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Is there any synagogue in the world where Jews still do sujood (prostration), all year-round according to the ancient laws & minhagim?

I'm using Sujood (prostration) to refer to the whole set of actions of going down/bowing to the ground and (not necessarily) including full flat prostration as this is the common and understood usage. Examples of this are easy to find on the web:

Jews doing 'Sujood' (no one lies flat.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjZHWGtdM2g

'Prostration' demonstrated by an expert at the Kotel (he doesn't lie flat): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9Uyg0qHhec

If there aren't any communities doing this everyday, has any preservation initiative started up anywhere?

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    I am confused Sujood is a Muslim term. Please clarify.
    – Edward B
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:00
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    No, Sujood is an Arabic term and I believe it's the one Arabic speaking Jews would use to describe prostration ... because it means "prostration" ... along with other Hebrew terms and other terms for "prostration". Arabic speaking Christians, and others would also use Sujood to mean ... "Sujood" ...
    – הראל
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:33
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    What is meant by "according to the ancient laws & minhagim" and by "preserving the minhag without issue"
    – Edward B
    Commented Jun 3 at 14:42
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    @EdwardB Yeah - what minhagim are we talking about?
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jun 3 at 21:56
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    @Aaron that, plus removing the loaded language. There is no reason on this website to be calling the minhagim of virtually the entire Orthodox world "improper". There are reasons why minhagim evolve, and they don't need our approval or disapproval.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jun 5 at 17:41

1 Answer 1

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Sujood is related to Sigd, as they both come from a common Semitic root meaning to bow to the floor, or to worship generally. I want to make it clear, prostration in most semitic languages is often used interchangeably with worship. That's how linked prostration and worship are culturally in the ancient Near East. So an Ethiopian Jew calls the synagogue mesgid, the place where he worships/prostrates. The same happens in Arabic. It doesn't happen in Hebrew because ancient religious Hebrews had more words for different types of prostrations. But let's start with the SGD semitic root which all of these languages go back to.

This SGD/SJD root has a long tradition in the Jewish world, being used in the original Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible. See common usages below

סגד, ‎סגד, ‎סגיד ‎(b. ‎h. ‎מגד) ‎to ‎bend ‎bow; ‎to ‎worship. ‎Targ. ‎Gen. ‎XXIV, ‎26. ‎Targ. ‎O. ‎ib. ‎XXVII, ‎7; ‎a. ‎fr. ‎- ‎Part. ‎סגיד, ‎pl. ‎סגירין. ‎Targ. ‎II ‎Esth. ‎III, ‎2; ‎a. ‎e. ‎-Gen. ‎R. ‎s. ‎38, ‎end ‎יומיה ‎לבר ‎למסגד ‎ובעי ‎. ‎. ‎. ‎ליה ‎ווי ‎woe ‎to ‎that ‎man ‎who ‎is ‎sixty ‎years ‎old ‎and ‎wants ‎to ‎bow ‎to ‎an ‎idol ‎made ‎to-day ‎; ‎Yalk. ‎iib. ‎62 ‎דין ‎יומא ‎דעביד ‎להדין ‎למסגוד. ‎Ib. ‎נסגוד ‎וכ׳ ‎נסגוד ‎. ‎. ‎לנורא ‎let ‎us ‎worship ‎the ‎fire; ‎said ‎he ‎to ‎him, ‎let ‎us ‎worship ‎the ‎water ‎which. ‎extinguishes ‎the ‎fire. ‎Cant. ‎R. ‎to ‎II, ‎5 ‎מסגיד, ‎v. ‎פחיתא; ‎a. ‎fr. ‎- ‎Hull. ‎62b ‎סגיד, ‎v. ‎זגיד.

Source: Jastrow

Genesis 24:26-27 in Jewish Aramaic.

וּכְרַע גַּבְרָא וּסְגִיד קֳדָם יְיָ:
The man bowed [his head] and prostrated himself to [before] Adonoy.

וַאֲמַר בְּרִיךְ יְיָ אֱלָהָא דְרִבּוֹנִי אַבְרָהָם דִּי לָא מְנַע טִיבוּתֵיהּ וְקוּשְׁטֵיהּ מִן רִבּוֹנִי אֲנָא בְּאוֹרַח תַּקְנָא דַּבְּרַנִי יְיָ בֵּית אַחוֹהִי דְרִבּוֹנִי:

He said, Blessed is Adonoy, God of my master, Avraham, Who has not abandoned His kindness [goodness] and truth [in dealing] with my master. I am still on the [straight] road and Adonoy has led me to the house of my master’s brethren.

