Note: R. Michael Broyde’s article on the proper orientation during prayer (link) elicited spirited response. Two writers sent the essays below to respond.
R. Yehuda Rock taught in the Otniel hesder yeshiva and was rosh kollel in Boca Raton. His article on this subject appeared in Alon Shvut 154.
R. Yehuda Herskowitz lives in Jerusalem and works as a writer and editor of classical Jewish and scientific texts. He is the author of “Be’inyan Le’eizeh Tzad Tzarich Le’hispallel” published in Yeshurun 3, and mentioned in Rabbi Broyde’s article n. 94.
by R. Yehuda Rock
I congratulate R. Michael Broyde for his comprehensive article on the proper orientation during prayer. The article includes several sources and issues which were new to me. However, I have several comments and critiques, as well as an entirely different approach to the issue.
My most important comment is that I disagree with the overall tone of Rav Broyde’s presentation. He draws a picture of a varied multiplicity of opinions regarding the correct direction for davening. However, all post-talmudic opinions (although not always practice) agree that the primary direction for davening is towards eretz yisrael and the mikdash. There is difference of opinion about whether and how a secondary direction (north/south; or, avoiding an exact direction associated with idolatry) can be combined with the primary direction (I’ll get back to this), and also how accurate the direction needs to be (I’ll get back to this too). But it needs to be made clear that basically orienting oneself towards eretz yisrael and the mikdash is not just the majority of opinions; it is the only opinion appearing in mainstream psak halakha.
Rav Broyde presents the metzaded atzdudei (turning or twisting towards another direction) issue as a possible solution for the tension between the braita in Berachot and the sugya in Baba Batra (B”B). However, this is untenable. This turning solution is raised by the Gemara in B”B as a resolution of R Yehoshua ben Levi’s (RYBL) two apparently contradictory statements as to whether the shechina is in the west, which would mean to daven to the west, or one can daven to the south (according to R’ Yitzchak: north or south, as an expression of prayer for wealth or wisdom respectively). The Gemara’s resolution is what Rav Broyde calls the feet-face combination. Nowhere in Rashi or anywhere else is there any suggestion that this type of solution could resolve the contradiction between B”B and Berachot. Indeed, this would be impossible because the Gemara’s explanation of RYBL is part of that problem: How to resolve RYBL’s opinion of davening always to the west, optionally combined with north/south, with the braita in Berachot that says to daven towards the mikdash. Resolving this problem with the turning solution yields the absurd conclusion that one should divide his body into three, with the respective parts pointing west, north/south, and towards the mikdash. Maybe I’m getting carried away here but I think I’ve made my point. The bottom line is that the turning solution appears in the Gemara in B”B as a legitimate way of combining a secondary direction, expressing the desire for wealth or wisdom, with a primary direction. That primary direction is west according to RYBL, and other opinions appear in B”B. The question remains as to the relationship of these opinions to the single opinion in the braita in Berachot that davening should be towards the mikdash.
The Solutions in the Rishonim
While Rashi offers no alternative to Tosafot’s position that the sugya in B”B, other than the final opinion, indeed conflicts with the braita in Berachot and that the halakha is like B”B’s final opinion and Berachot against B”B’s other opinions, Yad Ramah on B”B (103) offers a different interpretation. Yad Ramah says that we rule in B”B like the opinion that shechina is everywhere, and that we therefore daven towards eretz yisrael and the mikdash, like the braita in Berachot. In other words, there are two logical levels of consideration: First, one must daven towards the shechina, as discussed in B”B. If it is determined that shechina is everywhere, then this level of discussion does not determine any particular direction of davening. It is in this context that the braita in Berachot (and Rav Chanina at the end of the B”B sugya) raises a secondary consideration which mandates davening towards EY and the mikdash.
The Yad Ramah’s understanding is the only alternative in the rishonim to Tosafot’s position on the relationship between the two sugyot. However, the poskim seem not to have been aware of this opinion. It is also a very difficult position, since a straightforward reading of the braita in Berachot, and especially of the verses quoted, clearly shows that the halakha of davening towards the mikdash is as a place of shechina rather than because of some secondary consideration.
