18 – It Is Forbidden to Pass in Front of People Reciting the Amidah

It is forbidden to pass within four amot in front of a person reciting the Amidah, since one who passes in front of him is likely to disturb his concentration. There are those who say that the reason for the prohibition is that a person who is reciting the Amidah is standing before the Shechinah and one who passes before him offends the respect for the  Shechinah.[16]

The poskim disagree regarding the question of where precisely is it forbidden to pass. According to the Eliyah Rabbah, the prohibition only applies to passing directly in front of the face of one reciting the Amidah, since only then will passing by disturb him. In other words, if the width of a man is approximately half a meter (1.64 feet), one may not pass in that half meter in front of his face for a distance of four amot (approximately 2 meters or 6.56 feet). However, according to the Magen Avraham, it is forbidden to pass anywhere the person praying can see within his four amot, since passing there is likely to slightly disrupt his kavanah.
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They disagree further. According to the Eliyah Rabbah, a person is permitted to come and stand within the four amot of a person praying and remain standing there. This is because he only disturbs the person when crosses through the four amot directly in front of his face. However, if he comes from the side and remains standing before him, he does not disrupt him as much. Still according to the Magen Avraham, it is forbidden to enter into the four amot in front of a person praying at all.

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[16]. The Mishnah Berurah 102:15 and Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Assur” write that the reason for the prohibition is the disturbance it will cause to the person praying. That is the opinion of the majority of poskim, and so writes the Ma’amar Mordechai. However, the Chayei Adam maintains that the reason for the prohibition is that one who passes in front of a person reciting the Amidah interferes with his connection to the Shechinah. There are practical halachic differences (nafka minot) between the reasons. If the reason is disruption, then if the person praying covers his eyes with his tallit, one may pass in front of him.  However, if the reason is because of the honor of the Shechinah, one is forbidden to pass. By contrast, if there is a partition with a height of ten tefachim in front of the person praying, then if the reason is the honor of the Shechinah, the partition is considered a divider and he may pass. But if it is because of distraction, he is prohibited from passing, as cited by the Mishnah Berurah 102:2. The Bei’ur Halachah writes that it is proper to take into consideration the reason that the Chayei Adam presents as well. Still, according to Eshel Avraham Butshatsh, both reasons are mutually dependent, and only when there is a distraction to the person praying is there also an affront to the honor of the Shechinah. (This dispute is not contingent upon the disagreement between the Magen Avraham and Eliyah Rabbah, which is brought further in this chapter, because the Magen Avraham 102:6 also mentions that the reason for the prohibition is the disruption to the person praying. Furthermore, even according to the Eliyah Rabbah one could explain that the affront to the honor of the Shechinah is only when one passes directly in front of the person praying.)

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman