Prayer in Motion

Question

Hi Rabbi, I’ve seen some people sway during prayer and others stand still while praying. Which is the correct way? Thanks!

3 months

Answers

  1. “Shuckling” – swaying back and forth during prayer and Torah study – is a legitimate custom. Various reasons are offered for this custom:

    • The soul is akin to a flame. Just as a flame always flickers and strives upward, so too the soul is never still, constantly moving and striving to reach upward towards God.
    • Shaking allows you to pray with your whole body. As King David said “Let all my bones exclaim ‘God, who is like You!’”
    • When we stand before God in prayer, we tremble in awe of the King of Kings.
    • The book of the Kuzari gives a historical explanation for ‘shuckling.’ He explains that it originated during a period when there was a book shortage, and several people needed to study from the same book at the same time. To allow as many people as possible to study from one book, they would sway alternately back and forth. This allowed each person to look into the book and read a little bit, and when he swayed back, another person could sway forward and look into the book.

    Is it necessary to sway during prayer? No. A valid alternative to shuckling is to stand completely still, like a soldier standing at attention in front of the king. Swaying slightly is also totally kosher.

    Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, one of the foremost halachic authorities of the 20th century, was known to stand stock-still during the silent prayer. He explained that when he was still living in Russia he was once arrested for teaching Torah. One form of torture he experienced during his imprisonment was being forced to stand completely still, facing a wall. The threat was that he would be shot if he made any movement. It was on one of these occasions that Rabbi Feinstein was struck with the realization that if he could stand with such intense concentration for the sake of his captors, then he should afford at least the same respect when standing in front of God in prayer.

    The decision of whether to shuckle or to stand still depends on you, as an individual. Which manner of prayer helps you concentrate better? In any case, a person shouldn’t move his body or contort his face in any way that will make him look weird.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team