Waist-Bowing and Knee-Bowing

There are two main types of bowing during the prayer services:

  • Bowing just from the waist (with and without taking steps), and
  • Bowing with the knees, plus two variations on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (hands and knees on floor).

I. Waist-Bowing (Two Forms)

A. Waist-Bowing/No Steps, for:

  •    Modim;
  •    Modim in reader's repetition of amida;
  •    Bar'chu;
  •    Lecha Dodi; and
  •    Alenu.

To bow this way, keep your legs straight and bend forward from your waist.

B. Waist-Bowing/Take Steps, for:

Oseh shalom at the end of:

  •    Amida, and
  •    Kaddish.

To bow this way:

  •    Bow down from waist with your legs straight.
  •    Take three steps backward (left foot, right foot, left foot),
  •    Then:
  •        Bow from your waist to the left and say, oseh shalom bi'mromav,
  •        Bow from your waist to the right and say, hu ya'aseh shalom alenu, and
  •        Bow from your waist to the front and say, ve'al kol yisrael v'imru amen.

II. Knee-Bowing (Three Times during Amida)

  •    Beginning of amida's first blessing,
  •    End of amida's first blessing, and
  •    Next-to-last amida blessing: ha'tov shimcha.

To bow this way:

  •    Bend knees (at baruch),
  •    Bow forward (at ata), and
  •    Straighten up (before God's name).

III. Knee-Bowing to Floor (Two Forms)

A. Knee-Bowing to Floor--Hands and Knees Only

(Rosh Hashana musaf: alenu in reader's repetition of amida)

To bow this way:

  •    Kneel (with your back straight up) (at “hayu kor'im”), and
  •    Bow down with hands and knees on floor (at “u'mishtachavim u'modim”), but
  •    You are not required to touch your forehead to ground.

Note: You should still bow from your waist (but not to the floor) on Rosh Hashana--even if you are praying alone and even if there is no Torah present.

B. Knee-Bowing to Floor--Hands, Knees, Forehead

(Yom Kippur musaf: alenu reader's repetition of amida describing how the people bowed down on Yom Kippur.)

To bow this way:

  •    Kneel (with your back straight up) (at “hayu kor'im”),
  •    Bow down with hands and knees on floor (at “u'mishtachavim u'modim”),
  •    Touch forehead to floor (at v'noflim al pneihem).

NOTE: You may not bow down (modim for Yom Kippur) on a bare stone floor (this also includes concrete, terrazzo and other stone-like materials). You must put a cloth, paper, or some other separation on the floor where you will place your forehead and your knees. A talit may be used for this purpose. If you have only one paper towel, put it under your forehead.

NOTE: It is customary today to cover any floor, not only if it is bare stone.

Situation: You are bowing down (modim for Yom Kippur; also for Rosh Hashana if you bow down this far) on a bare stone floor (concrete, terrazzo, and other stone-like materials).

What To Do: You may not touch your forehead or knees (if covered by pants legs or skirt) to the floor. You may cover the floor with some separation such as cloth, paper, or even a talit at the place where your forehead (or knees) will touch.

Reason: You might wipe off any dirt from the floor on your pant knees or skirt, which is prohibited on Yom Kippur. There is no need to use a paper towel or other separation for knees if they are bare (for example, due to wearing shorts or a short skirt).

Note: There is no problem with brushing dirt off your hands, so you can touch the bare stone floor with your bare hands during the bowing.

Copyright 2015 Richard B. Aiken. Halacha L’Maaseh appears courtesy of www.practicalhalacha.com Visit their web site for more information.

This material is provided for informational purposes only – not a substitute for the consultation of a competent rabbi.