The RABBINIC concepts of Korea, Yosheb la'areS, Qidah & Prostration

  • Bowing, kneeling, yoshev la'areS, qidah & prostration [to the one G-D] originated in authentic Torah Teachings (the Torah of Moses). It certainly preceded Islam and Christianity. It is still practiced (to some extent) today and is/was retained by a minority of Jews, even during the Middle Ages. And while portions of this original practice may (or may not have) been copied by other religions, anyone familiar with ancient practice knows we still preserve the original method of prostration. In my opinion, a popular return to proper Jewish prostration or qidah, (which brings about focused, meaningful prayer) will result in a greater level of shifa for the Jewish people (and the world). This translates into a greater level of Divine protection (based on concepts in 'The Guide' / Moreh Nevukhim).

    Some MidRaShYm (based on
    Samuel 1:28) say that the Temple will only be rebuilt in the merit of prostration.  

















































BELOW: An In-Depth Background Study & Historical Analysis


(a) Question: When Rav came to Bavel, all fell on their faces, but Rav did not - why not?
(b) Answer: There was a stone floor.

1. (Beraisa): We may bow on the floor of the Temple, but not on other stone floors.

(c) Question: If so, why did the others fall on their faces?
(d) Answer#1: Only the floor in front of Rav was made of stone.

1. Question: Why didn't Rav move to their place, so he could fall on his face?
2. Answer: He did not want to impose on them to stand up for him.

(e) Answer#2: Rav used to spread his hands and feet when he fell on his face.

1. (Ula): The Torah only prohibited spreading hands and feet.
2. Question: He should have fell on his face without spreading his hands and feet!
3. Answer: He did not want to change his custom.

(f) Answer#3: An important person is different.

1. (R. Elazar): An important person may not fall on his face unless he will be answered, as Yehoshua Bin Nun.

(g) (Beraisa): "Kidah" is on one's face, as it says, "va'Tikad (bowed) Bas-Sheva on her face";

1. "Kriah" is on the knees.
2. "Hishtachavah" is spreading hands and feet - "l'Hishtachavos to you on the ground".

(h) Levi showed Rebbe how Hishtachavah is done, and became limp.
(i) Question: There was a different cause!

1. (R. Elazar): One should never speak harshly towards Hashem - a great person did so, and became limp - Levi!

(j) Answer: Both caused him to become limp.
(k) (R. Chiya Bar Avin): I saw Abaye and Rava lean on their sides (since important people may not fall on their faces unless they know they will be answered).

The Chisdai Letters: Rabbi Chisdai ibn Shaprut (c. 915-c.990 CE)
Rabbi Chisdai was one of the most important and influential Jews
of the Tenth Century. On prostration method, he had the following
to say:

"I bow (prostrate) my face to the ground in his Presence and
prostrate (bow) myself facing the lofty King's dwelling place
of far away.."


Hoter Ben Shelomo: ~1400 CE: Yemen

"Hoter ben Shlomo" (Mansur bin Sulayman al-Ghamari)

Even Sepir :1859 CE: Yemen
In the book Even Sepir (page 68), a well known European-born Jewish traveller, an Orthodox Rabbi, who visited Yemen in the year of 1859, wrote the following about daily prayer of Yemenite Jews:

"they fall on their faces, after the Prayer (Amida), stretching out
their arms and legs, like the custom of Ashkenazim on Yom
Kippur." (translation from Yusef)
































The Actual Process of HistaHawaya (Prostration)

After reviewing all of the correspondence on this subject (for many years), it all boils down to the final following 12 steps, which represent our conclusion.  Any correspondence that appears afterwards was used to help us reach this conclusion. Many experts were consulted. Many thanks to all the scholars and rabbonim that participated. Most of all... I would like to thank Michael ben Avraham and others. May they merit to live many long years of life and to observe many festivals in the land of Israel. If anyone has aspects of the bat kol, it is surely in these pure and righteous brothers. This study was meticulously conducted by interviewing old Yemenite rabbonim, Saadia Gaon & RMb"M oriented scholars, in order to avoid potential accusations of innovation -- from historical (or just plain naive) revisionists.  In the end, we did not entirely endorse the old (not modern) Yemenite version of Nefillath Apayim, that is currently described by Mori QafaH and Mahari"S - as coming from the Geonim. However, this version was close. See below for more details on this topic. We also scrutinized the many references which are found in the basic texts of the TaNaKh (Bible) itself. Of course, historical testimonies are also included in this study.

Step By Step Prostration: Mishneh Torah

1) lift head from final right bow (of Amidhah)
2) move to a different spot if stone is before you or its nasty or there is not enough room
or a better spot could be had. This is because the pasuq prohibits prostrating on stone in
 "YOUR LAND". "YOUR LAND" excludes the Temple - Land, which is "HIS LAND."
It is best to use a small rug or carpet. Many prefer one that sends a Jewish message-
i.e.:Jewish symbols.
3) once in place - facing the miqdash (standing) drop Tallith from being draped over arms
to hang from over the head loosely
4) If rug could be dirty, pull the Tallith over the head. The edge comes over the face so that nose (not the forehead) is pressed to the ground the Tallith will be between the ground and the face. Don't be scared to use a rug (which is actually better). If the floor is stone, you MUST use a rug/or intervening material. Note that the Tallith should be over the head - from the beginning of the taphilla Until the end (i.e.: from the beginning of the standing until after the end of the out loud supplications - done while sitting up.
5) drop to knees and sit on legs Japanese style. This is called YOSHEB la'areS. TO EXPLAIN, this means one's thighs should be (as close to parallel to the ground as possible) and one's rear end should as low as possible. Basically, this is a very real snug, stretched and low kneel - see picture below....-- RMb"M says "al birkayyim, Qida": which means 'on the knees' (Hlk Tefillah 5:14). This is our interpretation of the punctuation in this verse. This accords with the ancient version described by our TaNaKh, which clearly calls for sitting on the knees. In our assessment, this also accords with historical testimony out of Yemen. This is what we call the SITTING position referred to as yoshEYv la'araS. Although we admit that sitting on the knees may not be a legal requirement for starting PROSTRATION. One other important consideration is as follows:

ABOVE: Yosheb la'araS: "Sitting" (which is literally sitting upon your knees)

More examples of SITTING

ABOVE: A Moreh is SITTING on ceramic tiles (NOT STONE) -

6) while keeping the body in the same position from the waist down, from the waist up
stretch out completely on the ground forward with palms face down and nose (not forehead) pressed against the ground (see note below)... the arms should be extended.
7) Step 6 (alone) is qidah. If there is enough room to do hishtaHawayya (full prostration) then the person now stretches out in the opposite direction - with the legs straight back with feet tops flat on the ground...the body should appear like this ==@= with top of head towards (facing) the Miqdash. See the picture directly below. It is important to make sure your nose (not forehead) is touching the floor.



This is the variation of prostration done by an "important" person (but not as important as Yehoshua). On the other hand, the "REGULAR" man (in the first picture) is totally flat to the ground, nose (not the forehead) to the floor (as shown in the fully body picture).  Because he is unimportant to begin with, he can fully prostrate.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT PICTURE OF THE IMPORTANT PERSON (just above): He is only leaning on his RIGHT SIDE, because he is LEFT handed.
Also, the floor above is CERAMIC TILE  (not stone).


8) say taHanunim (supplication prayer) in a hushed tone, while in the qidda or hishtaHawayya
position - with nose pressed to the ground. Here, the RMb"M does mention falling to
the ground (in the midst of a congregation) while leaning "a bit" in (Hilk Tefilah 9:5). The
straightforward explanation is to allow people to say TaHanun in a natural way. In other
words, it is very hard to say the supplications while your face is pressed into drictly into the ground- which is how the process begins.
9) after finishing the hushed taHanunim, move back into the original position of step 5
10) while in the position from step 5, hold hands in supplication - palms positioned like when one
says potheyaH 'ath yadhakha umasbiya` lakhol Hay raSon - during the 'ashrey
11) while in this position, say taHanunim out loud.. as one would while
saying the 'ashrei or such
12) At this point, one may say whatever one likes, which can be nothing at all. For the quiet supplications, I say whatever I feel. When your face is on the ground, this is the quiet part.
I say what is in the siddur - as the suggested text for the next part (out loud) . So sometimes,
I hold the siddur during the 2nd part of naphillath apayim - to read that out loud. I have an adjustable stand to help.



Regarding someone who is an "important person TO START WITH":

If he is not as righteous as Yohoshua`, should not press his face to the ground in public. RMb"M DOES NOT say an important person should not do hishtahhawayya... he says he MUST (or Qidah). However, if he feels he is not as righteous as Yohoshua` bin nun, he should AVOID pressing his face to the ground in public, NOT avoid hishtahhawayya altogether! This differs with the Yemenite masorah, which claims to understand RMb"M in a slightly different way.

And no... being an observant Jew who is serious about Torah does not make one an Ish Hashuv. An 'ish Hashuv' basically is a community Torah leader. It is someone who everyone looks to for learned guidance above everyone else.

IN PRIVATE: Everyone should push (some say mash: I think as a joke) his face into the ground, whether doing a full prostration (histahhawaya) or Qidah(whether they are important or not. In my Mori's opinion, hishtahhawayya is preferred and qidda should only be done for lack of room. It comes down to this, if you're not 'ish Hashuv and there's no stone, your face should be on the ground PERIOD. It doesn't say he just can't mash is face says he can't fall on his face period. Ask yourself this question.


NOTE: By the way, even an 'ish Hashuv (important person) need not avoid pressing his face
to the ground if he feels he IS as righteous or more as Yohoshua` bin nun. And certainly
in private prostration or Qida, all must press their face to ground (to start with) .

