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Who actually takes three steps back while davening shemona esrei?

women-daveningI was in shul this past shabbos when I witnessed the most amazing thing, someone standing about ten feet away took three giant steps back before starting shmona esray, it was mostly amazing because he almost ran over a little kid in the process who was almost trampled to death and who knows what other kind of damage could have been caused if other bystanders were in the way. Got me thinking about the whole three step routine which no one actually does.

Most of the time shuls lack the leg room for even one step back, benches are spaced close enough to each other to create that awkward side step motion which is needed to complete the three step back routine. Not once besides for this past shabbos in Dallas, have I seen someone take three full sized steps backwards.

In fact most of the time, if people even do the three step routine, they do baby steps or they do maybe 2 steps that they try and pull off as three. Forget about the end of shmona esray, how many times have I seen people just end and sit down.

What is with the three step routine anyway, is it halacha? Is it just some tradition to remind us that we are with the king (not referring to the rebbe or elvis) or is it just some random thing people do to signal they are done so that the chazzan can start up his thing again?

Other related posts:

What shuckel position do you assume during shemona esrei?

What type of negiah do you keep?

Do girls actually do this???

How do you reject a girl after seeing her picture?

Judging BT’s based on their body maneuvers during shul

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • moshe April 2, 2009, 1:44 PM

    yeah..when you leave the presence of a king you dont turn your back but walk away backwards as a sign of deference..it is customary to do the same thing when walking away from the torah

  • Ed Greenberg April 2, 2009, 1:51 PM

    Well, I was taught to do it as a child, and nobody ever told me it was optional. Since the steps are symbolic, they can be small — it being halachikally inappropriate to trample somebody elses child. (Not to mention, your own.)

  • Chavi April 2, 2009, 2:03 PM

    In the Artscroll siddurim it DIRECTS you to take three steps back (left, right, left) and then forward at the beginning of the shemonei esrei and then at the end you do the same. That’s how I know to do it. But the walking backward thing makes sense.

    I’d meant to write to you so you could write about this about a month ago, actually. It’s NUTS at my shul how some people take the most GIGANTIC steps. Like, it’s a competition to see how much space you can cover.

  • s(b.) April 2, 2009, 2:05 PM

    chavi, that’s hilarious. It’s more like a tiny shuffle.

  • Chavi April 2, 2009, 2:06 PM

    Maybe it’s a ba’al teshuvah thing?

  • Tuvia April 2, 2009, 2:28 PM

    I understand the three steps forward and back, it makes sense to me. I have never seen a reason for giant steps. I have seen people cover 10 rows of seats in their three steps.

  • Moshe April 2, 2009, 2:38 PM

    I take 3 steps minding people around me. A full step is toe to heel, not a ballet leap as some seem to people think.

    Chavi, it is a bt thing. My fav bt competition is who can bow lowest, much more fun to watch.

  • Moshe April 2, 2009, 2:39 PM

    Typing while baby feeding not grammar good produce.

  • Squeak April 2, 2009, 3:01 PM

    Moshe is right. The proper step is toe-to-heel.

  • Shira April 2, 2009, 3:39 PM

    I love the earings the girl in the picture has. lol

  • Chris_B April 2, 2009, 3:49 PM

    Darnit. Long comment stuck somewhere in the queue?

  • Chris_B April 2, 2009, 3:50 PM

    My bad, not this thread but the previous one.

  • SF2K1 April 2, 2009, 4:46 PM

    The 3 steps do have a minimum length I think, although alot of people cheat because those shul rows are sometimes way too thin to do it properly, which is why I really need to sit on the end because 3 normal, non crunched, steps for me definitely takes 2 rows worth in most shuls (Easier in Yeshivas as they usually have tables instead).

    I always figured NOT taking 3 steps before and after was a newbie BT (or non-religious) thing.

  • Homey April 2, 2009, 5:13 PM

    There are different reasons for the 3 Step Shuffle, among them:

    1) You’re leaving your world at the beginning of the SE and entering the Upper World (and when you finish, you’re leaving the Upper Worlds and re-entering yours)

    2) Nevuchadnezzar (I’m pretty sure it was him, if I’m wrong and anyone out there knows who it was, please tell me) sent a letter once and wrote something regarding Hashem, and wanted to retract the letter so he can write more accolades about Hashem, as he felt what he put down wasn’t enough. He was massively rewarded for that. So since he took three steps for the honor of Hashem, we also do.

