For Whom We Stand
Question: An older person gets on an intercity bus whose seats have been filled by passengers who got on at the first stop on the route. Is there any obligation on the younger passenger to give up his seat, even if it means standing during a long trip, or is it the responsibility of the older person to make an effort to get on at the first stop or to at least clarify whether there is sitting room before boarding the bus?
Answer: This is not the sort of issue that will ever come before a rabbinical court but rather one which presents an ethical challenge to both parties involved.
The older person should be reminded that although the Torah demands respect be shown to the elderly and to Torah scholars, it is improper for such individuals to impose on the public by intentionally walking past them to require standing up for them (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 244:6). Boarding a crowded bus and compelling another passenger to stand throughout the journey is tantamount to such an imposition, and it would therefore be proper for the older passenger to board the bus at its first stop or seek an alternative form of transportation.
Once such a person has already boarded the bus, however, it is only proper that he be offered a seat, at least for a part of the trip. Not only is this considered by a number of authorities as an extension of the halachic obligation to rise in respect, but must also be viewed as a matter of lifesaving, since prolonged standing may pose a serious threat to the health of an older passenger. This latter consideration is also relevant to a pregnant woman passenger.
(Based on the response of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, Rabbi of the Ramat Elchanan community in Bnei Brak.)