- Question: [Sunday, 6th MarCheshvan, 5783]
I know that it is forbidden to take three steps back at the end of Shemoneh Esrei if someone in back of me is still in middle of Shemoneh Esrei and within your 4 Amos. However, I heard that this only applies if the person who is still in middle of Shemoneh Esrei is directly in back of you. If, however, he is to your side then it is permitted? Is this correct?
While there are Poskim who rule in such a manner, that if the person who is still in middle of Shemoneh Esrei is not directly in back of you then you may take three steps back and stand in your place, practically, according to Admur and other Poskim the prohibition applies even in such a case, and hence you should not do so.
Explanation: It is forbidden to enter within four Amos [2 meters] space that is in front of a person who is in the midst of praying Shemoneh Esrei as it disturbs their concentration [as well as due to that the Shechina is found there]. Accordingly, even if one already finished his own Shemoneh Esrei, he may not take three steps back into the four Amos space of the person behind him, if that person is still in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei. Now, the question is raised regarding the definition of “in front of him?” Does it mean literally in front of the persons face, or does the restriction apply even by the side of the person. So, the Poskim rule that the prohibition applies even to the side of the person, so long as it is within his eyesight that he can see you when he looks straight, as in such a case, he gets disturbed. This is referred to as “Lifneihem” in Halacha. However, if it is to the side of the person, to the point that he cant see you, and certainly if you are behind the person, then it is permitted according to Halacha [as opposed to the Zohar]. This is referred to as “Tzideihem” in Halacha. However, some Poskim rule that this prohibition of Lifneihem only applies if one literally walks past the person, in front of his face. If, however, one walks and stands within the four Amos to his side, then it is permitted even within the viewpoint of the person, so long as it is not literally in front of him. According to this approach, it is permitted to take three steps back so long as the person in back of you who is still in middle of Shemoneh Esrei is not directly behind you. Practically, while the Mishneh Berurah accepts this approach in a time of need, according to Admur and other Poskim there is no difference, and the prohibition always applies within the viewpoint of the person, even if he is not directly in back of you, and hence one should not do so.
Sources: See regarding not walking into another person’s 4 Amos by Shemoneh Esrei: Admur 102:4; Michaber 102:4; Rebbe Yehoshua Ben Levi Brachos 27a; The reason: As this may cause him to become distracted. [Admur ibid; M”A 102:6] Alternatively, the reason is because during Shemoneh Esrei one is standing before the Shechina, and it is improper for people to trespass this area. [M”B 102:15 in name of Chayeh Adam; Admur 102:1 regarding sitting within four Amos of the Shechina and Ketzos Hashulchan 20 footnote 26 that the same applies regarding walking in his space] See regarding not taking three steps back into another person’s 4 Amos: Admur 102:5; Michaber 102:5; Orchos Chaim Tefila 6; Mahariy Abuhav; Yerushalmi Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is permitted to take three steps back into the four cubits of a person Davening in back of him. [M”A 102:7 in name of Rashi]; See regarding the allowance of taking three steps back to the side of the person: Admur 102:4; Michaber 102:4; Rabbeinu Yona Brachos ibid; See regarding walking and taking three steps back to the side of the person if it is within his viewpoint: Forbidden: Admur 102:4; M”A 102:6; Permitted: Elya Raba 102:3 and 8; M”B 102:18-19