Chapter 26: Shemoneh Esrei-General Rules

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Chapter 26: Shemoneh Esrei-General Rules[1]

  1. The Mitzvah-Biblical or Rabbinical:

It is disputed amongst Poskim whether there is a Biblical obligation to pray daily, irrelevant of distress or needs, and the final ruling is that the daily prayers are only Rabbinical. Furthermore, even according to the stringent opinion, there is no Biblical obligation to Daven more than one time per day [unless one is in a time of need to make a request from Hashem]. When one Davens one time, whether at day or at night, he fulfills his obligation. Likewise, even according to the stringent opinion, there is no Biblically required Nussach of prayer [and the Nussach of prayer is Rabbinical].

2. The 18 Blessings:[2]

The 18 blessings of Shemoneh Esrei were instituted by 120 elders, including a number of prophets, known as the Anshei Kneses Hagedola. The first three blessings discuss the praise of G-d, similar to a servant who first praises his master and only then makes requests from his master. The last three blessings are like a servant received a gift from his master who praises him prior to leaving his presence. The middle blessings are the requests from G-d.

Shemoneh Esrei is the spinal cord of the Mitzvos: The Sages[3] state that the 18 blessings of Shemoneh Esrei correspond to the 18 disks of the spine through which the spinal cord enters. See Chapter 2 for the full details of this subject!

The purpose of the blessings: The main purpose of prayer is to arouse a fervent desire and passion to have the G-dliness that is above the worlds revealed below in this world. This is the meaning of the word Baruch. Baruch means Hamshacha, which means “drawing down.” We thus request from Hashem in every blessing, “Please draw your revelation down into this world. We desire to see You and be with You.” In each blessing, we request a drawing down of G-dly revelation and Or Ein Sof into the matter that the blessing refers to. For example, in the blessing of Rofei Cholim, we request from Hashem to draw the revelation into this physical world in a way that is expressed by manipulating nature and healing the sick. In the blessings of Birchas Hashanim, we request that the G-dliness become revealed and cause rain to come down and vegetation to grow. This ability is only found in prayer, in contrast to Torah and Mitzvos, as only prayer has the ability to change the nature of the world through revelation, whereas a Mitzvah does not change physical nature. For example, when one dons Tefillin, no physical change is seen to occur to the leather of the Tefillin. Thus, in conclusion, we see that each one of the 18 blessings in Shemoneh Esrei serves as a conduit to hold the revelation of the Or Ein Sof in this world. This is necessary, as the blessing of G-d and revelation of His Divine light cannot reside in an empty area void of vessels. We thus mention all the requests in Shemoneh Esrei in order to make the vessels for the Divine light to reside. Nonetheless, it is understood that the main purpose is the Divine light (which is drawn down into this world) and not the vessel alone. This is similar to the 18 spinal disks that house the spinal cord; the main purpose is the cord and the disks merely serve as protection for the cord. In the wording of Kabbalah, this Hamshacha that occurs in Davening is referred to as Hamshachas Hamochin [drawing of intellect]. Just as the spinal cord connects the brain to every part of the body, so does our Davening connect physicality to the level of Daas, which thereby contains a revelation of G-dliness.

  1. Zeman Tefila:

See Chapter 3 Halacha 4 for the full details of this subject!

Rabbinical: According to all opinions, the times of prayer is not Biblically mandated and one may pray to fulfill his obligation whenever he chooses. The set times of prayer are Rabbinical.

Sunrise-Neitz: The ideal time for praying Shemoneh Esrei is exactly by sunrise.

After sunrise: Initially, even after sunrise, one is to try to Daven Shacharis as soon as possible, and is initially to try to Daven prior to the end time of Shema, and fulfill his Shema obligation at this time. The time for Davening Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis extends 4 hours into the day which is up until 1/3 of the day. Thus, if one is unable to Daven prior to the end time of Shema, then he must initially complete Shemoneh Esrei prior to Sof Zeman Tefila. Past this time, it is no longer considered morning, and it is hence no longer the time for Davening Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis. The entire Shemoneh Esrei prayer must be completed prior to the above-mentioned time arriving.

After Zeman Tefila: If one did not Daven Shemoneh Esrei prior to Sof Zeman Tefila, whether due to negligence or matters beyond his control, then he may nonetheless still Daven until the time of midday.

