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Facing Jerusalem

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

One should always face the Land of Israel, and more specifically, Jerusalem, when praying.[1] The source for facing Jerusalem when one prays derives from the prayer of King Solomon[2] who requested of God that He answer all prayers that are recited while facing Jerusalem. Additionally, the Temple Mount is poetically referred to as “Talpiot” which is a play on words for “the mount to which the mouths face”.[3] 

It is interesting to note that facing Jerusalem was not always something that was practiced or even encouraged. In fact, the Talmud offers a number of options as to which direction one should face while praying, each with its own appealing incentives.  For example, we are told that those who desire to become rich should face north when they pray, while those who seek to become wise should position themselves facing south! This idea is based on the fact that in the Mishkan, the Table, which represents abundance, was placed in the North and the Menora, which represents wisdom, to the south.[4] Yet other authorities argue that the direction one faces during prayer is unimportant as God’s presence is to be found everywhere.

In order to resolve the apparent contradiction of whether to face Jerusalem or some other direction, some authorities suggest that one face Jerusalem when praying but to also tilt one’s head towards one of the other suggested directions. This is considered to be complying with the requirement to face Jerusalem while still being able to reap the benefits that facing other directions have to offer.[5] 

Unless one has a tradition otherwise, one should always face Jerusalem when praying regardless of all other considerations.[6] One need not trouble oneself to be positioned at the exact angle and degree as the city of Jerusalem – simply positioning oneself in the general direction is all that is required.[7] Indeed, historically the direction of Jerusalem was referred to as the “Mizrach”, facing east, in spite of the fact that Jerusalem was more of a southwardly direction than an eastern one. It is considered meritorious for those who are able, to face Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount as accurately as possible.[8]

If one began praying and only later realized that one wasn’t facing Jerusalem, one should tilt one’s head as best as possible towards the direction of Jerusalem.[9] If for whatever reason this is not possible, such as if one is facing west, then one should focus one’s heart toward Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies.[10] Similarly, if one is unable to determine which way is Jerusalem then one should simply meditate on facing Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies[11] or even just meditate on God.[12] 

Occasionally it happens that a synagogue is constructed in such a way that the front of the sanctuary and by extension, the Holy Ark, does not face Jerusalem. Authorities are divided whether or not one who is praying in such a congregation should deviate from the natural direction of the congregation and turn towards Jerusalem.[13] There is a general rule known as “lo titgodedu”[14] which teaches that one must not deviate from the practice of the congregation and therefore one should face the same direction just like everyone else.[15] All agree however that one may not pray with one’s back towards the Holy Ark.[16]


[1] O.C. 94:1

[2] II Chronicles 6:34-35

[3] Berachot 30b

[4] Bava Batra 25a

[5] Rema O.C. 94:2.  See the Beit Yosef O.C. 94 for the opposite compromise

[6] O.C. 94:1

[7] Bava Batra 25b, Aruch Hashulchan

[8] Rabbeinu Yonah, Mishna Berura, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18

[9] O.C. 94:2

[10] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18

[11] Mishna Berura 94:3,9, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:10, See Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 94:8, Sefer Chassidim 18

[12] O.C. 94:3

[13] Mishna Berura 94:9

[14] Kaf Hachaim OC 94:6

[15] Mishna Berura 94:10

[16] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 94:5

 

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About the author

Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (6 Vol.) among other works of halacha. rabbiari@hotmail.com

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

27 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    I’ve always wondered what the *real* meaning of “Talpiot” is. Anyone?

    Who was it who pointed out that, as Earth is round, anywhere you face is facing Jerusalem- or, alternatively, anywhere you face is facing outer space?

  2. Nachum says:

    Got an answer to my first question from Wikipedia. R’ Enkin, you’ve given a folk etymology, not the real one.

    The note on “Mizrach” is simply incorrect. Even “south” is true for Eastern Europe only- and in Moscow, for example, people face south, and in lots of places, people face west.

  3. Len Moskowitz says:

    There’s also the account of Daniel praying towards Jerusalem in Daniel 6:11.

  4. micha says:

    FWIW, the shortest distance between the US and Israel, ie the Great Circle Route, is north-east, not south-east. (Well really the shortest distance would be an angle downward, through the earth, but we don’t do that.) Anyone who flew to Israel from any of the NY airports might have noticed flying over New Brunswick, the UK, and crossing Europe from the north coast to the south. In order to see how this is the shortest path, you need either a globe, or an azimuthal projection map centered around your starting point. (Amateur radio operators use these for aiming their antennas.) According to the Emunas Chakhamim, this is the proper way to face Y-m when davening.

    According to the Levush, we face J-m according to Rhumb Line, not shortest distance. This means we follow paths which follow constant settings on the compass — the more intuitive approach. It’s much easier to find a map which preserves rhumb lines, including the ever-popular Mercator Projection. In which case Israel is just a shade south of south-east from NY.