One can (must) also lay on one's left (or right) side to avoid pressing one's face to stone.
While laying on the left side (Hilk Avodath haKokhavim 6), slightly bend the left leg and
lay the right leg on the left leg and lay the head on the left arm.
hishtaHawayya position, and just roll over on your left side from that, then slightly bend your left leg,
and bend your right elbow and place your right hand with palm pronated on the ground. This is all
clearly shown in the pictures above. This has nothing to do with the importance of a person.

The important thing is starting from yosheyv la'araS .. which we define as sitting (on
the knees).






































The version of Hishtahhawaya (we document above) is similar to the one reported by Yaqov Sapir, as a result of his journey described in "Eben Sappir" (Lyck, 1866;  Mayence, 1874). In this book, he gave the history of Old Yemen at that time.

In the book Eben Sappir (page 68), a well known European born Jewish traveler, an Orthodox Rabbi, who visited Yemen in the year of 1859, wrote the following about daily prayer of Yemenite Jews:

נופלים על פניהם כל יום אחר תפלת שמונה עשרה בפישוט ידים ורגלים בישיבתם על הארץ, כמו ביום הכפורים.

"they fall on their faces, after the Prayer Amida, stretching out
their arms and legs, like the custom [of Ashkenazim] on Yom
Kippur." (translation from Yusef)

Anyone familiar with the Ashkenaz method knows it is a fully-body prostration... as described in the Step-By-Step process above. However, this is not exactly what is described by Yemenite Rabbis, as the process followed in Yemen at the time of Eben Sappir. It is slightly different. But it is close enough for an Ashkenaz rabbi to compare it to his own Yom Kipur (Ashkenaz) practice.


TWO QUICK NOTES BEFORE STARTING : We have not read Avraham ben haRMb"M's long description of prostration yet. Anyone with access to this extremely hard-to-find work is requested to write in with a description. This is not the first volume of HaMispiq la'ovdei HaShem. Rather, it is a different work of r. Avraham.

In addition, we also note that the Gamara speaks of the fire juggling Shimeon ben Gamli'eyl - as someone who did a "qiddah" by lowering himself solely with his thumbs, kissing the ground, and then raising himself up. This was considered a feat that no other man could do.  (B. Suk 53a).

Thus, if this is to be taken seriously, then (being on the knees for Qidah) may not have always been be a legal requirement. Either way, it does verify the RMb"M's testimony - which  requires our faces/noses to touch the ground during Qidah or HistaHawaya - (when there is no stone).


We surmise that in Talmudic times, the people in Yemen originally prostrated in the exact same way that is described above (in the 12 steps). However, we conclude that (at some unknown point in time) it must have became (slightly) modified into what old Yemenite grandfathers remember - from one generation ago (see description given by Mori QafaH and Mahar"S below).

We hypothesize that this change may have occurred for a number of different reasons.

Here are a few possibilities - that could explain why the simple explanation of RMb"M differs from the Yemenite method:

1- There became some need to avoid pressing against floors - because stone was everywhere. Even though Yemenites use carpets and rugs, there may have been other reasons to avoid floors - in different areas. Perhaps a shortage of carpet could explain this? Again, this is total speculation on our part.

2- Perhaps at some point in time, the Yemenites felt they were all considered "important people" (but not as much as Yehoshua). Perhaps there was a point in time where the majority of Yemenite Jews were great Torah scholars. That wouldn't surprise me at all. That would explain the "leaning on the arm" component, as opposed to a complete flat prostration.

3- The other option is that they simply adopted the practice of the Saadia Gaon (assuming that is what he really did mean) at some arguable point in time and place in Yemen.

Many Yemenite rabbonim attribute their practice to the time of the Geonim (~800ce). Of course, I see no evidence for this assertion at all - for the following reasons. While Yemenite rabbis argue that their method (which is described below) does appear in Otzar Geonim; a connection to this practice cannot be proved.  

Even IF we will say that the Yemenite practice MAY match the description listed in Otzar Geonim (arguable) and/ or the Saadia Gaon's sidur (in their interpretation), these non-Yemenite sources do not prove this method was practiced in Yemen - in those early times. This method could have easily been acquired at a later time period, and then retroactively credited to the Geonim. 

On the other hand, it may indeed been a real Geonic practice. Either way, the oldest recorded testimony (from Yemen) is Hoter ben Shelomo, who clearly describes the Amidhahh and Nefilath Apayim prayers - as including the face into the ground. Today, one Yemenite Scholar I spoke with claimed that "falling on the face" is more of a "general  expression" of falling or leaning. But I found this incredibly difficult to believe. In addition, there were zero sources to back this up - against the simple meaning of the Rambam.To be quite frank, we just didn't by that.

At the end of the day, the RMb"M is more than just circumstantial testimony (for us). The Rambam was considered the chief Halakhic rav by Yemenite Jews for many years. Even now, he is revered as the Great Eagle. While Yemenite practice does not always go according to him, it certainly speaks to the respect they have for him. And his description still needs to be reconciled with what they are doing - in my opinion. On the other hand, this may not be possible.

I've heard some Ashkenazim and Yemenites claim that we no longer put faces into the ground, because this ceased after the destruction of the second Temple. The idea that this change occurred at the time of the qorban bet hamiqdash (destruction of the 2nd Temple) has no valid, legal or historical source that we have ever been able to identify. And in point of fact, this is contradicted by the Yom Kipur practice of Ashkenazim today.

The Ashkenaz Practice

According to our Sepharadi brothers (in OC 131:2: R. Karo zt"L), the term KISUI PANIM means “covering the face”. Thus, some of them claim that the actual method is to merely lean forward (without falling to the ground at all) and to the side and to cover the face. It is interesting to note that many Ashkenaz Jews DO fully prostrate to the ground on Yom Kipur (almost exactly as described by Rambam). More than likely, R. Karo was not suggesting that we move into sitting (on our rear ends) during prostration (either). Rather, he was just reinforcing the idea that very important people (but not as important as Joshuah) lean on their arms. We have no problem with any of that. After all, who has the post-Sanhedrin authority to nullify prostration (as falling on to our faces)?


According to the Yemenite Jews themselves, this link describes the memory of their old, original (so-called "Geonic") practice.

People basically fall from a seated position, with their rear end on the floor (as opposed to sitting on one's knees - as described in the Mishneh Torah) for their "Nefilath Apayim" (as opposed to starting the fall from their knees- as their 'seated' position). So we disagree on what is meant by "sitting".

This supposedly "GEONICALLY-SOURCED" Nefilath-Apayim (as described by Mori QafaH zt"l) was done immediately after Tefillah/Amidhah (as everyone agrees). Everyone would take up double the space (no more) of their regular seated position, with right knee arched up over the left leg and laying mostly on one's side with one's head tilted slightly sideways to the right buried on their arm or fist. Their face did not touch the ground (perhaps to avoid the abundance of stone or because they were all important people). It  was considered (by them) to be a proper Nefilath Apayim. And this was most probably the first evolution away from the method we describe above (referred to in the TaNaKh, RMb"M, and even as late as Hoter bin Shelomo's Yemenite work, and others).

Either way, the old Yemenite method is very close to what the MT describes "for IMPORTANT people" anyway. The key difference being that we insist on falling to the knees first, in line with the sources we quote below ( * see sources below). The other key difference is that our face is ultimately (nose) flat against the ground. This is probably the most important thing. We insist on touching the face to the ground (if we are not important people to begin with). Of course, this is only on carpet (not stone). If we are important, but not as much as Joshuah, then the two methods become very similar (in their final expression) with both leaning to the left on the arm. The main difference being how one SITS before falling (whether from the knees or rear end) and the intervening arm (or not). Also, they do not lye all the way down (flat).


In fairly recent times, even the old Yemenite version of Nefilath Apayim was certainly re-modified (not by the Geonim) by modern Yemenite Jews. Most elderly Yemenite Jews are saddened by the unfortunate neglect of their practice. Unfortunately, most Yemenite Jews now sit on a chair (which were almost never used in Yemen) while holding their hand to their forehead (without any real falling at all), oblivious to the method of most of their grandfathers described by Mori QafaH and Mahar"S, which is very close to the method we describe above. Most grandfathers do remember the old method, and smile when seeing it.

One of the explanations given by R. QafaH for this recent change in Israel (from an already modified position- in our assessment) is the adaptation to pants. Pants were more constricting and people found it harder to achieve this position wearing pants. Whereas in Yemen, the traditional qames (robe) garment was very different. Not to mention that native Israelis used chairs and Yemenite Jews found it less and less (after aliyah) comfortable to find themselves on the floor. Although there were some chairs in Yemen. Carpets were also not as prevalent in synagogues in Israel. According to Harav QafaH, there is no preference of the old style over the new style of Nefilath Apayim. It is not clear why or how rav QafaH said this, in our humble assessment. Peer pressure may have played a role. Or he may have also looked at "falling" as a non-important "general expression". But this kind of thinking has undeniably allowed for a large change in method. In my humble (melodramatic) opinion, this is a terrible shame.  
Other Yemenite evolutions (we have observed) include falling into a crouched (squatting) position (without knees or rear touching the floor) with head held by the palm of the hand. This is not sitting in a chair. This seems to be a middle of the way method from between the floor and chair. I have heard about those who fall this way from Rabbi Arussi's Talmid and others (at least in public). But in private, they do the half sitting-half leaning method of old Yemen (from what I hear). The older people that were interviewed were unfamiliar any crouched (midway) positions. This is not to say, that this method did not exist in Yemen. On the other hand, the elders that were interviewed from various places in Yemen were unfamiliar with it. Again, they did as follows in this link.