List of restrictions discussed in this chapter:
  1. Not to Daven on Pillows or other elevated surfaces.
  2. Not to Daven on any item that is three Tefachim high.
  3. Not to Daven in front of an intervening substance known as a Chatzitza.
  4. Not to Daven opposite paintings and the like.
  5. Not to Daven opposite a mirror.
  6. Not to hold an item in one’s hand while Davening.
  7. Not to yawn or burp during Davening.
  8. Not to spit during Davening.
  9. Not to touch the normally covered areas of the body during Davening.
  10. Not to touch lice during Davening.
  11. Not to flatulate during Davening.
  1. Concentrating on the meaning of the words of the blessings:[4]

One who is Davening Shemoneh Esrei is required to concentrate on each one of the blessings that he recites. If one is unable to concentrate by all the blessings then at the very least he must concentrate upon reciting the first blessing of Avos. Accordingly, it is an obligation for every individual to learn the meaning of the words of Shemoneh Esrei, and at the very least of the first blessing.

The conclusion of the blessings:[5] At the very least, one is to accustom himself to concentrate upon reciting the conclusion of each blessing.

  1. If one did not concentrate on the words of the first blessing of Avos:[6]

One who did not concentrate upon reciting the words of the blessing of Avos is required to repeat the prayer. However, in today’s times we no longer repeat the prayer due to lack of concentration, as it is highly possible that one may also not be successful in concentrating during his repetition.

  1. Picture oneself in the Temple:[7]

During the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei, one should think that he is standing in the Temple and praying.

Position of the body during Shemoneh Esrei:
  1. Head bowed and eyes looking at ground:[8]

During the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei one should bow his head downwards in order so his eyes looked below towards the ground. However, his heart should be concentrating on G-d in heaven.

Looking at the heavens:[9] Prior to starting the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei one is to raise his eyes towards the heavens in order to arouse concentration.

  1. The position of one’s hands during Shemoneh Esrei:[10]

One is required to stand during Shemoneh Esrei like a slave stands before his master with fear and awe. For this reason one may not place his hands on his thigh/Chalatzav as this is a haughty position. Rather one is to position his hands in whichever way is common in one’s area for the hands to be positioned upon making a request from the king.

Closing the hands over the thumb: Some, based on Kabala, close their hands over their thumb during Shemoneh Esrei due to reasons known to them.

Crossing the arms: Some have the custom, based on Kabala, to cross their arms during Shemoneh Esrei, placing the right over the left over the heart.

The proper posture: It is proper for one to accustom himself to place his right hand over his left by one’s heart, if this is the custom in one’s area when standing before a king.

May one Daven with his hands in his pocket? As stated above, one is not to place his hands on his loins, as this is a form of arrogance. Some understand from this Halacha that it comes to negate the placing of one’s hands in his pockets during Shemoneh Esrei, as it is not a dignified manner in which a servant stands before his master, and likewise often entails placing one’s hands by his loins. Accordingly, even placing the hands in the pockets of a short winter jacket would be negated. Nonetheless, if one’s hands are cold and it disturbs the person’s concentration, then he may enter his hands into his pockets for the sake of being able to concentrate on his prayer.  The above restriction against placing the hands in the pockets only applies during the actual prayer of Shemoneh Esrei, and not during other parts of Davening.


  1. Standing:[11]

One must Daven Shemoneh Esrei in a standing position.

May one lean during Shemoneh Esrei? One is to beware not to lean on a wall or pillar or even on his friend while praying Shemoneh Esrei.

Time of need-Sick, old: In a time of need, such as if one is old or weak or sick, it is permitted for him to Daven Shemoneh Esrei while sitting.

During travel: If one who is traveling is unable to pray standing, then he is to pray while sitting, facing Eretz Yisrael, if possible. Likewise if applicable one should stand during the areas that he is required to bow, and the beginning and end of the prayer where he is required to take three steps forwards and back.

One who fears being disturbed if he stands: One who is surrounded by gentiles and fears being stopped in middle if he were to stand during Shemoneh Esrei, then he may Daven the entire Shemoneh Esrei sitting.

