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