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Parsha Mitzvot: Vayechi: Jacob Bowing To Joseph



“Then Israel prostrated himself towards the head of the bed.” (Genesis 47:31) Normally it would have been improper for a father to bow to his son, but in this case, Joseph was the reigning viceroy, so that Jacob was bowing to royalty. (Rashi)

Rabbi Yaakov Reischer, the Shevut Yaakov, (Volume III #5) was asked: If a greatruler or a duke comes into the synagogue, is it permitted to remove the hat from the head in order to honor him, even though one remains standing with bared head?

The essence of the law and the prohibition of uncovering the head has no esssential root or clear source in the Talmud. For the prohibition of ‘peruei rosh,’ leaving the head in disarray, which is forbidden in the sanctuary itself, does not mean the uncovering of the head, but rather letting the hair grow long, as is explained in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 22b) and in the Rambam in the Laws of Entering The Sanctuary, Chapter 1.

But the Rambam, in the Laws of Prayer (V:5) writes: “A man shall not stand in prayer with uncovered head.” The Bet Yosef (Tur O”C 91) says that,  The Kol Bo (14th Century) quotes Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg as saying that there is no prohibition against walking with an uncovered head; for the Talmudic statement (Shabbat 118b), that Rav Huna said, ‘Count to my credit that I have never walked four cubits with an uncovered head,’ simply means that keeping the head covered is an act of special piety. But the Rif said that we must prevent people from entering the synagogue with an uncovered head.”

Later in the Responsum Rav Reischer says, At all events, did not the Rabbis permit the hair to be cut in te ‘Kumi’ style – a special style of fringe haircut favored by the pagans – because of keeping peace with the government, as we find in the Talmud (Bava Kamma 83a) even though that involves ‘the ways of the Amorites,’ – a phrase referring to forbidden superstitious practices?

If so, such permission applies here too.

Even more than that, we find in the Shulchan Aruch (Y”D 150:3) in the Ramah, “Even if there is upon the garments of the priests a cross, there are some who are lenient in permitting the removal of our hat before them.” All the more is it permitted in the case of a ruler where we are not concerned that we might be saluting a cross. No one certainly disagrees with it. So it seems to me.

Of course, if it is possible to explain to the ruler that we are prohibited to appear in the synagogue with an uncovered head, perhaps he might be satisfied, just as was the case with that pious man mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 32b-33a) who was at prayer and did not answer the greeting of a ruler who had greeted him. The pious man explained the reason and the ruler was appeased. Certainly if we could do that, it would be praiseworthy.

Thus it seems to me, the humble one,
Jacob

Questions to consider:

If we strongly suspect that the ruler will insist that we uncover our heads, should we still attempt to explain, allowing him the opportunity to force us to violate an important custom?

While we can understand why the people in this case were concerned about insulting the ruler, Jacob surely was not. Why did he bow to Joseph?

Was Joseph permitted to stand while his father bowed to him?

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