Question: May a student lean at his rebbe’s Seder table on Pesach?
Short Answer: A student may not lean in front of his rebbe without permission. If permission is given, there is a machlokes whether the student may lean (Aruch HaShulchan) or whether he is required to lean (Mishnah B’rurah).
I. Student with Rebbe
The Gemara (P’sachim 108a) rules that a son must lean at his father’s Seder table. The Gemara asks whether a student must lean at his rebbe’s Seder table. The Gemara says that Abayei recounted that he leaned at Rabbah’s Seder table, but when he attended Rav Yosef’s Seder table, Rav Yosef told him that he need not lean because “the fear of your rebbe is like the fear of Hashem.” The Gemara concludes that a baraisa that appears to require leaning by a student in front of his rebbe is merely talking about a student with his work boss, not a rebbe who teaches him Torah.
The Rambam (Hilchos Chametz U’Matzah 7:8) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 472:5) rule that if the rebbe gives the student permission to lean, he is permitted to do so. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 472:5) explains that the Rambam and the Tur gleaned this halachah from the above Gemara, where Abayei leaned at Rabbah’s table, even though Rabbah was Abayei’s rebbe. Presumably, Abayei leaned because Rabbah gave him permission. Additionally, even Rav Yosef, who told Abayei not to lean, used the language “you don’t need to lean,” implying that it is permissible to lean in certain circumstances, i.e., when the rebbe gives the student permission.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:5) rules that a student may lean when the rebbe gives permission. The sefer Toras Chacham (p. 150) cites the sefer Chasdei David who, based on this Shulchan Aruch, explains how Rabbi Akiva was permitted to “lean” in B’nei Brak (in the story in the Haggadah), as he was a student of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, who were both with him at the Seder. Rabbi Akiva presumably received permission from these rebbeim to lean.
II. Leaning Without Permission
What about if the student leans in front of his rebbe without getting permission? Does the student violate a prohibition?
The Bach (ibid) writes that the student violates a prohibition of degrading the rebbe if he leans in front of him without permission. Even though Rav Yosef (in the above Gemara) told Abayei that he does not need to lean, that was only in response to Abayei leaning in front of Rabbah. In truth, it was forbidden for Abayei to lean in front of Rav Yosef.
The Darchei Moshe (ibid) cites the Mahari Birb who rules that a student may lean in front of the rebbe, even without permission. The Gemara was simply ruling that the student need not lean. However, the Darchei Moshe himself does not agree with this explanation and instead rules that a student may not lean without permission.
The sefer Kavod V’Hidur (19:2) cites the D’var Shmuel who explains the above machlokes between the Mahari Birb and the Darchei Moshe/Bach. The Mahari Birb understands that a rebbe by definition waives his right to respect and thus the student may lean if he does not feel a certain awe in front of the rebbe. This is similar to the law that a child may lean in the presence of his father. The Darchei Moshe/Bach, on the other hand, understand that a rebbe does not, by definition, waive his right to the respect, and thus the student may not lean until he is given express permission.
The Mishnah B’rurah (15) rules like the Darchei Moshe/Bach, that the student needs express permission in order to lean in front of his rebbe. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (cited in Mahaduras Dirshu 472, n. 22) notes that this permission must be verbal, and the student may not rely on the fact that the rebbe would give him permission if he asked.
III. With Permission
But what about where the student does receive express permission to lean from his rebbe; must the student lean or is he simply now permitted to lean if he chooses?
Both the Beis Yosef and the Bach (ibid) rule that a student is never required to lean in front of his rebbe, even if the rebbe expressly gives him permission to lean. Indeed, the Gemara (above) implies that there is no obligation, as Rav Yosef told Abayei that he is not required to lean (i.e., in all cases, even with permission). The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 472:7) likewise rules that the student is never required to lean, as he is entitled to believe that leaning is degrading (and he is embarrassed to do so), even though his rebbe gave express permission.
The P’ri Chadash (5) disagrees. If the rebbe gives the student permission to lean, the student is required to lean. This is similar to the law in the Shulchan Aruch (ibid) that a son must lean in the presence of his father, even though the father is his rebbe. In other words, once the father gives implicit permission for him to lean, the obligation returns. The Mishnah B’rurah (16) adopts this ruling, and, as such, a student must lean where the rebbe gives him permission. The Shaar HaTziyon (2) explains the reasoning. Since there is fundamentally an obligation for a student to lean in front of his rebbe, and it is only suspended because of “kevod haTorah,” where the “kevod haTorah” aspect is removed, the obligation to lean returns.
As an aside, the Ratz KaTzvi (Pesach 12:6) explains why the Beis Yosef and the Bach rule that a student is never required to lean in front of his rebbe, even if the rebbe expressly gives him permission to lean. Many Acharonim, including Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, expound on the Gemara’s usage of the phrase “the fear of your rebbe is like the fear of Hashem” to explain why the student does not lean in front of the rebbe. The Gemara could have simply given a more basic reason: kavod for a rebbe. The fact that it compared the kavod to the kavod of Hashem implies that even if the student would lean (with permission), it would not be “derech cheirus” (the way of a free man), as the kavod given to a rebbe (by not leaning) is the ultimate kavod to Hashem. Accordingly, it is preferable that the student does not lean at all, even if given express permission.
IV. Should You Ask?
Halichos Shlomo (9:18) rules that a student should not ask the rebbe for permission to lean but should simply wait until told what to do. The very request is not respectful.
The Mishnas Yosef (5:83, as cited in Pardes Yosef HeChadash, p.126) distinguishes between a rebbe and a rebbe muvhak. A student may request permission from a regular rebbe but may not request permission to lean from a rebbe muvhak, as he must have extra respect for the rebbe muvhak.
Next Week’s Topic: May a student remove his t’filin in front of his rebbe muvhak?