Ask The Rabbi

Take a Bow

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Bowing in Martial Arts

From: From: Ari Trachtenberg, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

Dear Rabbi,
I am thinking about taking a class in Tae Kwan Do this semester to get some exercise. After sitting in on the first class, it seems that there is a lot of bowing involved, in addition to various "spiritual" lessons: Students are supposed to bow to the training room, to each other, to the instructor. The instructor told me that this bowing is a typical gesture of respect, that it is bi-directional (instructors bow to students too), and is not a supplication. Given the Purim story, however, I am hesitant to participate in this class. Do you know of any conflicts between this type of martial art and Judaism? I appreciate your time, and thanks for the great "Ask the Rabbi" column!


Dear Ari Trachtenberg,

Bowing to people as a gesture of respect is perfectly okay. Abraham bowed to his guests (Genesis 18:2), the brothers bowed to Joseph (Genesis 42:6) and Moses bowed to his father-in-law (Exodus 18:6). So if Tae Kwan Do bowing is nothing more than a gesture of respect toward others, I see no problem with it. If however, they are bowing to an object or the room that would be forbidden.
Why then in the Purim episode did Mordechai refuse to bow to Haman? The Midrash answers that Haman claimed divine powers for himself. He even went so far as to attach an idolatrous icon to his clothing. Under these circumstances, bowing to him was tantamount to bowing to an idol.

Sources:
Rashi on Megillat Esther 3:2
Ibn Ezra, ibid.


 
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