Question: May a student remove his t’filin in front of his rebbe muvhak?
Short Answer: While the simple answer would appear to be that a student should not remove t’filin in front of his rebbe muvhak, some poskim are lenient nowadays where we are otherwise wearing yarmulkes.
I. Yerav’am ben Nevat’s Chutzpah
The pasuk (M’lachim I 11:27) recounts the disrespect that Yerav’am ben Nevat showed to Shlomo HaMelech and explains that he was “heirim yad” against Shlomo HaMelech. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101b) expounds on the meaning of “heirim yad.” According to Rabbi Nachman, Yerav’am removed his t’filin in Shlomo’s presence.
Rashi (ibid) explains that Yerav’am should have turned to the side when removing his t’filin because of “eimas ha’melech,” his fear/awe of the kingship. A different Rashi (right afterwards) explains that Yerav’am should not have removed t’filin in front of Shlomo HaMelech so as not to have “gilui rosh” (an uncovered head) in front of Shlomo HaMelech. This was the start of Yerav’am’s rebellion against the kingdom of Shlomo HaMelech (and his descendants).
II. Extension to Rebbe Muvhak
The Tur (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:16) rules that a student may not remove his t’filin in front of his rebbe. The Tur (Orach Chayim 38:11) expounds that the source of this prohibition is from Yerav’am. The Tur adds that the proper method is for the rebbe to first remove his own t’filin, and only then should the student remove his t’filin.
The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim ibid) explains that the extension from removing t’filin in front of a king to removing t’filin in front of a rebbe stems from Shimusha Rabba (a Geonic work, primarily on Hilchos T’filin, cited in the Rosh). The Beis Yosef notes that the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5:6) also extends this prohibition from king to rebbe.
The Beis Yosef further cites the Mahari Abuhav, who notes that he does not understand why the Tur permits removing t’filin in front of your rebbe after your rebbe first removes his own t’filin. Isn’t it still a degradation to the rebbe for the student to go bareheaded (even for a few moments) in front of him? Rather, the Mahari Abuhav suggests alternative reasons for the prohibition. First, removing t’filin before the rebbe removes his own t’filin shows that the student doesn’t care about ridding himself of “ol malchus shamayim” without permission. Second, removing t’filin before the rebbe removes his own t’filin is tantamount to “paskening” in the rebbe’s presence because the student is “ruling” that it is time to take off t’filin. The Mahari Abuhav concludes that, according to this second reason, about “paskening,” the entire prohibition is only relevant to removing t’filin in the evening, where there is an actual “p’sak” about the official time to remove t’filin (as opposed to the middle of the day when removing t’filin is simply a necessity and not a “p’sak”).
The Beis Yosef concludes that we are stringent even for the reasons of Rashi, implying that a student should not remove t’filin in front of his rebbe even if the rebbe already removed his own t’filin.
III. Practically Speaking
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 38:11) rules that a student should not remove his t’filin in front of his rebbe but should instead turn his head to the side when removing it. By doing so, the student displays awe and fear for his rebbe. The Mishnah B’rurah (35) explains that we are discussing a rebbe muvhak.
The Magen Avraham (14) notes an additional reason for this prohibition. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:19) has an interesting halachah that a student may not perform tasks usually reserved for an eved (servant) for his rebbe in a place where people do not recognize him. We are afraid that people will think he is an eved. However, it is permitted to do so where the student is wearing t’filin, as servants do not wear t’filin. Thus, the Magen Avraham posits that the student may not remove his t’filin in front of his rebbe, as he is now unable to perform certain tasks for his rebbe.
The Magen Avraham adds that if the rebbe already removed his t’filin, then the student may remove his t’filin, as well, even in front of his rebbe. The Birkei Yosef challenges this Magen Avraham. Why should it matter whether the rebbe has already taken off his own t’filin?
Practically, the Mishnah B’rurah (36) rules that it is even forbidden to remove the t’filin in front of the rebbe muvhak where the rebbe muvhak already removed his own t’filin. The Shaar Hatzion explains that we are stringent because of the reason for the prohibition of lack of respect/awe for the rebbe, which applies regardless of whether the rebbe is wearing his own t’filin or not.
The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:39) notes that this halachah is omitted with respect to honoring a parent, specifically a father. He writes that presumably there is no prohibition of removing t’filin in front of a father due to the close connection between them and the fact that the father likely does not mind that the son is removing the t’filin in front of him.
The Toras Chacham (5:106) wonders whether this prohibition applies at all nowadays, where we are anyway wearing a yarmulke and therefore are not bareheaded without t’filin. There should be no prohibition, as there is no disrespect. He cites the Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 38:10) who indeed rules that there is no prohibition if the student is otherwise covering his head. This is also the opinion of Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (Emunah v’Torah, Talmud Torah 5:6).
Next Week’s Topic: May a student daven near his rebbe?