Non-Jewish Customs I: BOWING

 

 

Shalom,

I am from Israel and I have a question regarding your video on bowing. I thought that Jewish people are not allowed to bow nowadays for the Muslems do. And we don’t want to do that same thing as they do. I have heard that from a very religious person.

Could you please tell me whether this is true?

 

Thank you so much,

Todah raba

 

 

Shalom u-verakha.

 

Sometimes perceiving oneself as “very religious” can make the individual think he knows more about his religion than he actually does. We are all weak in this regard, concerning whatever it is we feel well learned in. It’s definitely the case here.

 

Many people have said this to me as well. My favorite reply is – what’s your source? No one who has given me this reason has a source for it. It’s just their own opinion. It isn’t written in any authoritative book of Jewish law.

 

Even IF it were written in an widely recognized book of Jewish law, it would still be unacceptable. Why? Because the logic is flawed. If we should no longer prostrate because Muslims prostrate, then we shouldn’t do MANY other things that Muslims also do, such as washing one’s hand 3 times with water before prayer. Women covering their hair. Standing while praying (…they don’t bow the entire time). Abstaining from pork! (How’d you like to stop keeping that law? lol). Not using the bathroom in the direction of Har ha-Baiyit (the Temple Mount) — YEP, muslims have a prohibition against using the bathroom facing either Mekka OR the direction of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem… when outside. We have this same exact law, minus Mekka 🙂 The truth is that the list goes on and on. There are FAR more similarities between Islam and Torah-Judaism than most people realize.

 

Likewise, if the reasoning were sound, I think we would have seen a specific prohibition against prostrating already in Talmudic times. Why? Because Christians already existed in Talmudic times and the Sages were aware of them. AND the early Christians prostrated! (Some still do! Ethiopian Christians, Coptic Christians, Orthodox Christians, for example… because it’s mentioned in the New Testament as a Jewish practice!). Yet, despite the fact that Christians were prostrating the only attention the Talmudic Sages give regarding the matter is WHEN one is required to prostration during prayer! There is no evidence that the ancient Sages of Israel ceased prostrating just because the early Christians were prostrating or because the idolaters before Christianity were prostrating. To the contrary, we see that in Biblical times the Jewish people prostrated despite the fact that non-Jews were prostrating as well, and we see that prostration continued as a Jewish practice after that, both after the rise of Christians and after the rise of Islam! Major Jewish leaders mention the common practice of Jewish prostration up until the Middle Ages!

 

Personally, I think the main reason for the ceasing of prostration among Jews had to do with putting chairs into synagogues. This made less room for prostrating, thus making it unpractical. Over-crowdedness in synagogues could also have made it impossible, even without putting to chairs in the synagogue. It was not uncommon for Muslim governments to limit the size of synagogues. What happens when population grows but the synagogue must stay small? It could be that there was a restriction on putting carpet in the synagogue, in which a stone floor may have caused the community to cease. It is forbidden to prostrate on cut-stone. Perhaps some communities were just too poor to afford carpet or some other material to separate their faces from a stone floor. It would only take one or two generations to cause prostration to cease, so that even if after a few generations a later Muslim government becomes more lenient, widespread knowledge of the practice already made it seem foreign. We see this in modern times with Yemenite Jews who continued to bow DAILY during Tahhanun on the floor until arrival to Israel. How many younger Yemenite Jews are aware of this? Close to none! Same goes with pronunciation of Hebrew and so forth. I think it’s likely that there remained a number of Middle Eastern communities who continued to prostrate, even apart from Yemenites, but who ceased more recently due to a more recently popularized custom to abstain based on a warning in the Zohar. This is mentioned in the Ben Ish Hai’s writings. The Zohar doesn’t forbid the practice. It just warns that one who doesn’t have proper intention while prostrating during Tahhanun may have his life shortened. Hmm, if you don’t honor your father and mother properly your life may also be shortened than what it would otherwise have been. Should we then abandon honoring our father and mother altogether? Or should we start doing it properly? …It only takes one or two generations to alter nearly universal perception of normalcy.

 

Yosef

 

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