Question: If a Torah scholar or an elderly enters the room while one is reciting Birkat Hamazon, must one rise for them? Similarly, may one signal to a young child to be quiet while one is reciting the Amida prayer?
Answer: One of the greatest Sephardic luminaries who lived approximately sixty years ago was the saintly Hagaon Harav Efraim Ha’Kohen zt”l, father of Hagaon Harav Shalom Cohen Shlit”a. He was the greatest of the Mekubalim in Yeshivat Porat Yosef and all of the Mekubalim who emerged from the Yeshiva were his students. He merited studying Torah under the Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l, the saintly Ben Ish Hai, after which he continued toiling diligently in Torah through extreme poverty. He merited disseminating Torah among the Jewish nation for decades.
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Efraim Ha’Kohen inquired about the above question regarding Birkat Hamazon from Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in the year 5707/1947, when Maran zt”l was only twenty-six years old) since the Poskim write that Birkat Hamazon is extremely precious and its severity is compared to that of the Amida prayer. Regarding the Amida prayer, one may certainly not hint anything or speak, as the Gemara states in Masechet Berachot that while praying the Amida prayer, one may not even respond to the greetings of a Jewish king. If so, it would seem that the same applies regarding Birkat Hamazon.
Maran zt”l replied to him that when the Gemara states that one may not respond to a Jewish king during the Amida prayer, this refers to actually speaking; however, nodding one’s head slightly before him is permitted. The Shaare Teshuva (Chapter 104) writes explicitly that if a rabbi of a congregation knows that the congregation is waiting for him to finish praying before beginning the repetition of the Amida and the rabbi wishes to pray for somewhat longer, he may wave his hand to the Chazzan in order to motion to him to begin the repetition so as not to delay the entire congregation and so that his concentration is not disturbed by the knowledge that the entire congregation is waiting for him. Maran zt”l proceeds to discuss this idea using the words of the Poskim.
Similarly, his son, the great Rishon Le’Zion in his Sefer Yalkut Yosef (Chapter 183) discusses this matter and concludes that halachically, if an elderly man or Torah scholar enters the room while one is reciting Birkat Hamazon, one should rise before them even in the middle of Birkat Hamazon. He supports this ruling with several more proofs.
Based on this we can learn that if a child is causing a disturbance in the synagogue during the Amida prayer by speaking and the like, one may motion to him to be quiet so that he does not continue to disturb all of the congregants.