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Do Jews Kneel in Prayer?

Do Jews Kneel in Prayer?

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Question:

I was given no formal education of my Jewish heritage, but I’m told that Jews are instructed not to kneel when we worship. Is this correct? If so, what is this instruction about?

Answer:

Throughout the Bible, we find bowing and kneeling as part of prayer, and this was indeed the practice in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are several reasons, however, why we do not kneel when we worship today.

The Bible states, in Leviticus 26:1, “Nor shall you install a kneeling-stone in your land, to bow down upon it.” Idol-worshipers often placed a special stone before their idol and then used it to kneel upon while they prayed to their idols. The above verse forbids prostrating yourself flat-out on a stone floor, even if you are worshiping the One G‑d. Our Sages extended this prohibition to include kneeling.1

However, the Code of Jewish Law states that if you put an intervening substance between your knees and the stone floor, then it is permitted to kneel.2 Therefore, on Yom Kippur, when we do kneel and bow down with our faces to the floor, people bring towels to kneel on, since many synagogues (especially in Israel) have stone or tile floors.

When it comes to daily prayers, however, we are concerned about transgressing this prohibition and therefore do not kneel in prayer.

Additionally, according to the Talmud, a person of holiness and stature is discouraged from kneeling in his prayers unless he is sure that his prayers will be answered. If such a person were to kneel in his prayers, and his prayers were not accepted, it would seem, in the eyes of the masses, as if G‑d were unfair and unjust, while truly it is just we who cannot understand His ways.3

Please let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism Website Chabad.org

Footnotes
1.

The only exception to this was kneeling on the floor in the Holy Temple.

2.

Shulchan Aruch Harav 131:1 (vol. 1, p. 383, in the Kehot edition of 2001).

3.

Talmud, Megillah 22b.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Natan Skokie July 8, 2015

I heard that one reason we do not prostrate is because Muslims do it. Any credence? Reply

Anonymous Albany October 13, 2014

Rabbi, et alia:

Regarding Talmud study Brachot 10b.4-11a.1

I was taught that in accordance with Sefer Yetzirah, that as the world was created with 32 utterances of Elokim, we as minority partners in creation, are connecting with that energy when the human spine (which is composed of thirty-two vertebrae) is straightened (as we straighten the world by putting holiness into the mundane). Thus our vertebrae must be straight when we say the shema. As well, the pronounciation of echad as "echadth" (Yeminite), we also properly align the 32 teeth we have. Thus, as I was taught, extending our days by extending the echa"dth" (Berachot 13b).

Moreover, since when have we Jews lacked the emunah to act in a manner consistent with the presumption our prayers will be accepted? Is this not in great portion the very "Joy of Yom Kippur"?

A modest Jew Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL September 12, 2014

We are talking about people kneeling thousand years ago! Maybe because people were spiritually closer to G-d in those times! Today people might kneel in certain occasions like in despair situations, but not in every normal days or holidays. People kneel in churches not in synagogues. I didn't chose the subject line myself, it was offered and I found it very appropriate. Reply

Paul carley Iteland September 12, 2014

What about Daniel the prophet who kneeled to pray three times a day raging jerusalem Reply

Michelle Weizmann Alabama July 18, 2014

Prayer is a personal dialog between man and G-d. The intent and focus should therefore be on that dialog rather than do I stand, prostrate, kneel, etc? I have personally tried different "methods" while praying...shuckling (while standing), standing still (except for bowing and bending of knees at appropriate times), kneeling, and full prostration. For me, shuckling while standing helps with concentration (otherwise my mind will wonder) and I'm comfortable. I'm focused on that dialog rather than the pain I feel in my knees while kneeling or full prostration. Reply

Moshe Hermosa Beach February 13, 2014

כָּל-קֳבֵל, דְּנָה--מַלְכָּא, דָּרְיָוֶשׁ, רְשַׁם כְּתָבָא, וֶאֱסָרָא. 10 Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the interdict.
יא וְדָנִיֵּאל כְּדִי יְדַע דִּי-רְשִׁים כְּתָבָא, עַל לְבַיְתֵהּ, וְכַוִּין פְּתִיחָן לֵהּ בְּעִלִּיתֵהּ, נֶגֶד יְרוּשְׁלֶם; וְזִמְנִין תְּלָתָה בְיוֹמָא הוּא בָּרֵךְ עַל-בִּרְכוֹהִי, וּמְצַלֵּא וּמוֹדֵא קֳדָם אֱלָהֵהּ, כָּל-קֳבֵל דִּי-הֲוָא עָבֵד, מִן-קַדְמַת דְּנָה. {ס} 11 And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house--now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem--and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. {S}
יב אֱדַיִן גֻּבְרַיָּא אִלֵּךְ, הַרְגִּשׁוּ, וְהַשְׁכַּחוּ, לְדָנִיֵּאל--בָּעֵה וּמִתְחַנַּן, קֳדָם אֱלָהֵהּ. 12 Then these men came tumultuously, and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Reply

Anonymous January 29, 2014

Thank you for your clarification, however, I am a little confused still. Moses, the most humble of all, would he have kneeled to pray if he was in solomon's position? Or would he say that he couldnt be sure his prayers would be answered? That is to say, how could anyone KNOW their prayers could be answered, a mortal cannot know what the Almighty is going to do. I look forward to hearing your reply. Many thanks. Reply

