Praying Towards Jerusalem Or Towards The Aron

Today’s article is dedicated to the memory of Yaakov Chanoch Henech ben R’ Baruch Naftali Hertz a”h.

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. When one is praying shemoneh esrei one should always face the direction of Jerusalem (Brachos 30a and Shulchan Aruch 94).

2. It is for this reason that we always place the Aron Kodesh on the wall that is facing Jerusalem. This way we can face both Jerusalem and the Aron when we are praying (Mishnah Berurah 94:9).

3. The question arises what should one do if he is praying in a shul which (for whatever reason) placed the Aron on a different wall. Should he face Jerusalem or the Aron?

4. The Mishnah Berurah, in his commentary Biur Halacha (150), discusses this very issue and he writes that he is not sure what the hallachic ruling should be.

5. Although in his commentary Biur Halacha he does not offer a definitive ruling, in his commentary Mishnah Berurah (94:9,10) he definitively rules that one should pray in the direction of Jerusalem and not the Aron Kodesh. He writes, “Because one must face Jerusalem when he prays it is customary to place the Aron on the eastern wall. If one cannot place the Aron on the eastern wall he should place it on the southern wall. Care should be taken not to place in on the western wall since this would lead the congregants to pray with their backs to the Aron. Even if the Aron is placed on the southern or western wall one should still pray towards the east, towards Jerusalem.”

6. Harav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (10:20) writes that one should follow the definitive ruling of the Mishnah Berurah. He adds that this is also logical since the Mishnah and Gemara only mention praying towards Jerusalem. It is only customary to place the Aron on the eastern wall since that is direction of Jerusalem. Therefore, if you cannot accomplish both it would make sense to fulfill the requirement of the Mishnah and face Jerusalem.

7. The Mishnah Berurah adds that if one is praying with a congregation and the congregation is erroneously praying towards the Aron and not Jerusalem he should also pray towards the Aron. He should, however, turn his face slightly towards Jerusalem. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that although the congregation should be praying in the direction of Jerusalem, if they are praying towards the Aron he should follow along. Not because they are correct, but rather if he were to be the only person praying towards Jerusalem then when he bows he will be bowing in a different direction then everyone else and it would appear as if they are praying to two different gods (chas v’shalom).

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