Today is the public fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, whose laws we have discussed here.
In the previous Halachot we have discussed the obligation to rise before a Torah scholar or an elderly gentleman.
The Gemara (Shevuot 30b) recounts that once, the wife of Rav Huna (who was one of the greatest sages of the Jewish nation) came before Rav Nachman (who was a great Dayan or rabbinical judge) for a litigation over a financial matter along with another individual. Rav Nachman was in doubt about how to act, for as the Gemara teaches us (Avodah Zara 39a), “A Torah scholar’s wife retains the same law as a Torah scholar” and thus, according to the law, one must rise before a Torah scholar’s wife as one would for the Torah scholar himself. On the other hand, Rav Nachman was worried that if he would do so, the other litigant would become on edge since he would think that the Dayan was giving priority to this woman to begin with and as a result, he would not be able to organize his claims before the Bet Din in a suitable manner. In the end, Rav Nachman ordered the Bet Din’s orderly to throw a goose chick before him and then Rav Nachman would be able to stand up without the other litigant realizing that Rav Nachman was doing so in honor of Rav Huna’s wife and would believe that he was doing so because he was frightened by the chick.
Based on the above Gemara, there is an obligation to rise before a Torah scholar’s wife as there is to rise before the Torah scholar himself.
Indeed, the Sefer Kenesset Ha’Gedolah (authored by Rabbeinu Chaim Benbenisti) quotes the Sefer She’erit Yehuda (authored by Hagaon Harav Yehuda Taichak) who writes that based on the aforementioned Gemara regarding the incident with the wife of Rav Huna, there is a full obligation to rise before a Torah scholar’s wife. On the other hand, the Kenesset Ha’Gedolah disagrees with the position of the She’erit Yehuda and writes that when Rav Nachman rose for the wife of Rav Huna, he was not doing so according to the letter of the law and was merely doing so as a pious gesture. Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l proves from the words of Rabbeinu Nissim’s commentary on that Gemara that there is an absolute obligation to rise before a Torah scholar’s wife and several Poskim rule this way as well. The Halacha indeed follows this opinion and one must rise before the wife of a Torah scholar.
Similarly, clearly there is an absolute obligation to rise before an elderly woman who has reached the age of seventy and above. Maran zt”l adds that a student may not call her teacher by her first name, for she is obligated to honor the teacher since she brings her into the World to Come. Even adding an honorary title such as “Mrs. So-and-so” is forbidden; rather, the student may call her “My teacher, so-and-so.” Similarly, if a student is sitting on the bus and her teacher boards and there are no more places to sit, the student must vacate her seat so that her teacher may be seated. We shall discuss this matter further in the following Halacha. As an added measure of kindness and manners, one should vacate one’s seat on a bus or train for a pregnant woman who finds it difficult to stand.
Once, approximately fifty years ago when Maran zt”l served as a member of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, Maran took the bus home to the neighborhood where he lived in Tel Arza. As usual, he sat on the bus completely immersed in thoughts of Torah and learning from a Sefer. From the corner of his eye, he noticed a pregnant woman standing and he immediately got up in order to give her his seat while his head faced the floor and he was still immersed in a Torah topic. Although he was forced to close his Sefer, he did not hear the woman talking to him while she was standing embarrassed next to the vacant seat. As she realized the puzzled looks of the other curious passengers, the woman fell silent and sat down uneasily in the vacant seat.
When Maran zt”l got off the bus at the stop near his home, the pregnant woman got off as well. Eventually, Maran paid attention to the woman’s voice talking to him and he turned around. “Margalit! Was that you calling me? Were you just on the bus?” Maran inquired. The Rabbanit replied, “Yes, it was me! It was for me that you gave up your seat and you didn’t even realize it!” (This story was recounted many times by Rabbanit Margalit Yosef, of blessed memory.)