Some Rabbi Thereafter January 28, 2014

Anon: I'd argue that King Solomon had good reason to be certain that his prayers would be answered. He was, after all, a wise and righteous man, and leader of the entire nation!
Joe: While prostrating may have been common even among Jews at one point in time, today it is limited for the most part only to certain point in the Rosh Hashana Yom Kippur prayers. Why some Jews say they have never seen this is merely a question about their attendance at an observant synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Reply

Anonymous January 24, 2014

It says in the book of King's that King Solomon went down on his knees when praying before G-d, was this because he knew his prayers would be answered? Should we not be trying to emulate the wise King Solomon? Reply

Joe Serhan San Diego January 14, 2014

I think that by Mohamed's time, Jews used to prostrate, but for some extreme thoughts by some Rabbis, made the Jews stop prostrating.
That's one of the reasons the Koran is prohibited from any translation.
Prostrating to G-d, should be normal practice for all humanity that believes in the Thereafter.
Whats make me wonder is how come some Jews say they do prostrate some times, while other Jews say they have never seen any Jew prostrating. Reply

B. Davidson Brooklyn January 18, 2013

As explained in the response, it is not essentially forbidden to kneel in prayer before G-d, provided that it is not on a stone floor, and there are indeed times when we do kneel even today. Typically, however, is not done today, for the reasons outlined. Reply

D. Davidson NY January 18, 2013

So according to this answer (which wasn't an answer at all), it is ok to bow or kneel in prayer as long as you have a prayer rug and you aren't bowing to an idol? I think I'm more confused now than before. Reply

Richard Raff July 8, 2011

This is a issue between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel which where sages of the court system back in (3581-3801)-(180 bce-40ce).This is classic disagreement in respects to positioning of standing or sitting during shema,nothing about kneeling. The positive Mitzvot #10 states "Reading the Shema twice daily".Deut 6.7 also states"You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home,while you walk on the way,when you retire and when you rise".The negative Mitzvot #5 states "Not to bow to an idol",Ex20.5"You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them,for I am Hashem,your G-d-a zealous G-d,Who visits the sin of fathers upon children,upon the third (gen)and upon the fourth for those who hate Me".So this interruption in Talmud law brachot 10b.4-11a.1 beis Shammai argues more respect with standing and Beis Hillel states that it goes beyond normal practice.Just a fact the two academies have 316 disagreements and still have good fellows Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, FL July 6, 2011

manufacture such story using in vain famous people's names
Kneeling in church is not wrong if you are not Jewish. But it is wrong for a Jew to do so in a church. Doing certain things are very particular to each religion and kneeling is one of them for the Muslims and the Christians. Therefore, as Jew, we do not follow/copy any other religion we abide by the Torah. Each religion does as it fits. The difference between us and them and why they kneel is that they have an icon we do not have a physical representation of G-d. We stand as G-d intended for us to do. However, today I’m sure kosher food could be revised, thanks to better and healthy methods of raising animals, but traditions are traditions and we are still going by the book on that one. Yes, kneeling, I’m sure is cited in some biblical books on certain circumstances. In all my years, I have never ever seen Jewish people kneeling while praying. We do bend forward, left and right, yes, to acknowledge our respect to G-d. Reply

Anonymous July 1, 2011

Felgele,
Kneeling in churches is wrong, NOT because kneeling is non-Jewish, but because kneeling in worship of Jesus is not Jewish. Non-Jews also stand in prayer. Should we therefore abstain from standing during prayer? Muslims abstain from pork -- should we therefore eat pork?

Kneeling and bowing are mentioned explicitly as a valid Jewish practice in prayer throughout Tanakh (Jewish Bible), throughout the Talmudic sources, as well as throughout the writings the geonim and rishonim. The son of the Rambam (Maimonidies) wrote in his book Ha-Maspik l-Ovdei HaShem that only an unlearned individual could say that kneeling and prostrating in prayer is a uniquely non-Jewish practice or a new innovation. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, Florida May 30, 2011

What does that mean? Sorry I am not familiar with this procedure.
Kneeling while praying seems to me acknowledging guilt from the person like asking for forgiveness of something. It is very condescending and non-Jewish practice. Praying should be recognizing G-d’s existence by thanking him for all the mercies he bestows upon us and ask for the safeguard of human being’s lives on earth or even for a personal favor. It should not be a punishment as kneeling seems like.
After the WWII, my parents kept visiting the farmers in Normandy who saved us and as children my sister and I would spend our summer vacations there. The farmers would go to church on Sunday and took us once. They were kneeling while praying and asked us to do the same. But I knew in my heart at a very young age that it was not proper for us to do so, and I did not kneel nor did my sister. The farmers understood and never took us there again with no comments on the matter. Reply

Mr. Richard Raff May 27, 2011

What about the morning Shema ? Can we sit in a chair during those times of praying? Reply

Anonymous srq, fl May 27, 2011

look forward to more Reply

Frank morris lawrenceburg, Tennessee May 26, 2011

this was something I didn't know, but I do know this, worship with a whole heart, it says to lift up holy hands, do we do that, G-d deserve all of us, sometimes we should lay out on the on our face, if moses was told take off your sandels because you our on holy grounds, my question who are we. food for thought. Reply

Anonymous Jacksonville, Florida May 26, 2011

Thank you for this information. I too did not know why we don't kneel. I'm going to print it out and show it to others. Reply