The Amida

What To Pray: Set Prayers: Amida

Pre-Prayer: Bathroom Needs

If you need to use the toilet, you may not say the amida.

Note: If you could refrain—even with difficulty--from using the bathroom for 72 minutes after you finish the amida, it is OK b'di'avad.

Intention/Concentration (Kavana)

When saying any amida, concentrate (at least for the first blessing) on the idea that you are standing in front of God (but if you did not concentrate, don't repeat the blessing or the amida).

With Whom To Pray

Say shemoneh esrei (amida) with a minyan—ideally starting together. The key is to begin with the other people, even if you will not finish at the same time. You should not begin before the congregation begins saying any amida.

Location: Moving Away

You may not move from where you began saying the amida until you finish the amida.

Example: You may not get on or off a bus in the middle of saying the amida.

Note: It is better to say the abridged version of the amida (this appears in some siddurs) if you do not have time to say it without interruption (but you may say the abridged version only during the summer, since you must say mashiv ha'ruach and other additions during the winter).

Exceptions:  Walking To Avoid Being Disturbed

You may walk to another place, even in the middle of the amida, if you are disturbed or distracted where you are, such as to move away from:

  • An immodestly dressed woman or other visual distraction,
  • Bad smell,
  • Animal, or
  • Noise (such as people talking).

Walking To Correct a Mistake

You may walk across the room--even in the middle of the amida--in order to look in a book of halacha to see how to correct a mistake or omission you made while saying the amida.

When To Face Jerusalem

Face toward Jerusalem when saying the amida.

Note: You may not stand with your back to an ark containing a Torah scroll, so you might need to modify the direction in which you are facing.

How To Face Jerusalem

To face Jerusalem, turn toward the “great circle”--the shortest route over the surface of a sphere or the globe (not necessarily eastward). If you don't know which is the correct direction, or if facing toward Jerusalem would make you face improperly dressed people, feces, or other distracting or disgusting items, then focus your thoughts on Jerusalem and face any direction.

Where To Face for Wisdom or Wealth

When praying:

  • To gain wisdom, face slightly south.
  • To gain wealth, face slightly north.

This is a non-binding suggestion, not a halacha.

Near Someone Praying

Don't cross within 7 feet (4 amot, or 2.1 m) in front of someone who is saying the amida, even if there is an intervening chair or other furniture in front of the person who is praying. If you finish before someone who is directly behind you, you must wait for the person to finish his or her amida before you step directly back. However, you may step back on an angle so that you do not end up in front of the person who was behind you.

Someone Blocking the Way while Praying

You may walk in front of someone who is praying in a doorway or otherwise blocking the way, since they are not allowed to block other people from entering.

How Loud To Say the Amida

Whisper the individual amida so that you can just hear yourself but people standing near you cannot hear you, whether you are praying as an individual or as a prayer leader (during your private amida).

Amida Phrases That Are Never Said Aloud

These phrases are never said aloud, not in the personal amida and not in the reader's repetition:

  • Ki shem adonai ekra
  • Adonai sifatai
  • Elohai netzur
  • Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei phi.

Amida: Standing Up

Stand up when saying the amida. Unless you are not able to stand unaided, you may not lean on something if you would fall over if that item were removed.

Standing with Feet Together

Stand with your feet together to resemble the angels, who only have one leg, during the private amida and for kedusha.

Sitting for Concentration

You may sit during the amida (and other standing prayers) to avoid distraction, such as when you might be jolted in a moving vehicle or disturbed by people passing in the airplane aisle.

Steps Before and After

Stepping To Begin the Amida

After saying ga'al Yisrael, take three steps forward (any size of steps is fine):

  • Step forward with your right foot,
  • Step forward with your left foot, then
  • Step forward with your right foot so that both feet are touching at the heels and at the balls (so that you are standing as if you had one leg, like the angels!).

Note: Taking three steps backward immediately before taking three steps forward, as instructed in some siddurs, defeats the purpose of taking the three steps forward. The purpose of stepping forward is to symbolically approach Hashem. If you step backward and then take your three steps forward, you are back to where you began and have not approached Hashem at all!

If you do not have enough room in front of yourself to take three steps forward when beginning your amida, step back somewhat (at least a few seconds) before you say ga'al Yisrael. There is no need to take three steps back; a single large step that will give you room to take three steps forward is all that is needed.

By making a practice of taking three steps back, people have made the stepping backward part of the entire procedure, and it should not be.

Similarly, once you have finished saying the amida and walked three steps backward, wait at least three seconds before walking forward so as not to defeat the purpose of having stepped backward. Take as many steps as you need to get back to your seat--one step should suffice.

Stepping Before Kedusha

You do not need to take three steps forward (or any steps at all!) before saying kedusha.

When To Hit Your Chest during Prayers

Hit your chest near your heart with your fist at:

  • Chatanu... and ... fashanu... in slach lanu,
  • First line of Avinu malkeinu (except on Rosh Hashana),
  • Ve'al cheit and ve'al chataim in the al cheit for Yom Kippur, and
  • Ashamnu on
    • Rosh Hashana,
    • 10 Days of Repentance,
    • Fast days, and
    • Selichot.

Responding to Prayer Leader before Elohai Netzur

Situation: You have finished saying the final amida blessing “...ha'mevareich et amo Yisrael ba'shalom,” but you have not yet said Elohai neztur.... You now need to respond to the prayer leader when he says kaddish, kedusha, blessings, or modim.

What To Do: Quickly say the line “Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei phi....” and then you may reply to all parts of the public prayer, except that you may not say “Baruch hu u'varuch shemo.” Then you may say Elohai netzur.

Note: If you need to say the mourner's kaddish, say the entire line of Yihiyu l'ratzon imrei phi and then say mourner's kaddish. You may step back at Oseh shalom in kaddish and then, after completing saying kaddish, you may say Elohai netzur.

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