These are the only two explanations I’m aware of in the rishonim for the relationship between the sugyot in Berachot and in B”B. However, the difficulty with both approaches is that they offer no explanation as to why the two sugyot ignore each other. According to Tosafot, why doesn’t the Gemara in B”B quote the braita in Berachot? And according to the Yad Ramah, who holds that the braita’s halakha is only tenable according to the position that shechina is everywhere, why doesn’t the Gemara in B”B quote the braita to prove that the braita holds that shechina is everywhere? And in both approaches, why doesn’t the Gemara in Berachot mention that the braita’s opinion is disputed?
A New Approach
A third explanation was suggested by Rav Yaakov Medan (Alon Shvut 12, 5758, pp. 9-20). He suggests that the halakha expressed in the braita in Berachot, of davening towards the mikdash, only applied during the time of the mikdash and not after the Churban. This explains how Tanaim in B”B can locate the shechina elsewhere than the mikdash. Thus, the braita in Berachot is talking about the basic halakha, which applies during the time of the mikdash, while the ostensibly conflicting opinions in B”B relate to the halakha during a time of churban.
Rav Medan quotes alternative versions of the Gemara’s text and stretches the timeline to suggest that the final opinion in B”B, which affirms davening towards eretz yisrael, was actually said before the Churban. However, this clearly presents a difficulty, not only in terms of timing but also placement: shouldn’t this opinion appear in Berachot rather than in B”B? Why would the Gemara in B”B, dealing mostly with the question of the direction of davening after the Churban, quote this opinion, which is relevant only in the time of the mikdash, and yet ignore the braita in Berachot?
I suggested (Alon Shvut 154, 5760, pp. 19-36: zip file; response to Rav Medan in footnote 14) that the question of whether the direction of davening changed after the Churban is itself an object of dispute in B”B. The braita in Berachot is accepted by all as the basic halakha, and B”B brings different opinions as to the halakha after the Churban: whether the shechina is now in the west, everywhere or, according to the final opinion in the sugya, still in the mikdash (compare Rambam, Bet HaBechira 6:15-16). This explains the difference between the two sugyot’s topics and how it can be meaningful to discuss the location of shechina outside of the mikdash. According to this explanation, like the explanations of the rishonim and unlike Rav Medan’s explanation, the halakha is like the final opinion in B”B that nowadays davening must be towards the mikdash.
Going back to the issue of the feet-face combination: Rav Broyde correctly states that there are two opinions regarding which of mikdash and north/south is the direction of standing (‘feet’) and which of the face.
However, Rav Broyde seems to have Rashi on the wrong side. The Gemara’s ‘metzaded atzdudei’ means to face in a different direction. It serves as an explanation for one of RYBL’s two statements, the Gemara saying that this statement of RYBL’s is fulfilled by facing in that direction while standing towards the direction required by his other statement. The machloket is to which of RYBL’s two statements the Gemara is referring. Rashi says ‘turns towards south’, meaning that while the person stands towards the west, they turn their face towards the south. This is also the opinion of Rabbenu Chanokh (which I was not aware of until now; thanks to Rav Broyde for that).
On the other hand, Smag and Mahari Abuhav say that standing to the north/south requires facing east (from the west of eretz yisrael). They are evidently interpreting the Gemara’s ‘metzaded atzdudei’ as referring to RYBL’s primary direction (west), and are applying it to the normative direction as following the braita in Berachot, so that one faces towards EY and the mikdash when standing towards other directions. Bet Yosef, Magen Avraham (sk 5), Taz (sk 3), Mishna Berura (sk 12), and Aruch Hashulchan (sk 7) all present Rashi as conflicting with this opinion. Bet Yosef implies that Rashi would accept that both options are acceptable, and evidently because of the then-common practice of standing in other directions rules in 94:2 to face towards the mikdash, as does Rama.