*SOURCES: One Last Note: There are Temanim who challenge and debate (in recent Yemenite literature) over whether ("sitting" on the knees - as we describe) is specifically mentioned in the RMb"M (ie: sitting on your legs in a Japanese style). Rather, they claim it is a  sitting on one's rear bottom end (which they claim accords with the old Temani masorah), and then falling from there.

However, we believe this does not stand the test of scholarly review (and that sources like Hoter ben Shelomo show that even in Yemen (by the 1400s), the method was exactly as the RMb"M plainly describes in Hilkoth Tefilah 5:14).

Hoter ben Shlomo describes above (on BOTH KNEES). Therefore, we believe at that time, it was not (as described) by Mori QafaH and Mahar'S.

We surmise that the concept of sitting was clearly copied by the Muslims, whether we like it or not. The strongest evidence for kneeling on both knees is found in the TaNaKh itself (see box directly below). Bottom line: I would not rely on the Yemenite Jews for a 100% accurate Nefilath Apayim in today's times. It is one of the very few areas where I will NOT trust the Yemenite masorah. Although compared to everyone else, they are probably the closet to this in existance, next to Ashkenazim on Yom Kipur and us crazy Talmidim haRambam.

Perhaps the Yemenite version came about at a time when there was not much carpet, and people were trying to avoid stone. Or there were pagans and idols everywhere, so they didn't want to make it seem like they were bowing to anything. Or the Geonim had some other reason for changing it, which is unknown today (assuming that it did go back that far). To repeat, I see no valid source that says 'kneeling on the knees' was discontinued after the destruction of the second Temple. Thus, the operating assumption must be that we still do it today, whether it is popularly known or not.

ONE LAST NOTE: To anyone that intimates that Hilkoth Tefillah 9:5 is some kind of a justification for the Yemenite practice of leaning to the left, with the head upon the hand (or arm)... is going against the simple and straight meaning of the text. As one can not possibly say TaHanun with his face literally into the earth, the RMb"M (most probably) means that we lean to the side (a little) in order to say the words in a natural way, instead of eating the floor as we speak. Rav Sa'adiah says we are poseq halakhah acc. to Torah sha-ba'al pah, Torah sha-bikhtav, and 'al pi sakhal ho-yoshor. This is the "yosher" (straigh forward) way of understanding the text. An alternative: one rabbi  notes that tefillin shel rosh could be damaged (in flat-lying prostration). Perhaps in the days of the Miqdash and soon after, the tefillin was much smaller, making a full prostration (face into the ground) more feasible (without the need to lean)? Perhaps this blurred into the practice of leaning on the arm – and eventually into the head into the hand. It is speculation - on our part. This in no way negates it as "falling onto our faces" as is shown by the order of the text. Because even after he leans slightly to the left (in order to speak), it is still called falling on the face. So at worse, the old Temani method winds up being close to the prostration we identify for IMPORTANT people. Temanim consider this the correct method for ALL non-important people. Whereas we believe that non-important people (who do not consider themselves as righteous as Yehoshua) MUST STILL eat the ground (so to speak) in a full prostration (or "qidah" described by RMb"M), since no one thinks their prayer will necessarily be answered in the first place..



































I Ezra 9:5 And at the evening offering I arose up from my fasting, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God;

Josephus, describing this ceremony, says that the king (at the conclusion of his prayer) prostrated himself on the ground and in this posture continued worshipping for a long time.

Daniel 6:11: And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house--now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem--and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.




































Bowing Before Shalmanesar III (Close Up)

NOTE: The position of the rear end above (and thighs that are not parallel to ground) suggests a "non-real" qidah, because in real Qidah, rear should be pushed down close to ground. This also separates us from Muslim practice, which probably took this concept of high-hanging rear ends from ancient idol worship. In addition, his entire body is off the ground, with huge space between the stomach and the floor. This is definitely not qidah. Perhaps the King (in this pic) was refusing to touch his nose all the way to the ground because he was being forced to bow to a pagan King. In those days, "partial" prostrations like this were not only used in Prayer - but were also used as a way of greeting great people

Austen Henry Layard uncovered this black basalt obelisk in Nimrud (Calah) in 1845. It is a six and a half foot tall monument commemorating the victorious campaigns of Shalmaneser III of Assyria (859-824 B.C.). It is shaped like a temple tower at the top, ending in three steps. It is now in the British Museum (see picture below).


King Jehu Bowing Before Shalmanesar III


This close up of the second panel reveals Israelites led by king Jehu of Israel paying tribute and bowing to the dust before king Shalmaneser III, who is making a libation to his god. We know it is Jehu because of the cuneiform text on the obelisk "Jehu the son of Omri". It also mentions his gifts of gold, silver, lead and spear shafts.


2 Kings 10:31

But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.

2 Kings 10:36

"And the period that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years."


The ancient rabbis taught: The Temple was only built in the merit of prostration. And the future Temple will only be rebuilt in the merit of prostration (paraphrased from Yalkut Shimoni on 1 Samuel 1:28). If this is so, I ask myself, why are we not prostrating? If you look in the prayerbook, numerous prayers, particularly psalms, refer to prostration. But the word histahhawaya is not always translated properly. For example, in the morning prayers: "prostrate to God in the beauty of holiness." This is often translated "bow," but prostrate means fully flat on the ground, not just bowing. There was frequent prostrating in the ancient Temple - that is why the Temple will be rebuilt in the merit of prostration. Perhaps we restore prostration, then God will give us back the Temple. 

What is the meaning of prostration? Utter submission to God's will; complete humility. It says in Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, as one of the miracles of the Temple: "that although they were crowded when standing, they had room when prostrating" (5:7). The miracle is that when we are humble before God, when we utterly submit to Him, we make room for everyone else around us. Rabbi Akiba bowed and prostrated so much - he moved all over the room as he prayed (Berachot 31).


Rabbinical Analysis - Yemenite Rabbis Weigh In.

Should fall to our knees (five times) during the entire Amidah?

The Mishneh Torah says the following:

"in every place `AL BIRKAYIM'  is mentioned -it means on the knees"

Mori Avraham Maghori understands this to mean "bekhol maqom AHER" (in every OTHER place, except here). Perhaps it leads support for this position that very next halakhah (5:16) begins, "Ke-she-`oseh nefilath panim AHAR T'PHILLAH..." --as if to say, "now when it comes to T'PHILLAH, this is how to do hishtaHawayah" (prostration also being mentioned in the previous halakhah). However a simple word search I did on "b'khol maqom" in Mishneh Torah did not support this view. "B'khol Maqom" seems to mean just that: In EVERY place... See for yourselves and tell me if you agree.

יד  [יג] השתחוויה כיצד:  אחר שמגביה ראשו מכריעה חמישית, יושב לארץ, ונופל על פניו ארצה, ומתחנן בכל תחנונים שירצה.

  כריעה האמורה בכל מקום, על ברכיים;

 קידה, על אפיים; השתחוויה--זה פישוט ידיים ורגליים, עד שנמצא מוטל על פניו על הארץ.

Agreeing comment: I've noticed the same thing. I couldn't agree with you more.


In Chapter 5 of Hilkoth Tefila, when RMb"M describes the "keree'oth" of the king and high priest of Israel in contrast to the "keree'oth" of a regular individual, the distinction is ONLY in regard to how often / for how long the king and high priest bow. No distinction is mentioned regarding how far down they bow - whether they bow onto their knees in contrast to the regular "Joe" who maybe only bends his knee a little.

Anyone who has bowed the typical way (only at the waist) during the confessional part of the Yom haKipurim prayers knows how uncomfortable (painful?) and therefore distracting such bowing
becomes when done for a more than just a moment. Just imagine how much more painful such a type of bowing would become were one to remain in this typical bowing-at-the-waist position throughout the
entire Shemone Esreh as a king of Israel must do (Tefila 5:11), if we want to say that this is the proper way to do "kereea'." In contrast to this, it is not hard to believe that the king could endure the entire prayer with proper concentration while bowing on his knees, just as Shelomo haMelekh did.


Just as your reference to the Japanese tradition doesn't mean you endorse traditional Japanese tradition, likewise, by saying the following, I am not at all endorsing Christianity or Islam. I think
it obvious that the Jewish influence on Christianity and Islam is FAR greater than the Jewish influence on Japanese culture.

About the Japanese tradition of bowing at the waist -- also the Muslims have a place in there regular daily prayers were they ONLY bow at the waist. Muslims also do not kneel to the ground when praying to Allah in the presense of a dead person (at a funeral). I think this could be connected to the distinction between the bow
which the congregation makes together during the repetition at "Modim," in contrast to the "keree'oth" made at "Modim" during the silent prayer. Hilkoth Tefila says that during when bowing at "modim" during the repetition, one should not bow down too far.

Concerning the "New Test" record, one finds that the form of prayer among the earliest followers of Yeshu' consisted of bending down upon the knees. I can provide direct quotes and references if wanted.
Although obviously the New Test., just as Islam and Japanese culture, consists of corrupt beliefs and practices, nonetheless, an analytical observation of the New Test. text reveals that the early followers of
Yeshu' were insanely closer to traditional Torah observance than the non-Jewish Christians of about 150 years later from whom modern Christianity is derived.

A RMb"M rav Weighs In

In our parashah of Wayyera, we see in 18:8, regarding Avraham, "wu-hu `omedh `ALEIHEM taHath ha-`eS wa-yokhelu" (He stood over them [the angels] and they ate.  Avraham avinu certainly did not stand ON them, but OVER them.

