How come Sepharadim do not "fall on their faces" during Tachanun as Ashkenazim do, if the prayer is called "nefilat apa'im" (literally the falling of the faces)?

The Shulchan Aruch seems to hold of the practice of literally putting one's face down in O"C 131:1


4 Answers 4


Rav Yosef Karo, in Beit Yosef (131), cites the Zohar, which describes the tikkun (improvement, repair) of falling upon one's face while reciting Tehillim 25:

And this tikkun should be recited with great sincerity; then God shows compassion to His people and forgives their sins. Happy is the person who can entice and serve his MASTER with will and sincerity, and woe to the person who attempts to entice his Master with a distant heart and without sincerity… which causes one to leave this world before one's time.

Sephardic communities, based upon this Zohar, recite Tehillim 25 upon concluding Shemoneh Esreh. The Ben Ish Chai (Parashat Ki Tissa 13), fearing the Zohar's harsh sentence for one who recites this chapter without sincere intention, concludes that one should recite this chapter WITHOUT falling upon one's face. Despite Rav Yosef Karo's ruling, in Shulchan Arukh (131:1), that one should fall on one's face for Tachanun, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh Da'at 6:7) concurs with the Ben Ish Chai's position and rules that Sephardim should refrain from performing Nefilat Appayim.


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    Lich'orah, this could apply to those who daven Nusach Ari as well. I guess Chabad goes with the Shulchan Aruch and does not take the Ben Ish Chai's concern into account. Those who daven Ashkenaz do not need to worry because the tehillim they recite for tahanun does not accomplish this tikkun
    – Yahu
    Jan 25, 2011 at 4:26
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    Interesting. I didn't know that Chabad says Tehillim 25. ArtScroll's Nusach Sephard has Tehillim 6, just like Nusach Ashkenaz.
    – Chanoch
    Jan 25, 2011 at 14:45
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    @Yahu: I was looking into this more, and it's really odd: Shulchan Aruch HaRav (סי׳ קלא סוף או׳ א) says that kabbalistically, one should say psalm 25, but because of the dangers in saying psalm 25, the minhag is to say psalm 6 instead. That seems to contradict the contents of Siddur Tefillat Hashem.
    – Chanoch
    Feb 20, 2011 at 3:34
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    @Chanoch Tehillat Hashem was an edited reprint of R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi's siddur (the changes manly consisted of copy-pasting commonly repeated prayers to where they belong [such as Ashrei and Shmone Esrei for Mincha], etc.). As this siddur was written after the Shulchan Aruch, common practice follows the siddur. Aug 15, 2012 at 1:17


The first source for the custom of not putting one’s head down seems to be the Ben Ish Hai (Year 1, Perashat Ki Tisa §13), who says that the minhag in his city, Baghdad, was not to put one’s head down at all. The reason he gives is that, according to the Zohar, it is dangerous to put one’s head down if one is not at a high enough level of spiritual refinement and is not able to have the proper intentions (kavanot) during Nefilat Apayim. Since the days of the Ben Ish Hai, this custom has become prevalent among Sefaradim and most communities no longer put their heads down during Tahanun.”

  • This is also the Pesak of H"Y in Y"Y O"H 131:16. BTW Feb 21, 2012 at 2:21
  • @Vram "Bemakom Minhag Lo Omrim Kibalnu Horaot Maran." That's why Harav Davied in Halacha Berura says we make the Beracha of "Hanoten Layef Koah" which is not in S"A. Feb 21, 2012 at 12:57
  • I believe the Spanish-Portuguese sephardi community does follow this practice
    – minhag
    Apr 29, 2012 at 14:39
  • Administrative note: This was posted as an answer to another question and moved hither.
    – msh210
    Aug 15, 2012 at 6:54

The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 5:13-4) describes the different customs regarding Nefilat Appayim. Some, he writes, perform a complete prostration, while some just do kidda, bending down on their knees and putting their faces to the floor.

Apparently, over time, out of fear of violating the biblical and rabbinic prohibitions regarding prostration, this practice was abolished. Indeed, the Tur (131) cites Rav Natrunai Gaon, who writes that one who "falls on his face" should suspend his head above the ground in order not to appear as if he is prostrating on the ground. As we mentioned last week, many Sephardic Jews do not perform Nefilat Appayim at all.


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    BS"D Fully body prostration actually never ended it has been maintained by main Chabashim and Mizrahhim communities since the time of the M"T to this day. This is what we do in my community for supplications after amidah ( obviously if im not on stone flooring) if we are we just do just do qidah as explained in Hilkhoth tephila,
    – Qoheleth
    Aug 15, 2012 at 1:49

This is very problematic indeed! This places the opinions of latter Rabbinical decisors in complete contradiction to the Rambam's instruction, the Beit Yosef observaton and ancient Sefardic custom from a mesorah of the time of the temple period, or later, to partially suspend it or fenced it in, due to fear of insincerity from the children of Israel who are to practise it. It has a beneficial side of having one sins forgiven. Although with a danger for the insincere practicant to have a shorten life span. To Fall on ones "face" is in fact an act of piety and humbling before one's creator. Bestowing on ones conduct and posture a brokeness before the Creator. It appears the modern day decisors seen it is preferable to change the ancient Israelite custom to one of being "stiffness and unbending straightness before the Creator with no humbleness in sight. Perhaps this reflects the postulated attitude and mannerism of our People in Exile today, and the leaders who guide us. It is very disturbing in deed to change the Ways of HaShem, and the Sages, to an innovation. Even the Order of how this was done was changed by the Ben Ish Chai, since he which to change the ancient older of the Jews of Babylon to adopt the "kabbalistic practises" of the Arizal. One which was innovated after the appearance and or innovation of Rabbi Moshe Deleon's Zohar.

Should we consider a change back to the old ways of Hashem, with out no doubts, those who changed it to this current way will oppose it. Since there change has in affect made the old ways of no use. Crisis in Modern Jewish Practises.

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    So you're saying that the current non-Ashkenazi practice derives from the Zohar and is a change from ancient non-Ashkenazi practice? Can you source any of this? Doing so would greatly increase the value of your answer.
    – Double AA
    Aug 15, 2012 at 3:49
  • @DoubleAA, this does not answer the question at all. It is full of interesting information, but the question was, "How come Sepharadim do not "fall on their faces" during Tachanun as Ashkenazim do, if the prayer is called "nefilat apa'im" (literally the falling of the faces)?"
    – Seth J
    Aug 15, 2012 at 14:23
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    @SethJ It sounds to me like he's saying that the reason they don't is that the Zohar/Kabbalists came and changed it.
    – Double AA
    Aug 15, 2012 at 14:51

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