Both Rise To The Occasion
‘What if his son is his teacher?’
Our daf discusses whether a son who is his father’s Torah teacher is obligated to rise in the presence of his father (in fulfillment of the precept of kibbud av va’eim – honoring one’s parents). The Gemara remains undecided as to whether the father’s obligation of kibbud ha’rav (to honor a Torah teacher, in this instance his son) cancels the son’s obligation to rise before his father (or vice versa).
A Sage Honors His Mother
Rambam (Hilchos Mamrim 6:4) rules that the son’s obligation of kibbud av takes precedence and he is obligated to rise in his father’s presence even though he is his father’s teacher.
The Ran (Kiddushin 33b) explains that though our Gemara does not resolve this question, Rambam based his ruling on the Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 1:7), which relates how R. Tarfon extensively honored and served his aged mother (see Tosafos 31b s.v. “Rabbi Tarfon”). The fact that R. Tarfon, a great Torah scholar, served his mother proves that even a learned son is required to serve his parents. And the fact that R. Tarfon’s mother did not refuse his services on the grounds that it is unbefitting for such a Torah scholar to serve her indicates that a parent is not obligated to show honor to a son even if he is a great rabbi.
Where Stringency Prevails
The Rosh (op. cit.) disagrees with Rambam and rules that since our Gemara does not resolve the question, both the father and the son must conduct themselves stringently and rise before each other in accordance with the principle of safek de’oraisa lechumra – in cases of doubt one must be stringent regarding prohibitory commandments of the Torah.
Ceased Visiting His Father
As proof, he points out that from the time the Maharam, Rabbi Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg, was appointed to his rabbinic post, he refrained from visiting his father and also did not want his father to visit him. Apparently, he wanted to avoid getting involved in this halachic question since he was unsure whether he was obligated to show honor to his father or whether his father was obligated to show honor to him.
The Beth Yosef (in his longer commentary to the Tur, Yoreh De’ah 240 s.v. “Kasav HaRambam…”) suggests two reasons why the Rosh does not consider the episode of R. Tarfon as conclusive evidence that a son must honor his father when he is the father’s teacher.
First, he says that our Gemara’s question only applies to a case where the son is his father’s actual teacher. R. Tarfon, however, was a great Torah scholar who deserved the respect of the masses, but he was not his mother’s teacher and therefore there was no problem about serving and honoring her.
Secondly, he suggests that though, from the halachic point of view, R. Tarfon was not obligated to serve his mother, nor was she supposed to allow him to serve her, he might have forgiven his honor. She was permitted to accept his service for the rule is (32a) that a talmid chacham may forgo his honor.