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Shevat 5, 5776

Bowing Down


Rabbi David Sperling

Question:
Hello. I am confused. The Rambam seems to hold that one is liable for bowing to an idol only if he prostrates with his face touching the ground (Avodas Kochavim, Chapter 6 halacha 8), while the Gemara (Sanhedrin 65a) seems to assert that even bending the body at all to an idol could make someone liable. What is the halacha that we hold? Also, I am troubled by the Gemaras suggestion. How much bending would be considered bending? If any slight bending at all is considered bending, then if one happens to be in a room with an idol, I would think that person might obsess about standing extremely straight and worry about even the slightest movement of the neck or back while walking. This is troubling me, and I appreciate your response in advance.

Answer:
Shalom,
Thank you for your question. You are correct that the Rambam writes " one who prostrates himself to a false deity should be stoned to death, whether or not he spreads out his hands and feet. As soon as he buries his face in the ground [he is liable]" (Avodat Kochavim, 6:8). The Gemera you quote, in Sanhedrin, states one is liable "for in bending his body". Your question then is does any bending in front of idols infer a form of idol worship.
The answer to your question comes from understanding the meaning of the term "bending" ("kafuf komato" in the original) in the Gemara Sanhaedrin. Based on the use of the term in other places in the Talmud (Megillah 22, Brachot 35) and the comments of Rashi and Tosafot (ibid) it becomes clear that the Gemera is referring to a full form of bending, that is to the point where one's face touches the ground as the Rambam writes. (This explanation is found in one of the commentators on the Rambam, the Avodat HaMelech written by Rabbi Menachem Krakavasky z"l).

I hope this is of some help to you, and wish you all the best in your continues Torah studies may you have every success.

P.S. If you have a practical question relating to the laws of coming into contact with idol worship, please feel free to write back to us with the specific details so we can give you practical guidance.


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