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It says in Shulchan Aruch that one may not lean on anything while reciting sh'mona esre. (OC 94:8) The Mishna B'rura defines "leaning" as placing one's weight on another object such that if the object were removed the person would fall over. (ibid. 22) How is this definition to be understood? If a person places almost any amount of weight on an object without exerting any other force on it, he has necessarily shifted his center of mass to a point closer to the object than it was when he was free-standing. Should the object be removed and the person not compensate by shifting his center of mass back, he will fall over. Could it be that even the slightest of "leanings" fits the Mishna B'rura's definition?

Alternatively, if we allow for shifting of mass following the object's removal, then how do we understand the basics of the definition? I could be leaning to an extreme angle and still catch myself by proper placement of an arm, a leg or a torso.

Is there a middle ground? I have always had trouble with this concept and have never received a satisfying explanation.

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    It is possible to stand at a slight angle without supporting yourself on anything. Could MB mean that such an angle of standing, even if your hands were on another object, would not constitute the forbidden form of "somaich" (which may be translated as supporting oneself)? – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 10 '11 at 19:23
  • Shabbat 93b, Biat Mikdash 5:18 – Double AA Apr 6 '15 at 19:32
  • I did some experimentation in various places over shabbat. It seems to me that one can easily put his hand on a surface to get a better sense of space around him during prayer, without leaning on the surface, i.e., removing the surface wouldn't affect once balance at all. I actually often put a hand on the seat in front of me during prayer, but removing this seat wouldn't be an issue as I do not put any weight on it. I would assume this is therefore permitted – mbloch Jun 9 '18 at 19:27
  • Your feet are not point objects, so if the center of mass shifts slightly you won't tip over. And Halacha doesn't deal with spherical cows. If you're not doing a significant action doing recovery, it should be fine. – Shmuel Brin Jun 13 '18 at 5:50
  • @shmuelbrin I don't know much about actual physics (and only slightly more about the ideal kind you're referring to), but I think it actually intensifies the question if the layman has no way of formally assessing what constitutes a significant action. A great man once said "Torah lo nitnah l'spherical cows..." If I understand your first line correctly, it should be possible by experimentation to find the postures that require no adjustment at all. – WAF Jun 13 '18 at 6:16
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It's the same definition of "leaning" used regarding leaning on an animal intended for sacrifice. You'll probably find the definition fleshed out better (pun intended) over there; the Rambam describes it in Maaseh HaKorbanot 3:12, probably track down commentaries from there, possibly down to the Aruch HaShulchan Ha'Atid, (or back into the Rishonim on that Gemara).

My assumption is is it's something like: if the object was very suddenly removed, would the average person, the average time, fall over or recover balance?

  • I looked up the Aruch Hashulchan He'asid but as far as I could tell he did not address the issue. Do you know of a specific place to look? – WAF Feb 9 '14 at 1:39
  • This looks like more of a comment than an answer – הנער הזה Jun 7 '18 at 1:35
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sounds like some experimental data would help. I have actually tried this, but it is hard to remove the object of leaning by myself, so I probably need a lab assistant. From theoretical modeling, it seems that there IS a middle ground where the object can be instantaneously removed and you don't fall.

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