The prevalent Ashkenazi custom, with regards to nefilat apayim during shacharit is to lean on the arm that one does not wear his tefilin on. However at mincha the custom is to lean on the left arm. Since most men are right handed and wear tefilin on their left arm, from a practical standpoint in shacharit one would lean on the right arm and at mincha on the left.

My question is what is the nature of this custom to avoid the arm which is wearing the tefilin and where does it come form? During the times of the gemarah we know that men would wear tefilin all day long, so it does not seem that that this is something that would be forbidden or disrespectful.

Does anyone know?

  • 2
    It sounds like you're implying that in the times of the Gemarah, people were resting their heads on the same arm that had Tefilin on it. How do you know that they did do that? Why not assume that they had the Tefilin on all day, and were able to keep it on in a respectful manner? Aug 29, 2018 at 13:22
  • No, sorry, all I am trying to imply is that if men wore their tefilin all day they must have engaged in plenty of activities that we might consider disrespectful or improper.
    – TheRiver
    Aug 29, 2018 at 13:56
  • @Salmon back then Tachanun meant lying on the floor, not putting your head on your arm. cf judaism.stackexchange.com/q/92964/759
    – Double AA
    Aug 29, 2018 at 14:05
  • @DoubleAA Fair enough, but my question (and Baruch Shekivanti to your comment on the other question as well) I believe still stands. Why would one assume that whatever Tachanun process they did was done in a way that disrespected the Tefilin? Just like we have a 'workaround' of using the other hand by Shacharis, I'm sure they had a 'wrokaround' of going through standard daily procedures in a respectful manner. Aug 29, 2018 at 14:47
  • As an aside, there are also various cultural and societal differences from those days that may be diffcult to understand in current societal norms. For example (and full disclosure, I wasn't actually there personally, but this is what I recall reading) things like urinating while wearing Tefilin was standard. Even as recently as the Mishnah Berurah, it was considered more disrespectful to yawn than to burp in a Shul. Modern sensibilities would (I believe) consider all of those actions highly disrespectful. Aug 29, 2018 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


The first point to note is that this custom of alternating sides depending on whether one is wearing tefillin, is something of a compromise position.

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayyim 131:1:

כשנופל על פניו נהגו להטות על צד שמאל

When one falls on one's face, the custom is to lean on the left.

Rema ad loc. adds:

וי"א דיש להטות על צד ימין והעיקר להטות בשחרית כשיש לו תפילין בשמאלו על צד ימין משום כבוד התפילין ובערבית או כשאין לו תפילין בשמאלו יטה על צד שמאל

But some say to lean on the right. And the main thing to do is in the morning (when he has tefillin on his left arm) to lean on the right due to the respect due to the tefillin, and in the late afternoon, or if he does not have tefillin on his left arm, he should lean on the left.

I think what is going on is that Rema is using the fairly minor issue of כבוד תפילין (respect due to the tefillin) as a way of compromising between two alternative opinions - always on the left or always on the right.

In support of my view, I note that Taz ad loc. 3 refers to this custom as

פשרת רמ"א

the compromise of Rema.

One final point is that Bi'ur HaGra ad loc. 5 notes (somewhat cryptically) that leaning on the arm with tefillin would imply some disrespect

דהם אות

because they are a sign.

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