05 Sep HALACHICALLY SPEAKING: KNEELING ON A STONE FLOOR
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we kneel on the floor during davening at oleinu and while saying v’kohanim. In addition, many times we wish to kneel on the ground to give a child a bath, exercise, or to put something away. Are the above permitted and if they are not what is the correct way to kneel?
In the time of the Bais Hamikdosh one would fall to the floor with his hands and feet spread out and daven to Hashem. This is not done today since we do not have a bais hamikdosh. The Torah tells us that one is not allowed to spread out his hands and feet on a stone floor.
“And a stone covering you should not place on your land to prostrate yourself upon it.”
Other Halachic Factors
The Rabbonim enacted that one is not allowed to bow on one’s hands and feet (even without spreading) if ones face is towards the floor. This issur is known as e’ven maskis. In order for there to be an issur d’oraisa it has to be both of the following: 1. Kneeling while spreading the hands and feet 2. Stone floor. However, bowing on the floor without spreading of one’s hands and feet or spreading the hands and feet but not on a stone floor is forbidden d’rabannan. Kneeling without spreading one’s hands and feet on a non-stone floor is permitted.
This issur applies to men and women alike. The custom of many is that women do not kneel to the ground at all on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Some say that the reason for the issur is because this is the way non-Jews bow to their g-ds. The Chinuch says the reason is that one who sees someone kneeling to the stone would think he is bowing to avodah zarah. Some say the reason is that the kneeling should not be like the bowing in the times of the Bais Hamikdosh.
Based on the above one should spread something out between his face and a stone floor when kneeling on the ground during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (see below). If this is not possible then one should bow on his side so that his face does not touch the ground if it is not a stone floor. One is allowed to kneel towards a stone floor if his face is not near the stone floor.
Type of Stone
Some poskim say that marble has the same din as stone in this regard. Kneeling on bricks is not a concern. One should treat stone tiles which are placed on ones floor as stone in regard to this halacha. Furthermore, even a floor which is not made of stone should still have the same halacha as stone since there may be stone underneath the floor before the floor was put on. In addition, cement is viewed as stone in regard to this halacha. Some say that even if the stone is not attached to the ground it is ossur to bow on. Steps made from stone have the same status as regular stone in this regard. Asphalt has the same din as stone in regard to this halacha. Today the custom is that on all floors one should not kneel without a separation. Therefore, even if there is permanent carpet on the floor then one should still have a separation.
Types of Separation
As mentioned before, when kneeling with one’s hands and feet spread out one must place a separation between his face and the ground. This separation can be made with placing grass, a tallis (see below) or any other material between one’s face and the floor. However, one’s clothing that he is wearing is not a hefsek. Some say that placing one hand under his head is not a good hefsek. A see through material suffices for a separation between one’s hands and feet and the floor. A separation with holes in it is still considered a separation. An area rug which is removed to be cleaned from time to time is a good separation and no other separation is required.
Oleinu – Rosh Hashanah
The custom is to prostrate oneself on the floor by oleinu on Rosh Hashanah. Some say that since by oleinu on Rosh Hashanah we do not bow on the floor, no separation is needed; however, we do have a separation since the custom is that the kneeling on Rosh Hashanah by oleinu is the same as on Yom Kippur where we kneel on the ground.
Kneeling on Yom Kippur
Kneeling is done on Yom Kippur when saying “v’kohanim, and oleinu.”
Giving out paper towels on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
When looking around before the tzibur prepares to kneel at oleinu on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, paper towels are handed out and the tzibur places it on their knees during the bowing process. This is not done because of any halachic reason it is done in order to ensure that one does not dirty his pants. All sources say a separation is required between ones face and the ground not a separation between the knees and the ground.
Some say falling on one’s knees alone is going in the ways of the non-Jews and one should avoid this.
Placing Tallis on Floor
When kneeling during davening on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur one usually uses his tallis as a separation between his face and the floor. Some say that doing so is a disgrace to the tallis. However, the custom is that doing so is permitted since one is not dragging it on the floor. In addition it is being done for a mitzvah in order to kneel down to Hashem.
Giving a Bath etc.
The above mentioned issur is only if one has intent to do so. Therefore, one is allowed to bend down on his knees in order to give his child a bath, or take something out from the refrigerator drawer.
When doing push ups etc. one places his entire body toward the floor. Doing so is not an issue since one does not have intent to kneel to the ground.
Davening at Graves
One is permitted to daven at a cemetery while looking at the gravestone and there is no concern that someone will see him davening to the stone itself. The reason is because it is well known that one is doing so for the honor of the deceased.
Sitting on the Floor
Some are of the opinion that based on kabbalah one should not sit directly on the ground without a separation between you and the ground. Some say this is only if one sits directly on the ground, Therefore, there are those of the opinion that say since our homes etc are covered with stone, wood etc there is no concern. However, others do not make this distinction. There are those who al pi kabbalah in a bungalow colony or camp etc would not sit directly on the dirt without a separation.