Regarding Rav Broyde’s discussion of the Aron as a direction for prayer: First, having a fixed location in the shul for the Sefer Torah is a practice that started well before the time of the Levush, probably from the 3rd or 4th century (see ‘kodesh’ in Tosefta Megilla 3:14; also link), including in the time of the rishonim (see Rambam, Tefilla 11:2). The Sefer Torah was indeed placed in a portable box, called the ‘Teivah’, but this box was kept in a recess in the wall in front. This is how the Shliach Tzibbur could be called ‘Haover Lifnei Hateiva’ – the person who goes in front of the Teiva. Without a fixed location for the Teiva, this appellation is meaningless.
Second, there is no basis at all for perceiving the direction of the aron as ‘towards God’. Even taken at the symbolic level (to avoid the theological issues raised in some of the talkbalks to Rav Broyde’s article), this idea is completely without precedent. This is why most achronim completely ignore the aron as a factor in the direction of davening, as Rav Broyde points out. Rav Broyde brings the Ateret Zekenim (on the Magen Avraham 94:3; puzzlingly, Rav Broyde brings the Ateret Zekenim on both sides of the dispute), which is quoted by the Pri Megadim (without attribution to the Ateret Zekenim) and by the Kaf Hachaim, as taking the direction of the aron into account. However, the Ateret Zekenim does not take the aron as a positive factor in the direction of davening, but rather is just concerned that a person should not ‘look like he is turning his back (lit., the back of his neck) on the aron’. Presumably, the Ateret Zekenim is basing this concern on the halakha in Yoreh Dea 282:1, stemming from the Rambam (Sefer Torah 10:10, with no known source in Chazal), that one should not turn one’s back on a Sefer Torah. The Ateret Zekenim, against the Taz (Yoreh Dea 282:1), is applying this halakha even when the sefer is in a closed aron; it is not clear how the Ateret Zekenim would justify rabbis addressing the congregation from in front of the aron, kohanim turning their backs on the aron, etc. (and see Tosefta Megilla 3:14). His opinion would seem to conflict with the common practice whereby people turn their backs on a closed aron. In any case, this issue has nothing to do with prayer per se, so that clearly the aron is not a positive factor in determining the direction of davening and the aron’s direction is certainly not ‘towards god’.
Additional proof for this can be brought from the Rambam (Tefilla 11:2): “When a Bet Kneset is built… and a Heichal should be built in it to place the Sefer Torah in it, and this Heichal should be built in the direction towards which they pray in that city, so that they will face the Heichal when they stand to pray”. The aron is built in the direction of prayer so that people praying will face the aron, clearly implying that if the aron is not built in this direction then they will not face the aron. Jews daven towards the shechina in the mikdash, not towards Sifrei Torah.
Regarding the required level of accuracy in the direction towards the mikdash, the Aruch Hashulchan famously holds that it is enough to be facing in its general direction. This opinion appears previously (but with different reasoning) in the Meiri in Berachot. While not facing directly towards the mikdash has some basis, it is certainly not the mainstream position in rishonim and achronim. More importantly, the direction of the shul and the aron does not constitute a halakhic motivation to not face away from the mikdash. Turning one’s back to the aron in order to address the congregation but insisting on facing the aron and not the mikdash during prayer is simply inconsistent at the least.
I’d like to finish by briefly addressing the question of the reason for this halakha of davening towards the mikdash, a question which I addressed more fully in my article (referenced above). The Meiri in Berachot seems to view this halakha as kevod mikdash, honoring the mikdash. The Meiri compares it to the halakha (Yoma 53a) that upon completing service in the mikdash, one should leave the Azarah without turning one’s back. This, presumably, is how the Meiri reached his aforementioned conclusion that in prayer, as well, it is sufficient to just avoid turning away from eretz yisrael.
However, even a cursory reading of the pesukim quoted in the braita in Berachot in their original context (Melachim I 8:22 onwards; Divrei Hayamim II 6:14 onwards) clearly shows that the central idea of this chapter is that prayer is accepted by God via the mikdash (see especially Radak and Ralbag on 8:27). While God is, of course, cognizant of our prayers no matter where and towards where they occur, he decreed that the mikdash should be the location via which He relates to Am Yisrael (and to the world).
