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According to the Gemara (Megillah 22b), and according to the RaMBa"M (Hil. Tefillah 5:13) (and apparently R' Avraham ben HaRaMBa"M was adamant), when we pray we are supposed to bow down ON our knees (not merely bending our knees) and in certain places, particularly Tahanun, we are supposed to lie prostrate on the floor with our arms and legs outstretched and our faces flat on the ground (so long as the ground is not a stone floor; prostrating on stone is explicitly prohibited).

Rather than go into depth with descriptions and all the sources for the different movements and when to do them, for simplicity, see the following videos:
http://youtu.be/xJYvBJFb8CQ
http://youtu.be/0aHWASyMjwg

Why don't we do this?

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This question has an open bounty worth +50 reputation from Matt ending in 2 days.

The current answers do not contain enough detail.

I don't think that everyone toady is considered 'important', so while Shmuel Brin's answer is useful, he too recognizes that more is needed. I'm know I've seen this issue discussed in contemporary sources

    
I've seen those videos floating around for a while now, I don't think they are accurate. As soon as I saw the question I knew you would be referencing Avraham ben Harambam (what weird way to refer to someone!) –  avi Aug 4 '11 at 19:53
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I'm guessing the answer has to do with the lack of beis hamikdash, and the prevalence of stone floors before recent history. I'd ask why we bow on the floor for yom kippur, but not the rest of the year. –  avi Aug 4 '11 at 19:56
    
Can you cite the relevant halacha in Ramba"m? –  WAF Jun 14 '12 at 21:22
    
@WAF, see new edit. –  Seth J Jun 14 '12 at 21:32
    
@SethJ Thanks! On that topic, is the word "שיתפקפקו" correct and does it have the same meaning as "שיתפקקן", which appears in my version of the g'mara? I just noticed this discrepancy. –  WAF Jun 14 '12 at 21:35

1 Answer 1

The Rambam says that an important person is not allowed to fall on his face unless he is as great of a tzaddik as Yehoshua.

The Aruch Hashulchan says that that the reason is because if he is not answered immediately, he will be embarrassed. This is why it says that even a great man is allowed to do proper "falling on the face" in a private setting.

The Aruch Hashulchan says that this is the source why we don't fall on our face for Tachanun.


However, I don't understand this, as this reason only applies to the Rabbonim. The simple Baalei Battim have no reason to be embarrassed if they are not answered immediately.

Therefore, I understand that the Aruch Hashulchan is only explaining why the Torah scholars didn't fall on their face. However, once people saw that Torah scholars don't fall on their face, they figured that it was a wrong way to do Tachanun and stopped doing it themselves.

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Can you summarize (and provide a citation note for) the source you are referencing in your link? –  Seth J Aug 5 '11 at 13:13
    
@SethJ fixed... –  Shmuel Brin Jun 14 '12 at 22:14
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@ShmuelBrin this doesn't apply to the OP question since that's in reference to full body prostration after amidah not bowing on ones knees during the amidah. Bowing during the amidah ones face does not touch the ground. the RaMBaM explains the differences in Hilkoth Tephilah 5:10-14 –  Qoheleth Sep 25 '12 at 0:21

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