Re-davening if one who Davened sitting or walking: If one was forced to Daven Shemoneh Esrei while sitting or walking, then is proper for him to repeat Shemoneh Esrei in a standing position if the opportunity arrives. This Shemoneh Esrei is to be prayed as a voluntary prayer known as a Tefilas Nedava and is to only be prayed if he estimates that he will be able to properly concentrate on the prayer.

  1. Placing the feet together:[12]

Throughout the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei, one is to have his feet positioned adjacent to each other side-by-side, making it as if it is a single foot.

  1. Not walking or moving one’s feet:[13]

One may not move his feet and walk in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, unless it is a time of need.

Time of need: In a time of need, such as in order to escape from a disturbance, it is permitted for one to move his feet and walk in middle Shemoneh Esrei. Thus, if one is ashamed that others will make fun of him due to him Davening long, he may take three steps back in middle of Davening and then three steps forward when the Chazan begins Kedusha.[14]

How to say the words-Verbalization & sound level:
  1. Verbalizing the words:[15]

Each word of the prayer of Shemoneh Esrei must be properly verbalized. One is not to pray in his thought alone but must rather verbalize the words with his lips, and pray loud enough for his ears to hear what he is saying, although doing so in a whisper, as will now be explained.

If one Davened in his thought without verbalizing the words with his lips: If one Davened Shemoneh Esrei in his thoughts without verbalizing the words, he does not fulfill his obligation. [However, in a time of need that it is impossible to Daven with one’s mouth, he should think the words.]

  1. Davening loud enough so ears can hear:[16]

The words of Shemoneh Esrei must be recited loud enough for one’s own ears to hear them. Nonetheless, he is to recite them quietly in a way that no one else can hear his voice, as explained next.

If one Davened so quietly that his own ears cannot hear the words: If one verbalized the words of Shemoneh Esrei very quietly to the point that his own ears could not hear his words, then he nevertheless fulfills his obligation.

  1. Davening quiet enough so no one else can hear:

How quietly? One may not pray aloud (to the point that a person who is standing past 4 cubits from him is able to hear him) as the verse states “Only her lips were moving and her voice was not heard.” Furthermore, the Sages instituted that a person is to pray in complete silence, that only his own ears hear what he is saying in order not to embarrass the transgressors which confess their sins in their silent prayer.

Loud prayer shows lack of faith: Anyone who prays aloud is of those who lack faith as he shows with such action that so to say G-d will not be able to hear him if he prays silently.

  1. Cases of exception that one may pray out loud:

If praying aloud will help one concentrate: If one is not able to concentrate when praying silently, or if he is able to concentrate but is able to concentrate better when praying aloud, then it is permitted to raise his voice in order to have better concentration if he is praying in private. However, when praying with a congregation, it is forbidden for him to raise his voice [even to increase his concentration] being that doing so is of disturbance to others. Rather, in such a case that one is not able to concentrate when praying quietly, he should go [listen to the prayers of the congregation] and then go pray at home aloud.

Praying aloud in order to teach others how to pray: Even if one is able to concentrate while praying in silent equally to when praying aloud, nevertheless, it is permitted for one to pray aloud when praying at home in order to teach his household the Nussach of the prayer.

Proper decorum during Shemoneh Esrei:
  1. Yawning and burping during Shemoneh Esrei:[17]

One is not to yawn or burp during Shemoneh Esrei. If one gets the urge to yawn and is unable to control it, then he is to place his hand over his mouth, in order so his open mouth not be apparent to others.

Does one need to cover his mouth if he is Davening in private? Yes.

May one continue saying the words in middle of yawning? No.

  1. Sneezing during Shemoneh Esrei:[18]

One who sneezes during Shemoneh Esrei, it is a good sign for him. [Nonetheless, it is common etiquette to always cover one’s mouth upon sneezing.]

  1. Spitting during Shemoneh Esrei:[19]

It is forbidden for one to willingly spit in middle of praying Shemoneh Esrei, as this is similar to one spitting before the king. If, however, one feels the need to spit, then he may spit into his clothing in a way that the saliva will not be visible, such as by spitting into his under clothing in order so not be visible. However, one may not spit onto the ground unless he is a pampered person, or is wearing elegant clothing which he does not want to get dirty with his saliva and doing so would disturb his concentration. In such a case, one is to turn his face around and spit behind him. If one cannot spit behind him, then he is to spit towards his left side. If he cannot spit towards his left side, then he should spit towards his right side. If he cannot spit to any other direction, then he may spit even in front of him, in order to prevent him from being disturbed from his prayers.