Therefore, praying towards the mikdash is in fact praying towards the location where God is receiving the prayers (more about this in my article, above). This understanding also explains why the Rambam saw this halakha as a fundamental, possibly De’Orayta, aspect of prayer (Sefer Hamitzvot 5; Tefilla 1:2-3) despite the fact that it is not an absolute condition for prayer’s validity (Rambam Tefilla 5:1,3). With this conception, it would seem clear that a person should pray directly towards the mikdash, in the way he would face any person he was talking to, rather than just not facing away.
by R. Yehuda Herskowitz
Torah Musings recently published an article by Rabbi Broyde entitled: “Orientation During Prayer”. This article discusses the direction of prayer with specific reference to America and other countries far removed from Israel, where as a result of the distances involved two quite different directions can qualify as being the direction to Israel. However, the way Rabbi Broyde has chosen to frame this discussion is questionable, and consequently his arguments and conclusions require further examination. This response will be divided into two. The first part will discuss his major thesis regarding the choice of direction; the second part will consist of various minor issues which arose during the course of this writing.
Rabbi Broyde writes: “It will be necessary to distinguish between the “compass route” direction that is the shortest distance between points on a flat surface, and the “great circle route” which is the shortest distance on a spherical plane.” Again he writes: “On all such flat maps, it is no longer evident that when moving from point to point, one is really moving along a curved surface. This leads to a considerable amount of confusion about how to calculate distance when traveling on a globe, and what exactly is the shortest route from one point to another on the surface of a globe.”
In other words Rabbi Broyde is stating that the question of the direction to Israel can be expressed as to whether the direction is to be defined as the shortest distance on a sphere or as the shortest distance on a flat map using the Mercator projection. However, this question should really be a non-issue; for since the earth is a sphere, there is no reason at all to measure the direction as being the shortest distance along the Mercator projection which distorts the shape of the Earth. The question of direction is in fact something entirely different, and should be articulated as follows: Given that one has to pray in the direction of the Bais Hamikdash, how is the word “direction” to be defined. Is it the shortest distance between two points, or is it the bearing (the direction relative to true north) which stays constant the entire distance? Each one of these options have a shortcoming: the shortest distance changes its bearing continuously, and the constant bearing is not the shortest distance.
Rabbi Broyde attempts to resolve his question by noting that since Israel is assumed, albeit only by some, to be the centre of the world as regards the dateline, a view which is impossible when using the Mercator projection, therefore the Mercator projection is also to be rejected when considering the direction of prayer; the assumption being that one and the same projection be used for all questions of Jewish law. Three questions can be raised against this proof.
- That Israel be the centre of the world when considering the dateline is only as regards longitude, the question of Israel’s latitude making no difference whatsoever. Since it is possible to use even a Meractor projection and place Israel at the centre of the world along the prime meridian, therefore there can be no proof from the discussion of the dateline as to which projection should be preferred. And though it is true that Chazal did state that Israel is the navel of the world, many rishonim explain that this means midway between the equator and the polar circle and not as being in the centre of the world proper.
- The use of projections, whether Mercator or Azimuth, to decide the dateline and direction of prayer are not fundamental elements of the discussion; they are merely the intellectual tools being used in order to comprehend the issues involved. If one could understand the issues without using a map projection at all, that would be acceptable too. Consequently, these tools, since they are only tools and no more, cannot be used as proof regarding any actual halachic question. For example, a complicated halachic question might only be decided by a spectrometer. That does not mean that the spectrometer has special halachic standing. It is just a tool, like a hammer or a wrench. In this case, even assuming that one uses an Azimuth projection to decide the question of the date line, there would be no reason to use this tool to decide any other question. Rabbi Broyde n. 94 writes similarly: “The magnetic compass is the only reason that the rhumb line route might be considered”. I assume his reasoning is that since the only way to navigate a constant direction is by use of a magnetic compass, therefore that is the halachic basis for the rhumb line. However, this is incorrect on two counts; a magnetic compass would not provide an accurate rhumb line, due to magnetic deviation. The correct tool for navigation by rhumb line would be a sextant or any similar implement. And further, these instruments are only tools; their existence is of no halachic value. Even assuming that no such tool would exist, the rhumb line would still be a valid halachic definition of the word “direction”.