In the Shema``, we are commanded, "wa-hayu had'varim ha-elleh asher anokhi m'Sawakhah ha-yyom `AL levavekhah."   This seems to be a reference to the arm tephillin that are over and against the heart--not like other `edoth who tie on the box so that it rubs against the side of the! body (very uncomfortable), towards the heart, to be "ON your hea rt." 

Likewise, when asked how to do qeri`ah `AL birkayim, perhaps this means "over the knees."   There is a teshuvah I saw in OSar ha-Geonim in which a Gaon drew the figure of Pheh phashu`tah (Peh Sofi / final Peh), to show how one is to bow standing, but bowed inwards.  However, this seems to contradict the rest of the halakhah (hil. tephillah 5:15), as it continues, "Qidah `AL appayim..."  It doesn't seem logical that this  means "Qidah is done OVER the face"!  (Did the sages expect that we levitate at this point?!)

I just cannot let go of what I understand to be the p'sha`t (simple understanding) of the above law, that  "qeri`ah ha-amurah B'KHOL MAQOM ["in every place"] `AL BIRKAYIM..."  Now mori Avraham Maghori understands this to mean "bekhol maqom AHER" (in every OTHER place, except here).   Perhaps it leads support for this position that very next halakhah ! (5:16) begins,   "Ke-she-`oseh nefilath panim AHAR T'PHILLAH..." --as if to say, "now when it comes to T'PHILLAH, this how to do hishtaHawayah" (prostration also being mentioned in the previous halakhah).   However a simple word search I did on "b'khol maqom" in Mishneh Torah did not support this view.   "B'khol Maqom"  seems to mean just that:  In  EVERY place...  See for yourselves and tell me if you agree.

The laws of how we pray were modelled after the prayer of Daniel in 6:11 (i.e. 3 times a day, facing Yerushalayim, before an open door or window, etc), who clearly prayed crouched down ON HIS KNEES.  This is also how Shelomo ha-mmelekh prayed (M'lakhim I 8:54).  In his Siddur ha-Midqdash, Rav Yisrael Ariel brings the meqoroth the above halakhah from the Talmud and RMb"M, showing plainly that the simple meaning of this point of prayer:  to bow DOWN ON THE KNEES. 

We also! have the example of Rabi `Aqivah who began his t'phillah in one corne r of the room, to be found afterwards in the opposite corner.  Rav Avraham ha-Hassid (the RMb"M's son) explains that this is from his q'ri`oth and hishtaHawayoth during t:phillah (Sepher ha-Maspiq le`Ov'dhei HaShem).

Now the following should be taken with a grain of salt, but perhaps it should be mentiones:  I once thought that even among the goyim, the ancients would only bow to kings of the past on their knees.  I was recently reminded, however, that according to ancient Japanese tradition (which seems to have accumulated a number of undeniable, genuine Hebrew influences  over the millenia--and this is not just wishful thinking by some of them), they would bow down to their false god-king from the waist.
If anyone has any insights that can help me to come to a clearer understanding of this, I would be grateful.  I am open to changing my view and practice in this, if I were convinced by the evidence.  While I see that the possibility for autenticity of the widespread practice of qeri`ah, I remain unconvinced.   In the meantime, I bow down to HaShem on my knees, and prostrate flat on my face with hands and legs outstretched. 

Not that this makes much halakhic difference, but for me, a prayer during which I fall down to my knees and rise up four times is a different, deeper experience than one during which I bow from the waist.  Could this be meaning of Tehillim 35:10, based on which the Ashkenazim "shuckle" back and forth?  If the knees have no function, why do Ashkenazim and some Sefaradim have the tradition to bend the knees first,  and THEN bow down forward?  Could this be the echo o! f an ancient, bygone tradition to bow down ON bended knee?  Could this distancing from the ground be related to the same phenomenon in nephillath panim, which they  "perform" sitting down on chairs (even the unimportant ones)?

I look forward to your helpful comments.

With Torah blessings,

Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron, Beith Midrash Ohel Moshe

Another RMb"M Scholar Weighs In

It is plainly stated that there are 5 things required for
prayer that are min hattora and 8 things which are required
by the Hakhamim.

Of the 8 things, one is naphillath 'appayyim.
It is clearly stated that this is done yoshev la'araS
and that one either does qidda `al birkayyim or hishtaHawaya (which
is preferable).

These things are very clear.

As for the bows during the standing prayer, the text seems to state
clearly that all kneelings are done on knees.

But, harav mori 'avraham maghori hakkohen pointed out to me
that the text describes the "exit procedure" of
kneeling and while remaining kneeling one takes 3 steps backwards
and then gives shalom. He points out the word used indicates
that one is not on knees, thus proving the Sanhedrin changed
the practice from being on knees, which is the way it was originally

Some might say that one stands at this point and remains bowed, but
if the word means kneeling and not bowing in this context, it would
mean that one remains kneeling, which makes it impossible to take
three steps backwards as one is on one's knees.

I talked to mori shalomo ban 'avraham about this and from what I
recall, he agrees with this explaination.

I asked others why the RMb"M said such a thing, but then used a word
indicating one is bowing while standing on ones feet.

I was told that the final halakha from the moment that the last
sanhedrin ended was not easy to "reconstruct" into the MT and in some
cases things are not completely clear.

It would seem that the RMb"M was of the opinion that late in the
sanhedrin's history, this change occured (change from kneeling on
knees to bowing while standing), but because of possible doubt as to
whether or not this change actually came from the sanhedrin, he left
in a conflicting statement reflecting the halakha as it had been
in all times before.

It is my opinion that because of this doubt, that either practice
is acceptable, but that if one is praying with a minyan, one should
do according to the custom of the place.

One Last Comment

It is my opinion that because of this doubt, that either practice
> is acceptable, but that if one is praying with a minyan, one should
> do according to the custom of the place.

This is logical in light of Mamrim 1:9... on the condition that it is
the individual who is uncertain. In the case of an individual who in
his mind is certain / does know that one should kneel to the ground,
in such a case I do not understand how he would be allowed to be
lenient, since the halakha in Mamrim says "im ein ATA yodea'."

> He points out the word used indicates
> that one is not on knees, thus proving the Sanhedrin changed
> the practice from being on knees, which is the way it was originally
> done.

Which word? Are you referring to the word used to describe how one
goes backward (posea')? If so I agree that this indicates that one
is not on the knees, but this indication is only with regard to the
process of going backward during the last "kereea'." I do not see
how we can logically apply this to all the rest of the instances
of "keree'oth" in the Tefila. There is MUCH more indication to the
contrary AT LEAST with regard to the other 4 "keree'oth." I want
mention that later on in Hilkoth Tefila when describing the same
action a 2nd time, RMb"M uses the word "sa'ad" (march) instead
of "posea'" (step). From this it seems all the more clear to me that
the going back 3 steps is not on the knees. Could be that on the
5th "kereea'" an individual kneels to the ground, then stands up and
makes the 3 steps backward while keeping the upper half of his body
bent downward -- and then lifts his head from the 5th kereea' only
after having taken the 3 steps?

I don't think that the difficulty of RMb"M's use of kereea' in
connection to taking 3 steps backward is any more difficult than how
he says in halakha 10 of the same chapter that "when he is to koreia'
at 4 blessings, he is to koreia' at "blessed" and when he straightens
up, he straightens up at "the Name." I'm only aware of 3 places
where we bow at "blessed." The other 2 times we bow, we bow either
at "modim" or at the very end of the prayer. At "modim" there is
no "blessing" but there is "the Name." At the end of the prayer
there is neither "blessing" nor "the Name."


נהגנו להתחנן בנפילת פנים בדברים ובפסוקי : רמבם










































"Video of Amidha - The Original Practice"

The following video shows what bowing and kneeling during the Amidha is
(in original practice). It also shows a full prostration at the very end. I see nothing in this video that contradicts the Mishneh Torah.


Maybe next time he can wear tefillin and Talith during this demonstration. This can be explained, because he was praying at night. So there is no problem with that. However, it would have been useful to see this during the day.

In the video, he touches his head all the way to the ground during each of the 5 bows of the amidha. I see no evidence for this practice during the bows. HOWEVER, I can see nothing wrong with it either - as it certainly does meet the requirements (in an optimum way). This would have been difficult with tefillin on. More likely, it was sitting on the knees, while bending very far over (but not to the ground). If he goes into a full qidah, then of course his head touches the ground. Either way, I can't see it negating anything.

I noticed that he holds his hand up to the sky... palms forward or sideways. While it may be permissible (and ancient) to raise the hands (even though RMb"M speaks of resting them on the heart), I thought that Jewish practice has them palm up (from what I understand). From what I understand, the son of RMb"M and King David himself speak of raising the hands in prayer.

He is holding his head in the video. He was apparently holding onto his kippa (kofiah). So no problem there. Really, he should have wrapped his head with a masar! Someone please send him a qamis and masar!

I assume that this is a room where no one walked on the carpet with shoes. Also, I assume he washed his hands (with a blessing) before starting the prayer.

CONCLUSION: I think he nails it! The sources were well sited!

The important thing is to make sure your body is bent-over- like an arch, enough so that the backbone pokes out.  Here is the video.





























Qidah Studies

What exactly is Qidah? According to the Mishneh Torah (Hil Tef 5:13:), Qidah is:

 "bowing, upon the nostrils (or face)"
"קידה, על אפיים"
הלכות תפילה פרק ה

In our assessment, one should always do full prostration first, and only rely upon qidah when there is no space. Both prostration and qidah are acceptable forms of supplication.

Qidah may be alluded to in I Kings 31, as the beginning part of a full (flat) prostration:

I Kings 31: "And Bathsheva BOWED her face (or nostrils) to the Earth, and she prostrated herself to the King and said, 'let my lord King David live forever."

