106. Bowing in Shemoneh Esrei

18:11 The knees are bent and we bow four times in the Shemoneh Esrei: at the beginning and the end of the first blessing, and at the beginning and the end of the bracha “Modim.” When saying “Baruch,” one bends the knees and when saying “Atah,” he bows until his vertebrae protrude. We slowly return to an erect position before saying God’s Name, because “God straightens up the bent” (Psalms 146:8). Similarly, when saying “Modim,” we bend the knees and bow, rising before saying God’s Name. (At the start of Modim, we just bend our heads and bodies together at the waist – see Mishnah Brurah 113:12.) One should not bow so low that his mouth is opposite his belt, since this is considered arrogant. An older person, or someone who is sick or in pain, can bow the head and that’s sufficient. One may not add extra bows in other blessings of Shemoneh Esrei.

18:12 After Shemoneh Esrei, we say “Elokai, n’tzur l’shoni” (“God, guard my tongue…”). Before saying “Oseh shalom bimromav” (“may the One who makes peace in His heavens…”), one bows and take three steps back, like a servant departing from his master. One should take medium-sized steps, say toe to heel, but not very large steps. One steps first with the left foot, then right, then left again; one should not take more than three steps. Still bowing, one should turn his face to the left (which is metaphorically “God’s right”). He says “Oseh shalom bimromav,” then turns to his right and says “Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu.” He then bows to the front and says “v’al kol Yisrael v’imru Amen.” He then stands up straight and says the “Y’hi ratzon” prayer for the restoration of the Temple service, for which our prayers serve as a stand-in. We start back with the left foot to show our reluctance to depart from our meeting with God. For this reason, left-handed person steps back with his right foot first.