- Finally, as said previously, the question of direction is not one of which projection to use but rather whether direction is to be defined by shortest distance or by constant bearing, and this was a valid question even before the Mercator projection was invented in 1569.
Rabbi Broyde further writes: “The compass route becomes an irrational form of measuring distance, with no foundation in Jewish law.” However, see Tosafos Harosh (Gittin 8a s.v. R’ Yehuda), who asks the following: According to R’ Yehuda, who holds that any country with the same latitude as Israel is required to separate Terumos and Ma’asros, then why is France not required to separate Terumos and Ma’asros. It is to the west of Israel, since the direction of prayer in France is towards the east. The Tosafos Harosh uses the direction of prayer as proof for the compass direction of east and west, and this is conclusive proof that the compass direction is to be used for prayer. (This wonderful find was brought to my attention by Hagaon R’ Yeshaya Moskowitz.) In fact, since we do not find any conflicting opinion in the rishonim (the first mention of the great circle is found in a manuscript just prior to the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492), it would seem that halachically the compass direction is to be preferred.
In note 94 Rabbi Broyde similarly writes: “an article by Rabbi Yehudah Hershkowitz, “Be-Inyan le-eizeh tzad tzarikh le-hitpallel,” Yeshurun: Me’asef Torani 3 … [states] that the difference between the compass and great circle routes is in fact a matter of dispute between the Levush (O.H. 94:3) and the Emunat Hakhamim (Chapter 24). This, however, seems to be incorrect. The Levush makes no real reference to compass direction rather than great circle routes, contrary to the claims of the Emunat Hakhamim cited by Rabbi Hershkowitz. Instead, the Levush is simply referring to the exactness of the measure, rather than the way one is measuring. “North,” “south,” “east” and “west” could just as well be understood as directions relative to Israel as they can be taken to be compass directions… There is no reason to read the Levush to be inconsistent with the Great Circle direction.”
It is to be admitted that the Levush makes no direct reference to the compass route versus the great circle route. However, the fact that three great scholars who will be quoted shortly understood that the Levush could not be referring to the great circle shows that this is the correct understanding. In order to appreciate the basis for their interpretation, it is necessary to quote the relevant text. The Levush (Orach Chaim 94:3) writes the following (in paraphrase): Since all these countries (of northern Europe) are to the north-west of Israel, we should face south-east during prayer. To which the Emunas Chachamim comments, that even if a country is north-west of Israel, it is still entirely possible that the direction to face would not be south-east as postulated by the Levush, but north-east. As for example Lisbon, Portugal which latitude is 38° 27’ to the north, versus Jerusalem’s 31° 46’, and yet the direction to Jerusalem along the great circle is 86° 40’ north-east. The same point is made by two other great acharonim: Rabbi Yisrael of Zamosc, a great talmid chacham and a man of wide secular learning (he was a teacher of Moses Mendelssohn) in Netzach Yisrael (Berachos 30a kuntres acharon) and R’ Yakov Emden in Mor Uketziah (150). All three scholars thus make the same, precise point, to wit, that the Levush cannot be talking of the great circle direction. The only way the Levush makes sense is if he was referring to a rhumb line, where if one is to the north of Israel, one will always have to face the south. This brings me to the final point I wish to make.
Rabbi Broyde ibid. continues: “The magnetic compass is the only reason that the rhumb line route might be considered, and the Levush—as well as all those who preceded him, including the Talmud—were completely unaware of it.” I do not know why Rabbi Broyde is certain that the Levush was unaware of the rhumb line. The mathematics for the rhumb line was known by the time of the Levush, and the Levush had mathematical training, as his work on Hilchos Kidush Hachodesh shows. However, this is really a moot point. The rhumb line is just the mathematical term for a simple and intuitive concept. If one would ask a regular man on the streets of New York for the direction to Jerusalem, he would instinctively point south-west. It is this instinct which stands behind the halachic basis for the rhumb line as the direction of prayer.