I Kings 8:54 And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread forth toward heaven.

II Chron 6:13 for Solomon had made a brazen scaffold, of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court; and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven

QIDAH: STEP #1: Yosheb la'ara3: Sitting

ABOVE: Yosheb la'araS: "Sitting" (which is literally sitting upon your knees)

QIDAH: STEP #2: Qiddah (See below)


Notice that the head (nose) is touching the carpet. Hands are extended, palms flat on the ground. Head is covered by Talith. UNLIKE MUSLIMS, the rear end is pushed as close to the ground as one is able to do (according to one Teshubah of RAMBAM)!!! This also separates us from Muslim practice, which probably took this concept of high-hanging rear ends from ancient-idol worship - which utilized it. Also, you should try to get your thighs as parallel to the ground as is possible. -- RMb"M says "al birkayyim, Qida": which means 'on the knees' (Hlk Tefillah 5:14). This is our interpretation of the punctuation in this verse. This accords with the ancient version described by our TaNaKh, which clearly calls for sitting on the knees. In our assessment, this also accords with historical testimony out of Yemen. This is what we call the SITTING position referred to as yoshEYv la'araS.



























Out Loud Supplication (After Arising From The Fall)

This supplication is done after sitting up from the quiet supplications - which were are said during qidda or hishtaHawaya

This is said while sitting on one's knees, with palms facing upwards, towards heaven.










For reference only
Please do not draw any conclusions from the following
correspondence, which took place over many years.
Some of this is email correspondence that may be
INCORRECT. Much of it contradicts itself. This is only a collection of mixed correspondence on the subject. Reading this could confuse you.


Two ways: hishtahawaya (falling on face) or Qidah(falling on nostrils) during tahanun.
Both referred to as nafillath hapanim/apayim now.

Friend says:: naphillath panim must be done with the face on the ground doing either
hishtahawaya or Qida. Those are the two ways to do it. I do Qidahmyself. A friend of
mine's grandfather, who is head rabbi of Hodh HashSharon does full hishtahawaya:
during tahanun.

Site Admin.: Please explain each way for our readers.

Nefilath Apayim (with no specification of whether Qidahor HISTAHHAWAYA is being described):
In Rabbi Arussi's Kollel where I study, we make an effort once a week to interview (on video) some of the older members of the community (70+). Not just any older members but in particular learned ones. Several months back we asked questions regarding Tahanun and had someone demonstrate to us how they positioned themselves during tahanun. Everyone seemed to agree that this was the position they remembered. O
ne lies half on his side and half on the stomach. The upper leg is bent slightly at the knee and the knee is placed over the rested lower leg. The head is then placed on the (left) arm or fist which is bent at the elbow. All of these elders all from different areas of Yemen (some from South & some from North). It was quite unlike what Muslimim do. Everyone in Yemen sat on the floor (on carpets of course) during the course of prayer. What I have described is simply bowing to one side and stretching out one's body a bit. In fact Rabbi QafaH describes exactly what I was describing.

1) so you are saying that this picture (see stone relief below) is the beginning of QidaH, which eventually leads into laying on the left side with leg slightly bent 
No I am saying that this is a picture of Keria'a (Lichroa'a Berech). Each of these terms is mutually exclusive. Perhaps when speaking of the passage "...Korei'im U'Mishtahavim" one might lead into the other.

2) I thought qidda is putting the face/or nostrils to the ground from the kari`a position, as described by RMb"M in Hil Tef 5:14:
על ברכיים; קידה, על אפיים
No... once again, I described Qidda in my original email several months ago quoted below and quoted again below these words... It is irrelevant which position one goes to Qidda from although in reality one would generally rise from a simple Keria'a (the two little bows and one upward swoop taken at the end of the A'Amidahhh) and then fall to a Qidda.

[Site Admin. comment: Going into a Qidah from a non-knee position may be possible, in light of the Gamara about Shimeon ben Gamli'eyl doing it from his thumbs (in Sukka 53), if we can take that seriously. But this is clearly not the case for prostration. See above - for our arguments about why the knees are required for prostration, and most probably were required for Qidah in Biblical times (at the very least). Also, try going into a Qidah while sitting on your rear end. If you can do it, we'll call Guinness for you. Gymnasts need not apply]

This issue is somewhat confusing since the RMb"M seems to use the term "Keria'a" for the simple neck bows done in the course of the A'Amidahhh as well as for a bow done on ones knees. This has led to a great deal of different interpretations including the popular one mentioned in the Shulhan A'aruch.
Regarding the verses in the Yad that refer to the bows of Amidhahh as related to kneeling
one one's knees-- one Mori writes: My opinion is that that is NOT correct at all, let
alone technically.  The RMb"M just copied the rather vague wording of the Bavli
here, and relied on the common understanding of the matter, which can be seen
in how Jews normally pray.  The Yerushalmi says shoHeh (bow, NOT get down on the
knees), just as everybody does.  While it is true that "korea`" normally
means on the knees, but when you stride backwards three paces when in
"korea`" you obviously are on your feet (on you knees would be zoHel, not
korea` here).
That is why I say that while korea` does mean on the knees generally, HERE
that cannot be; so what all us Jews do in public is ok in this regard (and
that is, as I said, exactly what the clear Yerushalmi says, though the
Bavli puts in unclearly, which is what RMBM copied into Mishneh Torah
without clarification, depending on local textual context and social

We must learn in such a way that all of the pieces fit together like a
puzzle, not piece by piece by piece, as so many do these days, God forbid.
Site Admin: [Easy to say but hard to do in this type of subject. My puzzle includes
historical and Biblical sources]

Regarding falling on our faces.. The Moreh writes: We do need to fall on our
faces and have a place where that can be done without feeling like idiots
(as was the case here in Beyt Israel 30 years ago!!!).  But meanwhile, the
face falling may be done elsewhere, not just in the b"k, so no problem, really.
Site Admin: [When will see stop hiding? When our fear of G-D outweighs our fear of men.]

The RMb"M does not really describe the Qidda however Rabbi Sa'adiah Gaon did. What RSG describes is the same way as Tahanun was recited in Yemen. It is quite likely that this is what the RMb"M had in mind. I have seen a different description in another work from North Africa from between the time of RSG and the RMb"M so that it is not certain that this is exactly what the RMb"M had in mind. I will check this source again and see if it is indeed that different.

Site Admin: [Actually, depending on how you punctuate the verse, he really does describe it: על ברכיים; קידה, על אפיים . So it either means:
"On the knees-Qida".... OR ... "Qida, on the face"... Either way, this is not Yemenite described by Mori QafaH or Mahari's
nor did it appear to be the practice of the Saadia ZS"L or Geonim.]

In any event, Tahanun in Yemen was recited in the following position and was referred to as Qidda. The RMb"M states that an Adam Hashuv (lit. Important Person) should not do Hishtahavaah unless he sees himself as righteous as Yehoshua'a Bin Nun. 

Site Admin: [We strongly object to this. He said not to touch your face... not to avoid HistaHawaya altogether... ]

This term "Adam Hashuv" requires further understanding, but if we are to understand it based on the term mentioned in the final chapters of Hametz Umatza "Isha Hashuva" then just as the "Isha Hashuva" is a woman who is diligent about fulfilling all of her religious obligations in a serious fashion, then so to the "Adam Hashuv" (who in essence represents the community and prays for them). In any case based on the RMb"M's words in Chap 9 Halakha 5 it seems that the RMb"M is speaking of Qidda and not Hishtahavaah since he expressly states YESHEV (to sit) VeYipol A'al Panav (Fall to his face) VeYate Mea'at (turn his head slightly. This makes it seem as a half seated position and not a full prostration.

Nephilath Panim is a term used for what is done (a position) during Tahanun this has become synonymous with the word Tahanun.
To summarize:
Keria'a - the little head bows done during the A'Amidahhh (and only during the A'Amidahhh) or a bow taken when one is on one's knees. (This point could use further clarification).
Qidda - a half seated bow (almost on one's side)  with the head dropping to the floor in front. Due to the decree of not bowing one's head to a stone floor (and subsequently the recommendation to any type floor) one tips the head slightly or puts an arm or fist below the forehead. This is really quite similar to the way Ashkenazim do Tahanun (when done correctly) only that they will do it from a seated position in a chair.
As Rabbi QafaH explained there is no requirement to do Qidda today as was done in Yemen on the floor. One may simply sit in one's seat and put their head in there hand (etc...) and thus do Nephilat Panim. (This is not a so called "second best").
Hishtahavaah - Full prostration with arms and legs spread (again, the head should be tipped).
Nostrils in hebrew would be Nehiraim as far as I know? A'afa'apayim are eyelids, and  Apayim is simply the face.
Both are falling on the face, one is called Qidda because of the Pasuk "Vatikod Bat Sheva'a Apayim Aretz" (Kings 1 - 1)
and the other Hishtahavaa due to the Pasuk "Hava Navo ani Imecha VeAhicha LeHishtahavot Lecha Artza"  (Bereshit 37)
This is mentioned several times in talmud (see QafaH MT, Tefilla 5' 15' note 43)  Basically, the Rabbis saw  the first passage as hinting to bowing of the head to the ground and the other of full prostration on the ground. 
The RMb"M's terminology and use of certain words here is indicative of his style of quoting (be it Mishna Tosefta or Gemara) perhaps to give the reader an idea of the source so that he may research it himself. It does not seem to me that he is trying to hint to some profound "diyuk" precise meaning. Let us remember that many words have taken on new meanings over the years and can cause much confusion. My thought is that he is using both Biblical terms here as well as "slang" (for lack of a better word) terms here.

