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I am asking this question in light of a situation I witnessed recently:

When the senior rabbi of our shul--a very righteous man who was keeping his wife's yahrzeit that night--walked past the audience to come to the stage, a few people seated on the end of the front row nearest him stood halfway up, or possibly stood up and bowed.

What were they doing and what are the details of this custom? Who, what, when, and where do we do it?

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Leviticus 19:32

מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man

The Talmud (Kiddushin 32b) understands this to refer (in addition to the elderly) to any Torah scholar, and so it is codified in Shulchan Arukh (YD 244:1) that one must stand to honor a Torah scholar who passes within 4 cubits of him.

This is likely what the people you witnessed were doing.

  • I have also heard that the word זקן = זה שקנה חכמה - One who has acquired wisdom. I don't know the origin of this idea. – DanF Jun 18 '15 at 15:18
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    Can you elaborate regarding the scholarly stature threshold for requiring people to get up? Or is standing simply the expression of great respect, in which case it's up to you and your appraisal of the man? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jun 18 '15 at 21:32
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    @SAH It's gender independent for both the stand-er and the stand-ee. – Double AA Jun 19 '15 at 2:22
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    @einpoklum Pseudo-Rama there comments that so long as the scholar is more scholarly than you that he could be your teacher, you should stand. The Shakh there comments that this must mean significantly more scholarly than most people AND more scholarly than you. (I agree these categories are not so precise.) – Double AA Jun 19 '15 at 2:27
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    @einpoklum This is not a custom. This is a biblical commandment which all adult Jews are obligated in. It's one of the 613 commandments (#257 in the Chinukh). – Double AA Jun 19 '15 at 7:58

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