In conclusion, there is a fundamental disagreement about the direction of prayer. The Tosfos Harosh and Levush adopt the compass direction and the Emunas Chachamim, Netzach Yisrael and Mor Uketziah adopt the great circle. Being that the natural and intuitive direction for the average man is the rhumb line, and since this opinion is supported by significant halachic authority, this would seem to be the halachically preferable opinion.
In this section I will comment on several minor points in the order they appear in Rabbi Broyde’s original essay, the original text being provided in quotation marks with my remarks following.
“… that the surface of the Earth is not flat but spheroidal.” The Earth is in fact not a sphere, but a spheroid, an oblate spheroid to be exact, that is a sphere flattened somewhat at the poles. However, later the author writes: “The truest miniaturized representation of the earth would be spherical—a globe.” Further in n. 82 the methods for calculating the various directions are given as found on this website (link) and there the earth is treated as a sphere.
“Classical and early medieval synagogues did not have fixed arks in the front; rather, the Torah scrolls were stored elsewhere and brought into the synagogue only when they were to be used. The later addition of the fixed Aron Kodesh gave rise to the possibility of two competing focal points for prayer—toward Israel and toward the Aron.” Later similarly: “The custom to have a fixed Aron Kodesh did not exist in the classical and early medieval periods. In the era of the Rishonim there was no physical focal point at the front of a synagogue; rather, the congregation assembled around a central bimah.” I believe this is factually incorrect. At the time of the Gemara’s discussions regarding this subject, i.e. in the year 500, the Ark containing the scrolls was commonly to be found within the sanctuary, and this was certainly the case at the time of the Rishonim.
Rabbi Broyde quotes Tosafos (Berachos 30a s.v. Letalpios), that R’ Yehoshua ben Levi and R’ Acha bar Yakov argue whether the Shechina is in the west or in the east. This is also the opinion of Rashi (Berachos 5b s.v. Tzafon), the Ri Migash (Baba Basra 25a), Rosh (Berachos 4:19) and Tur (Orach Chaim 94). However, Rabbi Broyde argues that it is possible that R’ Yehoshua ben Levi and R’ Acha bar Yakov both agree that the Shechina is in the west, and yet R’ Acha bar Yakov would claim that one bows to the east, in order to meet the Shechina on the other side of the earth. This position is difficult to defend for several reasons:
- Chazal generally related to the earth as being flat and not as a globe. I cannot think of a single example where chazal argued that by travelling around the earth one would reach the same point. This line of thinking is just foreign to Chazal’s mind.
- R’ Acha bar Yakov states that the sun and moon are not bowing to the west when they rise in the morning and are low in the sky, but that the position of these heavenly bodies could be interpreted just as well as a servant who after receiving a present from his master retreats backwards bowing all the time, so that by the time they set on the western horizon, they have been bowing to the east during the entire transit. According to Rabbi Broyde’s understanding this makes no sense at all. For let us say an hour before sunset, the sun would have its back to the west where the Shechina is to be found and would be bowing towards the east where it would encounter the Shechina only after circumnavigating the entire globe. This is manifestly illogical.
- Rabbi Broyde further writes: “If, however, “Shekhinah be-ma’arav” also includes that one should face east, and meet God’s eye, so to speak, around the other side of earth, then the question disappears.” However, after circumnavigating the entire globe, one would not encounter God’s eyes, but rather the back of His head.
“The Arukh ha-Shulchan’s view, that directions need only be approximate rather than precise, seems also to have much foundation.” See however the commentary of R’ Yonah to the Rif Berachos (quoted by the author in n. 43) who writes, that one should face Jerusalem as accurately as possible.
n. 75: I have done a little research on the Muslim Qibla and I believe that their discussion whether to use the great circle or the rhumb line postdates the Jewish discussion on the direction of Jerusalem, and was inspired by it.