HISTAHHAWAYA: you lay face down and spread out. RMb"M says that important people should not push their face totally to the ground but should (instead) go almost to the ground and turn slightly to the left. This is so people will not judge the person if the tefilla isn't answered. Regarding today's current practice, I talked to the teymanim about this and asked them why a lot of teymanim sit in chairs instead of putting the face on the ground like the halakha says. They told me it is because our generation is weak spiritually and has been affected by the west.

Site Admin.: So right at the start of do it?

Friend says:: Right after the Amidhahh...and half way through you lift up your head off the ground. The part that says lifting of the head

The fall is started from a position of sitting on your knees.

Friend says:: people always used to bring and use rugs. Two reasons for this-- place may be dirty (which prevents prayer) and/ or there may be stone.

Site Admin.: This is good stuff.: Do you wear shoes while you pray?

Friend says:: I do not, unless the place has a filthy ground. In other words, if everyone else is wearing shoes, I wear shoes...except on yom kippur and tisha baav, I never wear shoes at all except to walk in the street. By the way, we don't do naphillath panim on rosh hashshana or during aleynu or musaf of yom kippur.

The rule for YOM KIPUR (al fi ha RMb"M) is this: we do nefilath panim throughout (after) every Amidahhh in the viduim (widuim). On Eruv, we drop and fall after reciting our individual Amidahhh. On Shakharith, Musaf, Minkha and Aravith, we drop after the hazan recites the repetition.  Sidenote: Absolutely no washing of any kind for Yom Kipur unless you come in contact with mud /feces, etc, or a hand that must feed a small child.

RABBI YAISH (Temani Rav)
In the response to the question on Tahanun, I note that my grandfather, zs"l, used to bow (kneel) down on his entire left side, but on his talith (which he wore to every tefillah).  At the time, he lived in Rosh Haayin, Israel.  I doubt many, if any, still do that today.

Talmid of Rabbi Arusi: 

As far as Qidahand Hishtahawaa, I have not been in any synagogue in Israel that still does this although I heard of someone who went to a hotel once and met a group of Yemenites from a Moshav just outside of Jerusalem who he claimed were still doing this. This probably happened 10-20 years ago.
Lets not forget, that most synagogues certainly Yemenite ones in Israel are not carpeted today and thus present a problem for one that wants to do this. Rabbi QafaH sat in his chair, placed his elbow on his knee and rested his forehead on his open hand.



Is King Jehu doing the old Qidahin the above picture?

"What is the Yemenite custom as regards Nefilat Panim?"

Technically, it should be noted that the term Nefilat Panim is different from that of Tahanun. The former being a physical act and the latter being a more mental/prayer act.

The Shulhan Aruch states that one does the act of "Nefilat Panim" when reciting Tahanun much the same as the RMb"M does. In fact, the wording if I remember correctly, is quite similar. The Rama suggested that it is customary not to do Nefilat Panim in a venue that lacks an Aron Kodesh and Sefer Torah. This custom is based on the Rokeah who is sited by the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Josef Caro). His claim, (the Rokeah), is that this custom of refraining is based on the Passuk from Joshua "VaYipol A'al Panav Lifnei Aron HaShem" ("and he bowed before the Ark of God"). In other words, in the absence of the Mikdash one may bow only in the presence of a Sefer Torah and not elsewhere. The Beit Yosef seems to disagree with this custom and others seem to cast doubts upon its
validity as an authentic custom even though the source might be as early as the Geonic period. The Beit Yosef goes further and says that it is permissible to do Nefilat Panim in one's home alone, even on certain days where the established custom of not saying Tahanun exists.

(Just as a side bar, I would like to say that the cleverness of the custom as sited by the Rokeah is quite apparent. Many people were probably quite unaware that outside of the Beit Hamikdash one is not allowed to bow (ones head) on a stone floor due to reasons of resemblance to A'avodah Zarah, thus this custom would require them to be in the presence of a Sefer Torah which on the one hand might put them in the presence of someone knowledgeable of this Din, or perhaps some equating the Synagogue with a Mikdash Mea'at might have permitted bowing on a stone floor. I tend to think the former and not latter is correct).

Not all Ashkenazim follow the Rama regarding the above custom and Sephardim do not either. Most Sephardim and E'edot Hamizrah today (certainly all the ones that I have seen) have a custom of never doing Nefilat Panim when reciting Tahanun. This custom developed as a result of a passage in the Zohar (I believe end of Parashat BaMidbar) which states that "the lack of Kavanah during Nefilat Panim has the potential to shorten ones days and years". Due to the gravity of such a threat, people ceased to say Tahanun "BeNefilat Panim" and will recite it in a seated position instead. This custom is also mentioned in the Beit Yosef (but not in the Shulhan Aruch).

>From this we can see that the source for the Ashkenazic custom and that of the Sephardic are quite different and even contrary to one another. However, they seem to appear coordinated with one another in a venue that lacks a Sefer Torah.

The Yemenite custom (central Yemen) is as follows. The Mahari"tz disregards all of the customs mentioned in the Beit Yosef and Rama even though he makes mention of them. He follows the words of the Shulhan Aruch /RMb"M verbatim in this case. The Shetilei Zeitim also follows the words of the Shulhan Aruch and requires Nefilat Panim in a place without a Sefer Torah as well.

Maimonides makes no mention of any such customs and simply states the Halakha as he ruled it from the Talmud. As you can see, the passage from the Mishne Torah (Tefilla 5:14) has nothing to do with this issue. The RMb"M in this Halakha and subsequently the Lehem Mishne are simply trying to convey that one may move from his place after the A'Amidahhh (or repetition of the A'Amidahhh) in order to do Nefilat Panim in a more convenient location (for instance, where the stone floor might be carpeted). This Halakha becomes necessary due to the RMb"M's strict approach to Tefilla (A'Amidahhh) and its repetition, that being, that one is required to stand in one place for the duration of the prayers (disregarding for a moment the three steps backward and optional three forward
at the end of the silent prayer and subsequent Kedushah). One might think that since the Nefilat Panim happens immediately following Amidhahh, one would be required to stay in the same exact place for Nefilat Panim as well. This is not the case as is evidenced by the example of Rav. However, It must be done immediately because it says "When uttering the SUPPLICATION after the Amidahhh" (Tef 5:14)... Practically, the RMb"M was clear that an interuption in today's times would be impossible. Would you leave a minyon at that exact point "in order to offer your supplication in another place" ? IE: You would have to leave the shul to offer it somewhere else according to the RMb"M. Otherwise, you have to do it there and then! Why all the excuses? Of course he says you can offer a supplication somewhere else. But the conditions of transferring are clear in other places..."If a person was pressured, confronted by circumstances beyond his control or transgresses and does not do one of them (Qidahor prostration), they are not of absolute necessity".  It surely seems that RMb"M wanted us to do either Qidahor Prostration RIGHT AFTER Amidhahh.

I would like to end with my usual disclaimer from Masechet Derech Eretz "Lo Ya'amod Ben HaYoshevim, VeLo Yeshev be HaO'omedim". In other words one should always act in accordance with the congregation that one is in with regards to prayers recited aloud and blatant physical actions. This was expressed not only by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein but by Rabbi Yosef QafaH as well as others. [Site Admin. COMMENT: As long as it doesn't go against halakha or the spirit of the law] (AUTHOR OF CHAYAS OBVIOUSLY DISAGREES WITH THIS... BUT WHO AM I?)

Regarding your practice at home: Yes, absolutely -- it is no problem to do a Qidahor full prostration (or even symbolic prostration -as was done by Mori in the Kanis)-at home. You have no problem according to the HaRMb"M, Maharitz and Shetilei Zeitim. I think it was me that suggested placing the forehead in the hand? This Mori did it in a seated position while covering his face with his tallit. When this is done on the floor (ie: Prostration), one lies half on his side and half on the stomach. The upper leg is bent slightly at the knee and the knee is placed over (rested on) the lower leg. The head is then placed on the (left) arm or fist which is bent at the elbow.
Regarding the alternate prostration mentioned above...
one source for this custom is the incident where Yehoshua prostrated himself in prayer after the military debacle at Ai (Yehoshua 7:6). The Jemara explains that Yehoshua was sure that HaShem would answer his prayer and tell him to arise, but for any lesser person to completely prostrate himself would show an unwarranted certainty that HaShem would answer him. (Megilla 22b). Like the story of Hhoni who practically demanded that haShem answer his prayer for rain, stating that he would not leave his circle beforehand. This would have been improper for anyone else as the Mishna states (Taani 3:8).  This may be the basis for not actually touching your face to the ground during hishtahawaya; however, he still requires one's head to be within inches of the ground according to this same opinion.

Either way, the Temanim have retained aspects of qidda and /or prostration-hishyahhawayya. And this appears to coincide with the stone relief of sidhqiyahu, which shows him doing qidda. Naphillath Panim is always done from sitting on your legs on the ground. When supplication starts, you go right to a position of sitting on your knees. You always start in that position. Just some sit in a chair instead and never make it to the ground. But this is not correct. According to what I've learned, you can do the Qidahin a different place (see also Hilkhoth Tefillah 5:14), but according to a friend (the Jamara says) you must do it immediately. And since you have to do N"P immediately after Amidahhh, any delay in time between the two would only be allowed to change your location or to put a rug cannot move the prayer to a different place while doing other things in-between. For example, you cannot SKIP it and do it LATER after doing other things in between and then fall to knees on ground, sit on legs, bend forward and touch face to ground. However, I have not confirmed this in the yad. After doing the first half (sitting on your knees and touching head to the ground) you lift your head up so you back it straight up and you do the 2nd half seated. First half with face on ground, 2nd half just seated.