    R’ Eliyahu Hirchfeld leveraged Google Maps to make a nice tool for computing these two shitos over at KosherJava.com. He also recommends sources on the subject:
    - Rabbi Yehuda Herskowitz’s article in Yeshurun v. III p. 586 and
    - Gevuras Moshe by Rabbi Gavriel Goetz.

  5. Nachum says:

    I notice that he conflates the Har HaBayit with the Kotel. Needless to say, this is incorrect. In fact, anyone who faces the Kotel directly while standing in front of it is about as off as you can get on planet Earth, ironically.

  6. avi says:

    “Got an answer to my first question from Wikipedia. R’ Enkin, you’ve given a folk etymology, not the real one.”

    Umm, according to wikipedia, it is not a folk etymology but rather the meaning given to it to describe Jeruselem. Jeruselem is called talpiot for exactly the reason R. Enkin gave. It is not named that because of it’s turrets like you seem to be implying.

  7. Ari Enkin says:

    …..thanks for the ha’aros

    Ari Enkin

  8. IH says:

    There’s also the account of Daniel praying towards Jerusalem in Daniel 6:11.

    This is a pretty convincing source, without investigating beyond the pshat of the pasuk. For those interested, it may be helpful to chase down the sources cross-referenced for this pasuk in Hyman’s Sefer ha’Torah ha’K’tuva ve’ha’Mesorah.

  9. IH says:

    oops on italics

  10. NACHUM:

    “I notice that he conflates the Har HaBayit with the Kotel. Needless to say, this is incorrect. In fact, anyone who faces the Kotel directly while standing in front of it is about as off as you can get on planet Earth, ironically.”

    well of course it depends at what part of the kotel you are davening at. the “kotel” extends much farther down than where the public plaza is. i don’t know if it’s still accessible, but the time i was at the “kotel hakatan” i was informed that it’s as close as you can get.

    but if you are interested in irony in these matters, what about all the soldiers who first reached har habayit in 1967? they entered from the east (or north?) . . . and marched right across in order to get to the kotel to daven there! and that’s where the iconic photos were shot.

  11. R. ENKIN:

    “For those interested, it may be helpful to chase down the sources cross-referenced for this pasuk in Hyman’s Sefer ha’Torah ha’K’tuva ve’ha’Mesorah.”

    really? just last week i was looking at a copy of Hyman with someone and noted that while these types of reference works were amazing back in the day, they are mostly obsolete with today’s databases and search engines.

  12. IH says:

    Abba — I’m not sure I follow you. You do know the kotel was a retaining wall for the platform on which the temple was (re)built, so going down is the wrong direction.

  13. IH says:

    “just last week i was looking at a copy of Hyman with someone and noted that while these types of reference works were amazing back in the day, they are mostly obsolete with today’s databases and search engines.”

    That is definitely true for something like Mandelkorn’s Concordance; but, IMHO it is still helpful for chasing something like this.

    Without being disrespectful to R. Enkin, all the technology we have seemed to have missed the Tanach source and, e.g. the first reference in Hyman which is Tosefta B’rachot.

  14. IH says:

    Incidentally, see the penultimate paragraph of: http://tinyurl.com/blvtzwz

  15. NACHUM:

    i mean why did rav goren rush to blow shofar at the kotel? of course it wasn’t long before politics set in, but soldiers were crossing har habayit, in those early hourse why didn’t he blow and daven up there?

    IH:

    i didn’t mean “going down” as in going underground, but rather is going farther along the wall (northward). the “kotel hakatan” is not at level (i know it’s a retaining wall), but i was informed at the time that it was directly opposite (or at least as close as one could get?, as otherwise the houses there are built directly against the kotel)

  16. IH says:

    Ah, Abba, thanks. I was on a Minharot ha’Kotel with one of the archaeologists soon after it opened and the big spiritual moment was the doorway that was theorized to leading to the space under where the Kodesh Kodashim was. I dunno.

  17. IH says:

    Incidentally, Goldhill’s “The Temple of Jerusalem” is now available in paper from Harvard University Press for about $11 on Amazon. My copy arrived a couple of days ago.

  18. Nachum says:

    “well of course it depends at what part of the kotel you are davening at. the “kotel” extends much farther down than where the public plaza is. i don’t know if it’s still accessible, but the time i was at the “kotel hakatan” i was informed that it’s as close as you can get.”

    Contrary to common belief, not only is the entire western wall still in existence (not just the exposed part at the south), but so too are the entire eastern, northern, and southern walls. (The northern wall has always been a bit fake, though, because of geography.) Not their height, but length certainly. This cancels most of what is said about the Kotel, by the way.

