When we pray the Amidah – the standing prayer, it is usual to face Mizrach – East. What is the basis for this?
In the prayer King Solomon offered to God after completing the building of the Bet Hamikdash – the Temple, he referred to a time when Jews outside Israel will ‘pray to God towards their land’. He spoke also of praying to the Lord ‘towards the city which you have chosen and towards the house that I have built for Your name’
From these verses, the Talmud deduces that wherever in the world we are, we should direct both our minds and our bodies towards the land of Israel, towards the city of Jerusalem, and towards the site of the Temple, of which the Kotel, the Western Wall is the remaining section.
Although God is everywhere and is not limited to the Temple site, we relate in our prayers not just as individuals to the omnipresent God, but also as members of a community to the past, the present and the future of the Jewish people. Jews from as far apart as Australia and Britain face Jerusalem. We may not know each other, but in our thoughts we are praying as if we were in the same place, the site of the Temple, the earthly centre of our faith. In that sense, we are together with people we do not know and may never meet.
As Jews in Britain, we face south-east towards Israel and Jerusalem. In Eilat, we face north to Jerusalem. In Tiberias, we face south. And in Southern Europe and North Africa, we actually face Mizrach – East.
Sometimes, the design of a synagogue has resulted in the Ark being in a different direction. In such circumstances, we pray in the direction of the Ark, which contain the Torah scrolls, even though we are not facing Jerusalem. However, we should either turn our faces more towards Jerusalem or at least direct our thoughts towards Jerusalem.