Question: When reciting “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” at the conclusion of the Amida, should one bow and sway to one’s left and right? Similarly, should one turn to the right and left during Kedusha within the Chazzan’s repetition of the Amida while reciting “Ve’Kara Zeh El Zeh Ve’Amar”?
Answer: Indeed, we are required to keep any custom instituted by luminaries of the Jewish nation and observed by the Jewish nation, for the custom of the Jewish nation is law. Nevertheless, one must research every custom and determine if it has roots in the words of the Poskim, for if only regular laymen who are not well-versed in Halacha observed this custom, the custom should be discontinued.
Regarding the custom to take three steps back while reciting “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” at the conclusion of the Amida, this custom is actually mentioned explicitly in the Gemara (Yoma 53b) that when one concludes the Amida by reciting the verse “Yihyu Le’Ratzon Imrei Fi Ve’Hegyon Libi Lefanecha Hashem Tzuri Ve’Go’ali”, one should bow (as one would while reciting “Modim” and the other applications within the Amida prayer) and while one is in a bowed position, one should take three steps back. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 123) rules accordingly. Clearly, there is no difference regarding this Halacha between a man who is praying or a woman, for both must do so.
After one has taken three steps back while in a bowed position (meaning that one will not straighten one’s back; rather, one will remain bent over), one recites the verse “Oseh Shalom Bimromav Hu Be’Rahamav Ya’aseh Shalom Aleinu Ve’al Kol Amo Yisrael Ve’Imru Amen.” When reciting the words “Oseh Shalom Bimromav,” one should turn one’s face to the left and then, when reciting “Hu Be’Rahamav Ya’aseh Shalom Aleinu,” one should turn one’s face to the right. Finally, when concluding the verse with the words “Ve’al Kol Amo Yisrael Ve’Imru Amen,” one should face forward and bow slightly to resemble a servant taking leave of his master.
When we recite the words “Ve’Imru Amen” (“And say, Amen!”) at the conclusion of the Amida, we are actually directing this statement to the Heavenly angels who protect us and hear our prayers. We are asking them to answer “Amen” to our prayers and request that they do their part so that our prayers are answered by Hashem.
One should not be reciting the verse of “Oseh Shalom” as one is taking the three steps back as some customarily do. Rather, one should first take the three steps back while bowing and only when one stops should one begin reciting this verse.
Regarding the second question about the order of bowing while reciting the words “Ve’Kara Zeh El Zeh Ve’Amar” during the Kedusha, many great Torah giants did not observe this custom. Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l did not observe this order of bowing for a majority of his life. Nevertheless, there is room to allow observance of this custom although it has not been mentioned in the works of the Mekubalim or in the Poskim, for this action symbolizes the Heavenly angels mentioned in the Kedusha; thus, some uphold this custom of turning to the right and left while reciting the words “Ve’Kara Zeh El Zeh Ve’Amar.” During the last years of his life, Maran zt”l began observing this custom as well while reciting the words “Ve’Kara Zeh El Zeh Ve’Amar.”
We must point out though that there is a distinction between the order of bowing at the conclusion of the Amida at which point one turns to the left first because one is standing opposite Hashem’s presence and must first bow to the right of the presence of Hashem which is to one’s left as opposed to bowing during the Chazzan’s repetition when one is not standing opposite the presence of Hashem and one must therefore bow to one’s right first and only then to the left.
Summary: At the conclusion of the Amida prayer, one should bow and then take three steps back while still in a bowing position. After doing so, before straightening up, one should recite the words “Oseh Shalom Bimromav” while bowing to one’s left, continue to recite “Hu Be’Rahamav Ya’aseh Shalom Aleinu” while bowing to one’s right, and finally say “Ve’al Kol Amo Yisrael Ve’Imru Amen” while bowing forward, like a servant taking leave of his master.
Those who customarily turn to their right and then left while reciting the words “Ve’Kara Zeh El Zeh Ve’Amar” during the Kedusha should first turn to the right and only then to the left.