June 15, 2024
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Sitting Cross-Legged in a Sephardic Synagogue? That’s a No-No!

It is most certainly an eye-opening experience for an Ashkenazic Jew to visit a Sephardic kehilla for tefillah. While approximately 90 percent of the service is fundamentally identical, there are some significant difference in nuance and emphasis. There are some noticeable differences, such as sitting for Kaddish and Birkat Kohanim conducted daily even outside of Israel, which we have discussed in this column.

One behavior to avoid in a Sephardic synagogue (and probably an Ashkenazic synagogue as well) is crossing one’s legs. Friends who visited Sephardic synagogues told of being gently chided not to disrespect the synagogue by sitting in such manner. Refraining from such posture has struck deep roots within the Sephardic community, even within those who are not yet fully observant of Halacha. For example, I have a Sephardic friend who was chided by his uncle (who would have been regarded as a “traditional” but not necessarily fully observant Jew) not to cross his legs in the Beit Knesset. My friend reports that his uncle said to him “Mah, zeh beit kafeh?”—what, is this a coffee house that one lounges comfortably in this manner?

This attitude reflects the great awe and respect that Sephardic Jews traditionally have maintained toward a Beit Knesset. They truly perceive the Shechinah (Divine presence) in such a holy place.

Indicative of this deeply ingrained value is a recent posting by Rav Yaakov Sasson, grandson of Hacham Ovadia, in his popular and widely accepted website www.halachayomit.co.il. I share this post for our readers’ enrichment.

Sitting Cross-Legged in the Synagogue—Maran zt”l’s Reproach to Those in His Synagogue

Question: May one sit with one’s legs crossed in the synagogue?

Answer: Rabbeinu Yitzchak of Corbeil writes in his Sefer Mitzvot Katan (end of Mitzvah 11): “Woe unto those who engage in idle chat or act frivolously while in the synagogue during prayers and, by doing so, prevent themselves from entering the World to Come. If gentiles who do not believe stand in utter silence in their houses of prayer, this certainly applies to us when we stand before the King of all kings.”

This means that the behavior of the other nations of the world is to respect their houses of worship and they sit there respectfully. If so, we must certainly act in this way when sitting in a synagogue, which is considered a miniature Beit Hamikdash, and we must act respectfully and politely when inside.

In his glosses to the Sefer Mitzvot Katan, Rabbeinu Peretz writes: “When sitting and praying, do not outstretch your legs or put them one on top of the other (cross them), for these are considered arrogant behaviors.” Based on the words of Rabbeinu Peretz, one may not sit cross-legged during prayer services. The Mishnah Berurah (Chapter 95, Subsection 2) quotes this opinion.

Similarly, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l writes in his Sefer Ben Ish Hai that one should not cross one’s legs during prayer services. The reason for this is sitting cross-legged is impolite and is a sign of arrogance. Furthermore, the great Rishon Le’Zion, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yosef shlit”a, writes in his Responsa of the Rishon Le’Zion (page 51) that it seems that it is forbidden to sit cross-legged any time one is in a synagogue, even if it is not during prayer services.

Indeed, when Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l would see people sitting cross-legged in his synagogue, he would point out to them gently that it is inappropriate to sit in this way in the house of Hashem.

Summary: One should not sit while crossing one’s legs in the synagogue during prayer services. Furthermore, it is inappropriate to sit in this manner in the synagogue even not during prayer services if there is no real necessity to do so.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.

 

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