Why do I see so many people, even Rabbis and yungerleit, finishing their Shmoneh Esrei and taking 3 steps back while there are clearly people still davening behind them within daled amos? I know there are heterim (great need, for a mitzvah), but it appears like everyone’s common practice no matter the situation.
Am I missing something? How can I be melamed zchus?
The first limud zechus is that unfortunately most people don’t really now the halacha.
Secondly, there are opinions that one can rely on, such as the Arizal that it is only prohibited to walk directly in front of the person davening, but if the person davening is to the side of the person, then if there is a need, he can rely on this opinion, and take the three steps back in a way that he is not walking directly in front of him, but only to the front-side of the person davening in back. Another opinion, although one should rely on this only when there is a dire need is the opinion that it is only prohibited to cut across the person davening, but if you are standing even directly in front and not to the side, since you are taking the hree steps away from in front of the erson, it is permitted. To reiterate, this may be relied on, only when there is a great need. Nevertheless, there are opinions that one can rely on occasionally.
Eliyahu Rabba O:CH 102-8, Aruch Hashulchan O:CH 102-11, M:B 102-15 ,18, Ishei Yisroel 29-7 in the name of Chazon Ish, Daled Amos Shel Mispalel 2 5-6 in the name of R’ C. Kanievsky shlit”a in the opinions of the Eliyahu Rabba.
I was always wondering about this same question before. It is clearly stated in shulhon oruch that its forbidden. Later I learned that there is actually minhog to be lenient in Yemenite community in this particular situation because the 3 steps are like needed for the prayer (צורך התפילה). see מגן אברהם אורח חיים סימן קב סעיפ ד
Adding to my last comment limud zchuth for the lenient could be that it is less disturbing to take the 3 steps in the end rather than looking back and making the person behind feel like he is being observed. After all one reason is to not cause discomfort/distraction to the other prayer
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