Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 21 October 2006 / 29 Tishri 5767

Occidental Orientation

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From: I. Frankel
Dear Rabbi,

Our shul faces east, whereas Jerusalem is southeast from our city. Almost everyone faces east except for one or two people who face southeast. Is it more important to face a bit more in the right direction, or not to be different from (and maybe disrespectful to) the vast majority of the worshipers?

Dear I. Frankel,

During prayer one should face towards the Land of Israel; in Israel towards Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem towards the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount.

However, even if the people in the congregation are facing the wrong direction — although they're “out of line” — one shouldn't differ from them but rather should face the same way they do. So in your case where the synagogue and the congregation face east, one should stand with his body facing east together with the rest of the congregation. However, he should discreetly tilt his face southeast towards Jerusalem.

As a point of interest, for this reason someone praying at the Western Wall should turn his face somewhat to the left so that he will be facing the place of the Holy of Holies.

Despite the importance of our physical orientation in prayer, let us not forget to point our hearts in the right direction as well.

  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 94:1,2
  • Ibid. Mishneh Berurah 10

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