Regarding recent comments that suggest confession can only be done where a sefer Torah is present, I offer the following: "One may pray in one place and offer his supplication in another place." The Lechem Mishneh (although we don't specifically hold by this--the reasoning is solid) maintains that this can be derived from the following narrative in Megillah. Rav came to Synagogue in Babylonia, but did not fall to the ground after Shemone Esreh as they did. One of the explanations offered by the Talmud for his behavior is that there was a stone floor in front of Rav, but not in front of the other congregants. The Talmud asks: "Why didn't Rav move to their place?", obviously implying that one may offer this supplication in a place other than one's place of Prayer.

Side Note: As mentioned above, it should be pointed out that the RMb"M says that one may postpone proper Qidahor prostration for different reasons (such as cement floors). I personally abstain from proper Qidahbecause some of the Ashkenazim spit on the floor by "`Alénu" and there is no space. So I consider the floor to be a filthy place that can not be used for full Qida. RMb"M mentions that illness and pressure may cause a person to skip Qida--even though this is forbidden to begin with. However, Chapter 5, Hikoth Tefilla says the following: "If a person was pressured, confronted by circumstances beyond his control or transgresses and does not do one of them (Qidahor prostration), they are not of absolute necessity"

Mahari"s Baladi Take: Kaf – Aleph – Kisur Shulhhan Orakh – Rasabi

And so we have no custom of falling on our faces in the Minhha of Arvei Shabatoth and Yomim Tovim, and not in Rosh Hodash and not in the 15th of Av and not on the 15th in Shvat and not in the 8 days of Hhanukah and not in the Purim Jathol and not Purim Qaton and not in the 14th of Iyar and not on the 33rd day of the omer and not in all the month of Nisan (and for a concept of Tisha b’Av) and not Erev Rosh HaShana (and in Ashmeroth Noflim) and not Erev Kipurim (also in Ashmeroth), (and concept of Yom Kippurim) and not after Yom Kipurim until the end of Tishrei and not from Rosh Hhodash Sivan until the 12th . And in all that no falling also during minhha before them.  We need to say the confession in Amidhahh and with a bending to the floor. But it is not our tradition to say confession during Minhha, although in Shami we are saying confession in the morning prayer all day like the aforementioned page כ"א Section אי . And study questions and answers Olath Yishhaq. And one who prays with the congregation has traditions to confess then, can study in the commentaries that appear in the siddur or laws, and more good to consider with the concept of confession, the same as in Amidhahh, but we are not saying with them on our faces.  Except from Erev Rosh haShanah and Erev Yom Kipurim falling during Minhha on our faces.

What about bowing "kneeling" during Amidhahh: It was pointed out by someone that every place where bowing (ie: kneeling) is mentioned by the RMb"M (including the Amidahhh), that some kind of beginning Qidahposition (falling to the floor in a kneeling position) is meant. This implies that at one time, we may have been falling to our face 4 times during the Amidahhh and once at the end. This certainly would have amounted to more than today's bow during the Amidhahh. If this is true, then even the Temanim have already lost the Qidahof the Amidhahh (at least in terms of during the Amidhahh). I just wanted to mention this point. But I have not had it clarified by a Temani expert to date.

Most Sephardim and E'edot Hamizrah today (certainly all the ones that I have seen) have a custom of never doing Nefilat Panim when reciting Tahanun. This custom developed as a result of a passage in the Zohar (I believe end of Parashat BaMidbar) which states that "the lack of Kavanah during Nefilat Panim has the potential to shorten ones days and years". Due to the gravity of such a threat, people ceased to say Tahanun "BeNefilat Panim" and will recite it in a seated position instead.


-- Imagine this.
-- You are standing.
-- You have feet together, hands on chest, right over left, and are look at the ground.
-- you drop to your knees, you bow forward while keeping your hands on your chest.
-- you stay bowed over while getting to your feet, so now you are in an 'L' shape
-- you take your 3 steps back while still bowed over in this L shape and do your "bow-out"
-- Then you lift your head but standning up straight.
-- Then you drop to your knees again, but this time you place your hands on the floor in preparation to do qidda or hishtahhawaya
-- if hishtahhawayya, you stretch completely out.
-- knees and elbows locked so arms and legs are straight.
-- legs straight back and arms straight forward
-- not to sides.
-- if qidda, you only do this with the top part of your body and the bottom half stays seating kneeling.
-- kneeling.
-- basically sitting on your legs

SUGGESTED CORRECTION TO ABOVE: PERHAPS after we end the Amidhahh, we go into a sitting position as stated in the Yad (Chap 5: Halach 13). So than, one would go into Qidahor Histahh from a sitting position.


The RMb"M just copied the rather vague wording of the Bavli
here, and relied on the common understanding of the matter, which can be seen
in how Jews normally pray.  The Yerushalmi says shoHeh (bow, NOT get down on the
knees), just as everybody does.  While it is true that "korea`" normally
means on the knees, but when you stride backwards three paces when in
"korea`" you obviously are on your feet (on you knees would be zoHel, not
korea` here).
That is why I say that while korea` does mean on the knees generally, HERE
that cannot be; so what all us Jews do in public is ok in this regard (and
that is, as I said, exactly what the clear Yerushalmi says, though the
Bavli puts in unclearly, which is what RMBM copied into Mishneh Torah
without clarification, depending on local textual context and social

No, No, No, this is all mixed up. The RMb"M is not unclear at all. In his statement about

"Keria in all places means" is simply talking about all places in the Mikra. Now, have a look at all
Targumim of variations of the word Keria. See the uniformity also see the Mefarshim (the older the better)
and Da'at Mikra which if my recollection serves me correctly I believe was mistaken  but is a good place to start.
The RMb"M is quite clear and Masoret Teiman demonstrates certainly hachmei teiman's approach to understanding him. What's more is that A) most probably they learned its interpretation directly from him and B) was exactly the
same as Sa'adiah gaon's description prior to him. What you call lack of clarity only serves to demonstrate just how unimportant the whole issue really is regarding the Halakhah and how to fall. The most if not only important piece of information is that one should not fall flat on their face unless they feel they are worthy (Correction: RMb"M actually mentions an important person). Now stop harping on this issue!!! :o)


No.  It seems mostly off point, from my approach, as he is talking about
what we must do AFTER the 3 steps back.  The question in my mind is what
we are supposed to do inside the prayer until after the 3 steps, and
whether the lack of genuflecting is ok by the Law; my understanding is that
we are supposed to do what we do as a community on this point, and the
genuflecting is a misunderstanding of the text as part of the "standing
prayer" procedure up to after we have taken the 3 steps backward.  Period.
 He seems to be dealing with another World, from my viewpoint, and so is
hardly interesting.

He also totally misunderstood what RMBM says about who is not permitted to
fall on his face, in the manner of Sh"`A:  Guys like us should fall on the
face on the floor, quite literally; but if we do one of the lesser things,
that is at least a "bowing" to rabbinical authority and not a rebellion. 
On the other hand, the Rav and such should be careful about that,
and may feel justified in not falling on the face at all.  I generally do
it in private, and very rarely in public, as it is permitted to do it in a
place other than the house of prayer.

הלכות ביאת המקדש

ג,כ  [כג] לא החזיר פניו, אלא השתחווה דרך יציאתו כלפי חוץ--פטור, אלא אם כן שהה כשיעור.  וכמה שיעור שהייתו:  כדי לקרות "ויכרעו אפיים ארצה על הריצפה, וישתחוו

סדר התפילה

  נהגנו להתחנן בנפילת פנים בדברים ובפסוקים אלו--פעמים בכולן, ופעמים במקצתן:

לפניך, אני כורע ומשתחווה ומתחנן--אדון העולם, אלוהי האלוהים ואדוני האדונים:  כי לא על-צדקותינו, אנחנו מפילים תחנונינו לפניך--כי, על-רחמיך הרבים.  מה-נאמר לה', מה-נדבר, ומה-נצטדק.  חטאנו ועווינו, והרשענו ומרדנו; וסור ממצוותיך, וממשפטיך.  לך ה' הצדקה, ולנו בושת הפנים.  הושחרו פנינו מפני אשמתנו, ונכפפה קומתנו מפני עוונותינו; אין לנו פה להשיב, ולא מצח להרים ראש.  אלוהיי בושתי ונכלמתי--להרים אלוהיי פניי, אליך:  כי עוונותינו רבו למעלה ראש, ואשמתנו גדלה עד לשמיים.  אין בנו מעשים.  עשה עימנו צדקה למען שמך, כמו שהבטחתנו על ידי נביאיך:  למען שמי אאריך אפי, ותהילתי אחטום-לך--לבלתי, הכריתך.  לא למענכם אני עושה, בית ישראל:  כי אם-לשם-קודשי.  לא לנו ה', לא-לנו:  כי-לשמך, תן כבוד--על-חסדך, על-אמיתך.  למה, יאמרו הגויים:  איה-נא, אלוהיהם.  אנא ה', אל-תפן, אל-קשי העם הזה, ואל-רשעו, ואל-חטאתו.  סלח-נא, לעוון העם הזה--כגודל חסדך; וכאשר נשאת לעם הזה, ממצריים ועד-הנה.  למען-שמך ה'; וסלחת לעווני, כי רב-הוא.  ה' שמעה, ה' סלחה, ה' הקשיבה ועשה, אל-תאחר:  למענך אלוהיי--כי-שמך נקרא, על-עירך ועל-עמך.

