Praying in a Shul with a Stone Floor

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Introduction

  1. According to the Torah, it is prohibited to bow down and prostrate oneself on a stone floor[1], with exception to the Beit HaMikdash where one was allowed prostrate himself on its floors[2]. Bowing down onto a stone floor outside of the Beit HaMikdash, even if not on a stone floor or in a fully prostrated position is prohbited M’Derabanan (Rabbinically) lest a person think that it is permitted to fully prostrate on the stone floor.[3]
  1. An additional reason for the current practice to not bow down during Tefillah on any floor surfaces . Originally, fully prostrating oneself was the a fixture of Shacharit as it was the way Nefilat Apai’im was accomplished.[4] Fully prostrating oneself with the expectation of being answered was reserved to those of great righteous stature. This practice was abolished, even when not on a stone surface, so as not to degrade people who would prostrate themselves and ultimately not be answered[5].

Practical Applications

  1. In light of this, the custom is to tilt one’s head and rest it on his arm.[6] This is permitted even if one is resting his feet on a stone floor.[7]
  1. Today, after the upheaval of prostration during davening, it is only done during Avoda of Mussaf Yom Kippur and, in the case of Ashkenazim, during Aleinu in Chazarat HaShat”z for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During these times, because of the above prohibition, one should be careful not to do so on a stone floor. If one is standing on a floor stone, one should cover the area where his/her knees and face will make contact.[8] This can be done with spreading one’s talit so that it will cover his face as he reaches the floor.[9] If even that is unavailable, one should bow in a way that leans to his side and allows his head to fall onto his arm and not the floor.[10]
  1. This issue does not apply to floors made of brick.[11] Some are of the opinion that a marble floor would be halachically be considered like stone.[12] Others posit that concrete also has this status as it is contains many small stones.[13]

Sources

  1. Vayikra 26:1, Sefer HaMitzvot Mitzvah 349, Rambam Sefer HaMitzvot- Mitzvot Lo Taaseh 12
  2. Sifra 6:9
  3. Rosh on Berachot Perek 3:4, Kaf HaChaim Orach Chaim, 131:111
  4. Rambam Hilchot Tefilah 5:13-14
  5. Taanit 22b, see Rashi s.v. Elah Im Kein
  6. Rambam Seder HaTefillah 9:5 in his interpretation of the words, “Abaye V’Rava k’Dnaflu al apai'ihu atzlu atlzuyei" (Taanit 22b)
  7. Mishna Berurah Orach Chaim 131:8 S”K 41
  8. Orach Chaim 131:8
  9. Yalkut Yosef Orach Chaim 621 Siman 4:2, Mishna Berurah Orach Chaim 131:8 S”K 40
  10. See Yalkut Yosef ibid. footnote 2
  11. Mishna Berurah, Orach Chaim 131:8 Siman Katan 42
  12. Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 1:23
  13. Rav Elyashiv as cited in Piskei Teshuvot 131:27