    3) We show how important it is to go out of our way for Shalom (since we recite passages referring to Shalom when we do that). We start with the left foot, presumably the shaky one, to show we need Hashem to help us steady us in everything we do.

    I didn’t know some people never did this, I took it for granted everyone knew about it and did it. As a youngin I did the Moonwalk (Michael Jackson style) when I ended.

  • mikeinmidwood April 2, 2009, 5:20 PM

    I take two steps and count it as 3

  • TRS April 2, 2009, 5:50 PM

    Finally something I can comment on! Hello people, this is in Shulchan Oruch, and it specifically says you have to do it with normal steps.

  • Michal bas Avraham April 2, 2009, 6:16 PM

    I saw an acquaintance do it out of the corner of my eye once. She looked like a total weirdo.

  • veebee April 2, 2009, 6:25 PM

    People in my shul have decided that taking three steps sideways is just as good as three steps backwards.

  • The Law April 2, 2009, 8:36 PM

    you arent supposed to take 3 steps back before shemona esrei, only 3 steps forward. (Michilta Shemos 20:18; mishna Berura Sec. 95)

  • Ann April 3, 2009, 12:09 AM

    Whoa, I always follow the instructions exactly like it says in the siddur O_O Is it weird to bow too?

  • Jelen April 3, 2009, 4:15 AM

    i do it in order to make room for the three steps forward.

  • Talmudist April 3, 2009, 11:47 AM

    Gemarra in Brachos talks about (I believe) a tanna who would be in one corner of the room during the commencement of his shemoneh esrei, and due to the fervency of his prayer, be in the farthest-out position of the shul (relative to his start-position); all while his legs were together. Talk aboyt d’veykus man.

  • yeshiva guy April 3, 2009, 3:37 PM

    Acc. to halacha the steps are supposed to be the toe of the foot moving back to the back of the other foot. Basically the length of your foot.

  • Lady-Light April 5, 2009, 11:05 PM

    I like your new blog format; easy on the eyes and very readable.

    I learned to take three little steps backwards and three steps forward, to wit: at Hashem sefatai tiftach, 3 backwards; at u-fi yagid tehilatecha, three little steps forward.

    I didn’t consider it optional: it was how one davened the Shmoneh Esrei, in deference to G-d.

    (btw, I linked your blog to my last post about Elijah’s cup)

  • Neil Harris April 6, 2009, 12:41 AM

    “Gemarra in Brachos talks about (I believe) a tanna”- R Akiva.

    Figures it would be in Dallas, as things are always bigger in Texas.
    The best is when the person in front of you takes three steps back and knocks the table behind him.

  • Moshe April 6, 2009, 6:56 AM

    Gotta inform the BT Jewlarinas, the ones taking 3 leaping bounds, that there is a much more important halocha. When someone’s saying shemona esrei, you’re not allowed to go into their 4 amos, especially in front. If you finished first and there’s someone behind you, you can take 3 steps sideways or you must stand and wait until the other person finishes.

    Pet peeve, the holier than thou morons who take 3 steps back into the person behind them, knocking out their siddur, and then stand there waiting for the kdusha before taking 3 steps back. I like pushing them sideways, preferably into a wall.

  • zalman April 8, 2009, 12:56 PM

    i once took 3 steps back, a little kid ran in my way and wiped out. it was pretty funny

  • Y.L. Schwartz January 13, 2010, 3:43 PM

    The Minchas Elazar (and his Bais Medrash) did not take three steps back before beginning the Shemona Esrai. It is well known that this added to the general confusion experienced by Munkatcher BT ‘s when they davened anywhere else.

  • RebSholom September 21, 2010, 10:11 PM

    My teacher, Dr. Esra Shereshevsky, a”h, used to say that he felt it was a sign of the decline of our generation that people no longer look behind themselves when they put on their talleisim or take three steps back at the end of shemoneh esrai, not considering that the tzitzit might go in someone’s eyes, or that we may tread on someone’s feet.

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