לב  נהגו העם להתחנן אחר נפילת פנים, כשמגביה פניו מן הקרקע; בפסוקים אלו, אומר:

ואנחנו, לא נדע מה-נעשה--כי עליך, עינינו.  זכור-רחמיך ה', וחסדיך:  כי מעולם המה.  אל-תזכור-לנו, עוונות ראשונים:  מהר, יקדמונו רחמיך--כי דלונו מאוד.  קומה, עזרתה לנו; ופדנו, למען חסדך.  יהי-חסדך ה' עלינו:  כאשר, ייחלנו לך.  אם-עוונות תשמור-יה--ה', מי יעמוד.  כי-עימך הסליחה--למען, תיוורא.  ה' הושיעה:  המלך, יעננו ביום-קוראנו.  כי-הוא, ידע יצרנו; זכור, כי-עפר אנחנו.  עוזרנו, אלוהי ישענו--על-דבר כבוד-שמך; והצילנו וכפר על-חטאותינו, למען שמך.

לג  וכן נהגו העם להתחנן אחר סדר היום תמיד, בתחנונים אלו:

ה', אלוהי אברהם יצחק וישראל אבותינו, שומרה-זאת לעולם, ליצר מחשבות לבב עמך; והכן לבבם, אליך.  והוא רחום, יכפר עוון--ולא-ישחית:  והרבה, להשיב אפו; ולא-יעיר, כל-חמתו.  כי-אתה ה', טוב וסלח; ורב-חסד, לכל-קוראיך.  צדקתך צדק לעולם; ותורתך אמת.  מי-אל כמוך, נושא עוון ועובר על-פשע, לשארית, נחלתו:  לא-החזיק לעד אפו, כי-חפץ חסד הוא.  ישוב ירחמנו, יכבוש עוונותינו; ותשליך במצולות ים, כל-חטאותם.  תיתן אמת ליעקוב, חסד לאברהם, אשר-נשבעת לאבותינו, מימי קדם.  ברוך ה', יום יום:  יעמוס-לנו--האל ישועתנו סלה.  ה' צבאות עימנו; משגב-לנו אלוהי יעקוב סלה.  ה' צבאות--אשרי אדם, בוטח בך.  ברוך אלוהינו ברוך אדונינו, ברוך בוראנו שבראנו לכבודו, שהבדילנו מן התועים ונתן לנו תורת אמת על ידי משה רבנו, חיי עולם נטעה בתוכנו.  הרחמן יפתח ליבנו לתלמוד תורתו, וייתן בליבנו אהבתו ויראתו, לעשות רצונו כרצונו, ולעובדו בלבב שלם ובנפש חפצה--למען לא ניגע לריק, ולא נלד לבהלה.  כן יהי רצון ורחמים מלפניך ה' אלוהינו, שנחיה לשמור חוקיך בעולם הזה ולימות המשיח, כדי שנזכה ונירש טוב לחיי העולם הבא.  למען, יזמרך כבוד--ולא יידום:  ה' אלוהיי, לעולם אודך.  יהיו לרצון אמרי-פי . . .

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R. QafaH zs"l

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In t'phillah 5:13, we learn that one must bend עד שיתפקפקו כל חוליות שבשדרה"" --ALL THE VERTEBRAE OF THE SPINE. Are all the vertebrae of the spine in the neck??!
In 5:16 we learn that it is only "minhagh pashu`t" not to prostrate for `arvith, etc. Mori Nati 'Ozeiri (HaShem yinqom damo) taught that every time it mentions minhagh--even minhagh pashu`t--Rabbenu is citing an ERROR in public practice. Rav Reuven Lev Tov teaches that when it says "minhagh pashu`t" he is encouraging us to do this. Mori Shel takes a middle approach. Yet, when it comes to this, he prostrates after EVERY SINGLE TAPHILLAH, even musaph of Shabboth and Yom `tov! He understands it to be Hovah! When it comes to birkoth haShaHar, Rabbenu teaches cites "minhagh pashu`t" and then lashes out at in the print. Here he does not even hint it is wrong. He just says there are individuals who do so. So I understand it not to be Hovah, but minhagh Hassiduth.
 I understand that partly from hil. teshuvah 1:2: Whoever supplicates more, "harei zeh meshubbaH"! TaHanunim are associated with prostration.
: hi.
 okay. let me read it
yah, i already submitted on the neck
i still wanted to know where they pulled it from. Probably a geon somewhere or a Yerushalmi
i was just curious
 BTW, the reason mori Shel understands it to be HOVAH, ALWAYS to do hishtaHawayah, is because it is listed as one of the 8 POINTS of tephillah that must be met, but are not "me`aqev." However, I understand that hishtaHawayah involves taHanunim because of the DEFINITION of prostration in 5:14: he is "nophel `al panaw" and says "kol taHananunim she-yir'Seh". It is forbidden to supplicate on Shabboth and Yamim `tovim. That's why I understand prostration to be permitted at night, but not Hovah.
 TaHanunim are not part of the `arvith prayer.
got ya
good stuff
 To that Mori Shel would say "kol taHanunim she-yirSeh" means "all the supplications he WANTS to say" If he doesn't want to, or is forbidden to say them, then he doesn't--but he still prostrates.
 I say, safeq miderabanan, we are instructed to be meiqel (lenient).


Types of Prostration: HistaHawaya: In terms of how to position your arms:

THIS VIEW IS THAT OF MY FRIEND: I make no comment about whether this is right position for the arms or not:

MY Shabbath 12:14 states "kemiddath 'orekh ha'adam kesheyifshot ... "  There is only one metric here, the 'orekh.   Linguistically it cannot refer to both the width and the height of a man.  It can only refer to one.  That "midda" is the side of the square area referred to in the halakha.  That is what is meant by "bimruba3 ze shehu kemiddath orekh ha'adam ... "  The "midda" of this square, i.e., its length and width, which are equal, is the "orekh ...".  So the question devolves to: is that metric the width of the armspan in the "T" position, or the height from toe to tip of the fingers in the "I" position.

 On purely linguistic grounds  "orekh ha'adam kesheyifshot" only makes sense if the pishut raghlayim has some effect on the measurement, which in the case of the armspan is simply not true.

Now on the basis of sources:

Erubhin 48A:

 והני ד' אמות היכא כתיבא כדתניא (שמות טז) שבו איש תחתיו כתחתיו [וכמה תחתיו] גופו שלש אמות ואמה כדי לפשוט ידיו ורגליו דברי ר' מאיר ר' יהודה אומר גופו שלש אמות ואמה כדי שיטול חפץ מתחת מרגלותיו ומניח תחת מראשותיו מאי בינייהו איכא בינייהו ארבע אמות מצומצמות

This shows two things. This is HaRambam's source for this halakha of Shabbath 12:14  (the words are identical, and the qabbala comes straight form this barraita), and that the relevant measure is from toe to above the head.  Moreover, it has the average body length at 3 ammoth, and one more is added for the effect of pishut yadayim, obviously above the head.  These people were shorter than we are, by and large.

Moreover, R. Meir's opinion is with sparing ammoth, R. Yehuda's with plentiful ammoth.  As R. Hanan'el offers, R. Meir's measurement is sparing, because pishut yadayim does not add a full amma, which is true, unless you extend your arm so far that your elbow lines up with the top of your head, which is very uncomfortable.  A pishut less than this is precisely what is shown in the Assyrian reliefs (and in the Islamic sajida).

Also, Tosefta Erubin 3:11:

ג,י  רשות שבת כך הוא עומד אדם במקומו ואומר שביתתי במקומי שנאמר (שמות טז) שבו איש תחתיו כמה תחתיו מלא קומתו ופשוט ידיו [הרי ד' אמות] ר' יהודה אומר גופו ג' אמות ואמה כדי שיהא נוטל חבית מראשותיו ונותן למרגלותיו ממרגלותיו ונותן למראשותיו חוץ לד' אמות יש לו אלפים אמה לכל רוח מרובעות לא עגולות רבי חנינא בן אנטיגנוס אומר עגולות ולא מרובעות.

This further corroborates that the context being discussed is that the arms are extended above the head, and parallel to the man's height, and  this is the precisely notion of pishut yadayim here.  "Gufo" can only refer to the height. Nobody's chest width is three ammoth.  By definition of the amma, at least 2.5 more ammoth are added to a man's width when he extends his arms.

Moreover, to this "gufo" is added a distance such that the man can reach from his toes to above his head, and vice versa.  This is clearly along the direction of his height.  The arms are not even extended widthwise in this description, as they are grabbing an object and moving it from head to toe.

WHAT?!?!? I find that if I prostrate myself and spread both my legs
and hands to the sides, my height is slightly less than if my legs
were not spread and the result is about 180 cm. I get the same 180 cm
for the distance between my fingertips. (I have done this measurement
several times, including this morning.)  It seems to me that I am
pretty normal in this respect at least, in occupying a square in this
position that is about 180 cm X 180 cm. That would make my 'ammah
about 45 cm, which is pretty close to the 45 1/2 cm that I measure
from my elbow to the tip of my middle finger.

If I stretch my hands above my head, then instead of my "length" being
4 'ammot, it turns out to be 5 'ammot (the distance from my elbow to
my middle fingertip X 5!), and it is well known that the measure of 4
X 4 'ammot is the measure used in carrying on shabbat, not 5 X 5!!!

So the "I" shape instead of the legs and arms to the sides as I do it
simply makes NO SENSE AT ALL, giving us 5 X 5 instead of the 4 X 4
that we are looking for.

It is likely that people who do not have as much to eat as we do today
were indeed shorter, but the standard of the RMBM adjusts according to
the size of the person's own 'ammah, unless he is abnormally short.
So that should not matter at all. And one who is shorter will have
similarly shorter arms and legs as well as a shorter body.