Shabbat 114 The Status of a Scholar
Because of this, the status of a scholar is an important consideration for the Talmud (also, the people writing and reading the Talmud were “scholars” and it was in their own self-interest!). The very phrase for “scholar”, talmid khakham, literally means “wise student,” showing the connection between learning and teaching. This same connection is highlighted by several teachings in today’s daf: the scholar is the one who can answer a question of halakha from any place; the scholar who only knows one masekhta [tractate] may lead his own city, but one who knows the whole field of learning may serve b’resh metivta – as the head of an academy. In other words, the most learned are those who serve as teachers, and they also lead communities.
An interesting question in Jewish history, and in the Talmud as well, is how much status to give rabbis – for example, should a community provide the Rabbi a living, or should they also have a profession? Almost all rabbis in Talmudic times had professions, but there were also cases envisioned by Rabbi Yokhanan – one who puts aside his own interests in favor of khafatsei shamayim [the interests of heaven] should be supported by the community, but only his basic needs. Today, of course, where being a Rabbi is a trained and generally adequately-compensated profession, such minimal support would be difficult to sell.
But Rabbis today would also understand the sentiment behind Rabbi Yokhanan’s saying that it is a disgrace for a scholar to go out with patches on his shoes. In other words, you can tell the values of a community by how it treats what it claims to value most. If one person says they love all Jews but constantly complains that they don’t follow what that person believes is the only way to be Jewish, how sincere is that original claim? If the scholar is the leader of the community, then treat them well.
Rabbi Adam Chalom