[Avodah] Tachanun with nefilas apayim when there is no Sefer Torah present

Prof. L. Levine llevine at stevens.edu
Mon Jul 19 05:11:56 PDT 2021

>From today's OU Kosher Halacha Yomis

Q. I am on vacation and unable to attend a minyan. My custom is to only recite Tachanun with nefilas apayim when there is a Sefer Torah present. If there is no Sefer Torah, should I still sit for Tachanun or can I stand?

A. Nefilas apayim means falling on the face, and it demonstrated our helplessness and total dependency on G-d. When bowing on the ground, it was necessary to either tilt the face to the side or place a barrier between the face and the ground, because of the Torah prohibition of bowing on a stone floor (“even maskis”). With the passing of time, the Rabbis decided (for various reasons) to no longer bow on the face. Nonetheless, in recognition of the original practice, it remained customary to bow our heads towards the ground (Teshuvos Vihanhogos 1:134) and place our head on a talis, or the sleeve of a shirt or jacket (Mishnah Berurah 131:3). The name of the Tefillah remained nefilas apayim even though we bow our face rather than fall on our face.

Shulchan Aruch (OC 131:2) writes that the proper position for nefilas apayim is to be sitting. The Mishnah Berurah (131:10) cites the Beis Yosef who writes this is based on Kabbalistic sources. However, the Mishnah Berurah (131:38) notes that the Rivash disagrees and writes that both sitting and standing are acceptable for nefilas apayim. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that in cases of necessity, one may rely on the Rivash and stand. For example, if a person standing behind you is reciting Shemoneh Esrei and as such, it is not permissible to sit, Tachanun should be said with nefilas apayim while standing.

The Elya Rabba (131:4) writes that if one is reciting Tachanun without nefilas apayim (such as when there is no Sefer Torah), Tachanun may be said sitting or standing, though the Kaf Hachayim (131:38) is not in agreement.

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