Who is Considered One’s “Rabbi”?
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) states that one who disagrees with one’s rabbi is tantamount to disagreeing with Hashem’s presence. We have already discussed in the Halacha Yomit that there are three categories of rabbis (Torah scholars) being discussed here: The first is one’s primary, i.e. the rabbi under whom one has studied most of one’s Torah knowledge or a Torah luminary of the generation. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules that the law regarding one who disagrees with one’s rabbi is tantamount to disagreeing with Hashem’s presence only applies to one’s primary and not to a Torah scholar who is not one’s primary rabbi. Based on this, the prohibition to disagree with one’s rabbi applies to a Torah luminary of the generation as well.
What Does “Disagreeing” Mean?
The Rishonim disagree regarding the definition of “disagreeing with one’s rabbi”: Does this mean simply ruling on halachic matters against one’s rabbi or does this refer to the student establishing his own Bet Midrash where he sits, learns, and teaches without his rabbi’s permission thereby accepting authority upon himself without his rabbi’s express permission and only this is considered disagreeing with Hashem’s presence.
The Rambam, Tur, and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rule in accordance with the latter opinion that one who establishes a place for himself to learn and teach without one’s rabbi’s permission is tantamount to disagreeing with Hashem presence. Nevertheless, one may disagree with one’s rabbi on matters of Halacha, such as we find many times throughout the Talmud that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi disagreed with his father and rabbi, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, as did Rava with his primary rabbi, Rav Yosef. However, in order to do so, one must certainly have solid sources and proofs to support one’s opinion and one must likewise weigh one’s rabbi’s opinion carefully and not rush to disagree with his opinion for naught, thus causing one to disagree with one’s rabbi contrary to Halacha in addition to rendering a mistaken halachic ruling.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that when disagreeing with one’s rabbi on a given matter, one should not do so in his presence; however, doing so not in the rabbi’s presence is permissible provided that this is being done in a humble and respectful manner and not as a display of victory. We should add that nowadays, it is quite common for some Torah scholars to disagree with their rabbis who are leader of the generation and upon analyzing the words of the students, it is apparent that their words have no substance and that they are causing needless disagreements in the Jewish nation and issuing mistaken halachic rulings. About such people does the Rambam write: “Such small students who have not studied Torah sufficiently and wish to elevate themselves in the eyes of the general public and in the eyes of the members of their city by jumping to sit in the front in order to judge and rule for the Jewish nation increase arguments, destroy the world, extinguish the flame of the Torah, and damage the vineyard of Hashem. About such individuals does King Solomon exclaim, ‘Little foxes who damage vineyards.’”
We have mentioned all of this so that when one chooses a rabbi for one’s self that will rule on matters of Halacha and the like for the individual, one must make sure that this rabbi is a true Torah scholar who has found favor in the eyes of the Torah luminaries of the generation and is deeply G-d-fearing, for a Torah scholar’s fear of Heaven must precede his Torah knowledge and he must likewise possess excellent character traits, as we shall, G-d-willing, discuss in the future. One must not take this lightly, for the decision one makes regarding who one’s rabbi will be will have tremendous implications in all areas of one’s life. We have seen rabbis who did not possess fear of Heaven and who ended up infliction irreparable damage on entire Jewish communities.