shabbos 89a) which notes that it is disrespectful for a servant to greet his master in any manner. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the Gemara in Bava Kama which states that the time-period of “toch kidei dibbur” is the amount of time it takes for a student to say a greeting to his Rebbe, is referring to a student responding to his Rebbe’s greeting. Such a response is permitted. [As an aside, Rabbeinu Yonah has a different girsa of the Gemara in B’rachos, as our version states that even responding causes the shechina to leave the Jewish people].
IV. Practical Halachah
Shulchan Aruch (Y”D 242:16) poskins like Rashi and the Rambam, that a student may greet his Rebbe with the phrase “shalom alecha Rebbe.” The Rama (ibid) agrees with the Shulchan Aruch and writes that this is the accepted minhag. However, the Rama also brings the opinion of the other rishonim, that a student may not greet his Rebbe at all.
The sefer Kavod V’Hiddur (p.207) cites the Panim Me’iros who proves that we follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Since the Gemara (Berachos 14a) discusses whether a student may greet his Rebbe at certain points during krias shema (and its b’rachos), it is clear that there is no problem about otherwise greeting a Rebbe. The sefer Sifsosecha Kallah (on Meseches Kallah, p.187) notes that the proof of the Panim Me’iros is not ironclad, as others have a different girsa in that Gemara and understand that it is only referring to greeting a non-Rebbe Muvhak.
The Divrei Malkiel (4:74) notes that “nowadays” (approx. 1900) that we anyway greet everyone in the plural, “shalom aleichem,” instead of the singular of “shalom alecha.” Accordingly, it should be permitted to greet a Rebbe with the same “shalom aleichem” and there is no need to add on the word “Rebbe.” The Divrei Malkiel, however, ultimately rejects this idea. Indeed, the sefer Chayei Levi (5:92) writes that if we nowadays greet everyone with “shalom aleichem,” we certainly must greet a Rebbe with a different phrase such as “shalom aleichem, Rebbe.” Alternatively, just shake his hand and bow.
The Aruch Hashulchan (242:38), on the other hand, adopts the Divrei Malkiel’s original idea. Since nowadays we greet everyone in the plural, it is permitted to greet your Rebbe with a general “shalom aleichem.”
The sefer B’Tzror HaChaim (Vol. 3, 5766, p.80) wonders how the minhag developed that people shake hands with their Rebbe. If anything, the Rambam (ibid) writes that a student should bow before his Rebbe when he greets him. The B’Tzror HaChaim suggests that the more accurate minhag is that of the Sefardim to kiss the hands of the Rebbe.
NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC: Must a girl give the same respect to her Morah as a boy must give to his Rebbe Muvhak?