Source: https://www.sefaria.org/Onkelos_Genesis.24.26?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

As far as I know there are only two Jewish groups that practice proper physical Jewish prayer as taught by the Bible, Mishnah, and Gemara: Karaite and Ethiopian Jews. When I went to the Karaite Synagogue in Jerusalem they had lots of pictures up of bowing on the floor. Ethiopians have a holiday dedicated to prostration (amongst other things) called Sigd. Here's what Wikipedia says about the etymology of the SGD root in terms of how it's used for the Sigd holiday.

Etymology

The word Sigd itself is Ge'ez for "prostration" and is related to Imperial Aramaic: סְגֵד sgēd "to prostrate oneself (in worship)".3 The Semitic root sgd is the same as in mesgid, one of the two Beta Israel Ge'ez terms for "synagogue" (etymologically related to Arabic: مَسْجِد masjid "mosque", literally "place of prostration"), and from the same Semitic root we also have the Hebrew verb לסגוד lisgod, "to worship".

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigd#Etymology

However we need to understand that SGD/Sujood as Arabic and Islam understand it, is not "full prostration" as we Jews would understand it. To Muslims this is Sujood (prostration)

enter image description here

To Jews who speak Arabic, Aramaic, or Ge'ez/Amharic, the above picture is definitely Sigd/Sujood. But in Hebrew we have more distinctions for different physical modes of prayer. So in Hebrew we would not call the above picture prostration, rather it is כְּרִיעָה, falling to one's knees or bowing. In Hebrew full prostration is הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ (hishtahawu), to see the difference please keep reading.

The picture below was taken during Sigd, a Jewish Holiday centered around around prostration as defined by the Semitic root SGD, general floor worship. The person on the left is what would be considered הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ prostration in Hebrew. The person on the right is doing kneeling בִּרְכַּיִם, and bowing כְּרִיעָה . Both of them are doing Sigd/Sujood, but only the one on the left is doing הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ (prostration).

enter image description here

So in Judaism, "Prostration" is NOT kneeling, and it's NOT bowing. It's laying flat on the floor. One may kneel and bow in preparation for doing prostration, but they are all separate in our tradition.

For the Amidah, we are required by Jewish law according to Rambam to kneel on our knees to the floor and bow our heads forward to touch the floor, what we call kneeling and bowing or falling to the floor and Muslims call prostrating.

הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה כֵּיצַד. אַחַר שֶׁמַּגְבִּיהַּ רֹאשׁוֹ מִכְּרִיעָה חֲמִישִׁית יֵשֵׁב לָאָרֶץ וְנוֹפֵל עַל פָּנָיו אַרְצָה וּמִתְחַנֵּן בְּכָל הַתַּחֲנוּנִים שֶׁיִּרְצֶה. כְּרִיעָה הָאֲמוּרָה בְּכָל מָקוֹם עַל בִּרְכַּיִם. קִידָה עַל אַפַּיִם. הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה זֶה פִּשּׁוּט יָדַיִם וְרַגְלַיִם עַד שֶׁנִּמְצָא מֻטָּל עַל פָּנָיו אַרְצָה: Prostration, what is implied? After one lifts his head from the fifth bow, he sits on the ground, falls with his face towards the earth, and utters all the supplications that he desires. "Bowing" (Kriah) always refers to [falling to] one's knees; "prostration," (Qida) to bending over on one's face; and "full prostration," (hishtahawu) to stretching out on one's hands and feet until he is flat with his face on the ground

Source: https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Prayer_and_the_Priestly_Blessing.5.13?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

So according to the Rambam, EVERY Amidah that a Jew does should be done as Sigd/Sujood. This would be done everyday throughout the whole year. But this is bowing in our tradition, not prostration.

Jewish prostration (הִשְׁתַּחֲווּ ) only happened turning the Nephillat Apayim service, the "Falling on Ones Face" service. This as far as I know wouldn't be done every day by most normative Jewish groups. Instead, what would be daily was kneeling and bowing.

שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה נְפִילַת פָּנִים אַחַר תְּפִלָּה יֵשׁ מִי שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה קִידָה וְיֵשׁ מִי שֶׁהוּא עוֹשֶׂה הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה. וְאָסוּר לַעֲשׂוֹת הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה עַל הָאֲבָנִים אֶלָּא בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ בְּהִלְכוֹת עֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים. וְאֵין אָדָם חָשׁוּב רַשַּׁאי לִפּל עַל פָּנָיו אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הוּא יוֹדֵעַ בְּעַצְמוֹ שֶׁהוּא צַדִּיק כִּיהוֹשֻׁעַ. אֲבָל מַטֶּה פָּנָיו מְעַט וְאֵינוֹ כּוֹבֵשׁ אוֹתָן בַּקַּרְקַע. וּמֻתָּר לְאָדָם לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בְּמָקוֹם זֶה וְלִפּל עַל פָּנָיו בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר: When uttering the supplication (falling upon the face) after the Amidah, there are those who prostrate (קִידָה) and there are those who prostrate (הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה) themselves. It is forbidden to prostrate (הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה) oneself on stones except in the Holy Temple, as we have explained in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim. An important person is not permitted to fall on his face unless he is certain that he is as righteous as Yehoshua. Rather, he should tilt his face slightly, but not press it to the ground. One may pray in one place and offer this supplication in another.

Source: https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Prayer_and_the_Priestly_Blessing.5.14?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

You can see Rambam mentioning how there are piety concerns with the full prostration of hishtahawu (הִשְׁתַּחֲוָיָה) regarding putting your face on the ground. I would argue in his time, full prostration was starting to fade for one reason or another. In the time of Rambam's son I believe people weren't even doing Sujood (כְּרִיעָה) as often anymore.

I've heard there are Yemenites who still pray on the floor but I have never witnessed this happen in front of me and I've attended around 10-15 Yemenite synagogues in my life of both Baladi and Shammi denominations.

From my personal observation, the ancient Jewish practices of going to the floor for prayer whether for bowing or prostration will be lost to us in a handful of generations without a revitalization movement. Not just because so few of us religious Jews keep this practice, but also because the Jewish groups who do maintain the tradition are often not considered Jews/Judaism by our religion at large. There are those even on this forum who cast unnecessary aspersions on the Judaic practices of Karaites and Ethiopians instead of looking in the mirror and asking why we are losing our own practices.

Others will throw up arguments such as the prostration practice is soooo holy it shouldn't be done anymore. But the reality is we are allowed to prostrate even to just another person out of respect or fear and it happened all over the place in the Torah.

Talmud Bavli: Sanhedrin 61b

בבלי סנהדרין סא: להם אי אתה משתחוה אבל אתה משתחוה לאדם כמותך.

Before them [idols] you may not prostrate yourself; but you may prostrate yourself before a person like yourself.

So to definitively answer your question. I do not believe any Jewish groups practice full prostration on a daily basis according to our tradition. I believe only Ethiopian Jews and Karaites practice kneeling and bowing regularly, which is called Sujood/Sugood/Sigd in non Hebrew semitic languages and כְּרִיעָה in Hebrew. The rest of the Jewish world, whether Ashkenazi or Sepharadi does not usually pray on the floor, whether it be kneeling, bowing, or prostrating. They may go to the floor in some form once a year on Yom Kippur but that's about it.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Mi Yodeya Meta, or in Mi Yodeya Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jun 6 at 0:31
  • "according to Rambam" Can you cite any authority (not directly related to him) who shares that interpretation? Otherwise it may be a minority view in which case it's not surprising most Jews don't follow it.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6 at 0:56
  • @DoubleAA I've reached the limit for research effort I can put into this question/answer for the moment. I'm not willing to expand it anymore. I didn't say anything not accurate in the way I said it. Maybe I'll return to it another time for more of those sources if I find them. For the moment I think the rest of my edits will be for clarity or to fix something incorrect. If you see something like that in my answer please let me know
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 6 at 0:58
  • "two Jewish groups that practice proper Jewish prayer as taught by the Bible, Mishnah, and Gemara" This is clearly incorrect since (among hundreds of other examples) they don't recite אמת ויציב surrounding shema as taught in the Mishna (Berakhot 2:2). Perhaps you meant to say something different.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 6 at 1:00
  • You are correct I meant to say something different. I meant the physical motions of prayer. Is there a better word for this in English? In Biblical times people went to the floor without fixed prayers at all for worship regularly. So I want to discuss that continuation as unbroken
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 6 at 1:02

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