  1. Holding an item in one’s hand during Davening:[20]

The letter of the law: Upon Davening Shemoneh Esrei a person may not hold onto an item in his hands if he fears of it falling and having damage caused to it, as this compromises on one’s concentration. If the item being held has no worry of damage and loss occurring to it if one were to drop it, then it is permitted to hold it during Shemoneh Esrei.

The Mitzvah Min Hamuvchar: The above is all from the letter of the law. However, it is a Mitzvah Min Hamuvchar for a person not to hold any item in his hand while Davening Shemoneh Esrei, even if there is no worry of it getting damaged if it were to fall. [Rather, one is to have his hands placed one over the other over each other, as explained above in Halacha 6.]

Holding a Siddur: It is permitted for one to hold a Siddur in his hand while Davening Shemoneh Esrei, as since he’s holding it for the sake of the prayer, it will therefore not be a source of disturbance. It is even permitted for one to lift up a Siddur in middle of Shemoneh Esrei in order to Daven from it, if it is readily available in front of him.

  1. Touching filth and normally covered areas of the body:[21]

It is forbidden for a person to touch areas of filth, such as the normally covered areas of his body, while praying Shemoneh Esrei. This applies even if there is water readily available in front of him to wash his hands. Rather, if one has an itch in a normally covered area of his skin, then he should use a garment to scratch himself.

What to do if one touched a filthy area: If one touched a filthy area of his body during Shemoneh Esrei, then if there is water available in front of him, then he is to wash his hands with the water. If he does not have water readily available in front of him, then he is to clean his hands through rubbing them on earth, or pebbles, or through rubbing them on the wall, or any other item that cleans.

Removing a louse:[22] If one is being bitten by a louse during Shemoneh Esrei, then he may remove it by using his clothing to shake it off. However, he is not to remove it using his fingers, as lice are considered repugnant and it is belittling to do so in middle of praying in front of the king of all kings. Other insects, may be removed regularly.

  1. Flatulating during Shemoneh Esrei:[23]

One may not flatulate in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei and hence if one feels an urge to do so, he is obligated to restrain himself as much as possible. In the event that he could not control himself and did flatulate, then he is to stop his prayer of Shemoneh Esrei until the smell dissipates at which point he is to continue his prayer from the area that he left off.

Supplication in event of flatulence:[24] When Davening in private, such as in one’s house, then if one flatulated then he should recite a supplication prayer after taking steps back for a distance of four cubits.

  1. Shuckling during Davening:[25]

It is customary, especially amongst the meticulous, to move their bodies and Shuckel during prayer.


[1] See Shulchan Aruch 89-133; Ketzos Hashulchan 12:13; 20-23; Tefila Kehilchasa 12; Ishei Yisrael 23; Shulchan Menachem 75-80

[2] Ketzos Hashulchan 21

[3] Brachos 28b

[4] Admur 124:2; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:16

[5] Admur 101:1-4; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:16

[6] Admur 101:1-4; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:16

[7] Admur 95:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:18

[8] Admur 95:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:18

[9] Admur 95:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:18

[10] See Admur 95:4; Michaber 95:3; Rambam Tefila 5:4; Brachos 24b; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:18

[11] Admur 94:5-9; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:7

[12] Admur 95:1; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:18

[13] Admur 95:1; 104:1-2; Michaber 95:1; Brachos 10b; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:20 and 22; Igros Moshe 5:38; Piskeiy Teshuvos 95:1

[14] Admur 124:5; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:20

[15] Admur 101:2-4; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:17

[16] Admur 101:2-4; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:17

[17] Admur 97:1; Michaber 97:1; Braisa Brachos 24b; Kitzur SHU”A 18:9; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:9

[18] Admur 103:3; Michaber 103:3; Brachos 24b

[19] Admur 97:2; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:9

[20] Admur 96; 97:4; 8:29; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:8

[21] Admur 92:5; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:10

[22] Admur 97:3; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:10

[23] Admur 103:1-2; Ketzos Hashulchan 20:11

[24] Ketzos Hashulchan 20 footnote 25

[25] See Admur 93:1; M”B 93:2; Igros Kodesh 18:121; Piskeiy Teshuvos 93:2

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