    “but if you are interested in irony in these matters, what about all the soldiers who first reached har habayit in 1967? they entered from the east (or north?) . . . and marched right across in order to get to the kotel to daven there! and that’s where the iconic photos were shot.”

    Indeed, very sad. IH: I believe R’ Goren *did* daven up on top, either before or after or both. Why? Like I said, sad.

  19. IH:

    i heard that on the kotel tour also.
    but the “kotel hakatan” i was referring to is above ground, opposite (or near) the kodesh hakedoshim (but still not at level). once one passes the kotel plaza northward the kotel is not accesible because structures built against it. but there is one small area about 20 feet long where there is a small courtyard against the wall and it was acceible when i was taken there in 1993

  20. MICHA:

    “FWIW, the shortest distance between the US and Israel, ie the Great Circle Route, is north-east, not south-east”

    thanks for sharing that tidbit!

    NACHUM:

    “Contrary to common belief, not only is the entire western wall still in existence (not just the exposed part at the south), but so too are the entire eastern, northern, and southern walls. (The northern wall has always been a bit fake, though, because of geography.) Not their height, but length certainly. This cancels most of what is said about the Kotel, by the way.”

    of course, but i think except for the southern and part of western walls, the rest are not easily (or safely) accesible?

    there are also apparently various reason why the western wall has been elevated in our consciousness. i don’t remember if it was on the tunnel tour or at ir david (the latter being by far the best tour i’ve ever done in israel), but after the tourguide pointed out all the ironies of our attitude toward the western wall (e.g., soldiers crossing temple mount to get there, etc.) he gave some reasons for why western wall is considered more important. all i remember is something about the shekhina leaving (or will return?) from the western wall). you can take it or leave it.

  21. “so too are the entire eastern, northern, and southern walls”

    aren’t alternative bar/bas mitzvah celebrations done at the southern wall?

  22. Stuart says:

    On a lighter note, Rabbi Bezalel Rudinsky in Mishkan Bezalel Parshas Chayei Sarah tells a great story in which he relates that when he was dating he used to take out a lot of girls who would inexplicably decide to daven maariv in the middle of the dates and would ask him which direction to face while davening. He said that this was usually a pretty simple issue until he took a girl to the rotating lounge on the top floor!

  23. The Dude says:

    Facing Mizrach in prayer in not sufficient – “Every Jew must make a firm decision in his heart to ascend and live in the Land of Israel.”
    (R. Ya’akov Emden, Siddur Beit Ya’akov, Sulam Beit El, no. 6)

    Why just face East, when you can live in the East?

  24. Eric says:

    What about minhagim within Israel? – The minhag in Beer Sheva is to face north, but I haven’t seen any effect on my bank account yet.

  25. Nachum says:

    “of course, but i think except for the southern and part of western walls, the rest are not easily (or safely) accesible?”

    The northern wall doesn’t really exist- there isn’t a slope on that side. The east is accessible, but there’s a Moslem cemetery there. Originally, Jews davened on that side (the western wall was covered with buildings) until the cemetery was put up and the buildings came down on the other side.

    “all i remember is something about the shekhina leaving (or will return?) from the western wall). you can take it or leave it.”

    Yes, there’s an aggadata like that. I’ve never understood it, unless it refers to the Kodesh HaKadoshim being in the west.

    “so too are the entire eastern, northern, and southern walls”

    “aren’t alternative bar/bas mitzvah celebrations done at the southern wall?”

    No, at the southern end of the western wall. The southern wall is an archaeological park.

  26. IH says:

    Apropos: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/excavations-reveal-king-herod-didn-t-complete-construction-of-jerusalem-s-western-wall-1.397283

    [Although, I think this just confirms what the archeologists who worked on minharot ha'kotel previously theorized].

  27. mycroft says:

    “Contrary to common belief, not only is the entire western wall still in existence (not just the exposed part at the south), but so too are the entire eastern, northern, and southern walls. (The northern wall has always been a bit fake, though, because of geography.) Not their height, but length certainly. This cancels most of what is said about the Kotel, by the way”

    I have goneto the Southern wall-many times-the main reasonwhy I have gone to Archeological Park many times-besides the actor who was assassinated.
    It appears that the remnant of steps from the end of bayit sheini are very visible in theSOuthern wall and can be walked with care by an oldtimer like myself.

    “he gave some reasons for why western wall is considered more important. all i remember is something about the shekhina leaving (or will return?) from the western wall). you can take it or leave it.”
    suspectthat the kodash kodashim was not in the center-it was closest to the western wall. Until a few hundred years ago or so the place where Jews gathered was nearest the Kodash kodashim on the Western Wall-but unfortunately the area was built up by our “cousins” and thus not accessible. Since it was the Western Wall that people yearned for because it had the closest place to kodash kodashim people stayed and found an other place n the wEstern Wall to gather.
    I am well aware of the “statement shechina did not leave the Western Wall.”

 
 

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