Simanim 94-96 Orientation during Tefilla

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #54: Simanim 94 - 96

Pages 252-256


by Rav Asher Meir






            The source is a gemara in Berakhot:


"It is taught (in a beraita): A blind person or one who has lost his orientation should direct his heart to his Father in heaven, as it is said (Melakhim I 8), 'And they shall pray to Hashem.'"

[But as for any other person:]

If he is outside of the land [of Israel], he should direct his heart toward the land of Israel, as it is said (Melakhim I 8:48), 'And they shall pray to Hashem via their land;'

If he is standing in Israel, he should direct his heart toward Yerushalayim, as it is said (Melakhim I 8:44), 'And they shall pray to Hashem via the city which You have chosen.'

If he is standing in Yerushalayim, he should direct his heart toward the Temple, as it is said (Melakhim I 8:42), 'And they shall pray towards this house.'

If he is standing in the Temple, he should direct his heart toward the Holy of Holies, at is is said (Melakhim I 8:35), 'And they shall pray towards this place;'

If he is standing in the Holy of Holies, he should direct his heart toward the Kaporet (the curtain in front of the Ark);

If he is standing in front of the Kaporet, he should envision himself as though he were behind the Kaporet.

It works out that if he stands in the east [of Israel] he faces west, in the west - he faces east; in the south - he faces north; in the north - he faces south.

It works out that the entire people of Israel are directing their hearts to a single place.  R. Avin, some say R. Avina, said: What is the biblical source? 'Your neck is as the tower of David, built like Talpiot' (Shir HaShirim 4) - a hill [Tel] towards which all mouths [piot] turn."  (Berakhot 30a)


            This beraita deserves a very careful reading; here I will just mention a few points:


            The beraita uses the same language to describe "facing" the land of Israel, Jerusalem, etc., as it uses to describe "turning" towards HaShem when it describes a blind person - "he should direct his heart."  One could easily understand that bodily orientation is not even important - probably for this reason at the very end of the beraita it is made explicit which way to face.  The most important thing is the inner direction, which is, however, expressed in bodily orientation.


            The beraita could merely say that everyone all over the world directs his thoughts and body towards the Ark.  Instead, it mentions that abroad one faces the Land of Israel (NOT the Ark), in Israel one faces Yerushalayim, etc.  The beraita seems to be emphasizing that each of these levels has its own UNIQUE degree of holiness: Eretz Yisrael has a holiness which does not merely derive from the fact that the Temple is there, and so on.  (This should remind us of the Mishna which enumerates the ten degrees of holiness - Keilim I:6.)  And IN ADDITION, the beraita adds, it works out that everybody is facing the same direction.


            This understanding could also be seen in the SA, which mentions the bodily orientation and the spiritual orientation as two separate requirements.  (But the MB writes that this is purely a practical consideration - s.k. 3.)




            Our siman discusses only the direction for praying Amida.  Some people are careful to say other prayers also in the direction of the Mikdash (Aleinu at a brit, Kaddish in a graveyard, etc.) but this does not seem to be a requirement.  After all, the SA does not mention this requirement in the laws of kaddish or of psukei dezimra or of barkhu, but only when he reaches the laws of Shemoneh Esrei.  Our siman specifically states that WHEN HE STANDS TO PRAY he should orient himself to face the Mikdash.




            Ideally, the direction of the Beit Kenesset and the Aron Kodesh (ark for the Torah scroll) should be in the same direction as prayer should be, as implied in the Rema.  This ideal is not always realized.  Sometimes, the ark is in a different direction, and the congregation prays in the direction of the ark.  Is this proper?  See MB 94:9 and 94:10, and compare it to the Bi'ur Halakha on siman 150, s.v. Shehu.  (The Mishna Berura is meant to be a concise summary of what the Acharonim have to say about a particular halakha in the SA.  The Bi'ur Halakha is meant to give the author's own viewpoint, which may differ.)


            In the case where the congregation DOES pray towards the ark, some very pious people neglect the congregation and orient themselves towards the Land of Israel (the Temple Mount, etc.) according to what is mentioned in the SA.  Is this proper?  See MB s.k. 10, and the BH on siman 150 which I just cited.  If the direction of the ark tends toward the east, there is an additional reason to conform to the congregation - see Arukh HaShulchan 94:7.




            Finding the right time and place for prayers during travel is an irksome problem.  On the one hand, there is a temptation to put off prayers until one reaches a terminal or airport in the hope that one will find a quiet place to pray standing up - or perhaps even a Beit Knesset or a minyan.  On the other hand,  very often, one's seat is a relatively quiet and protected spot where one would have a measure of concentration, whereas the terminal or airport is filled with distractions - not to mention immodesty and, in a bus or train, terminal filth which could make prayer impossible.  And very often, putting off prayers means getting into a situation where one is very rushed to meet "zeman tefilla," just as one's baggage arrives or one needs to make a connection.


            There is no doubt that a bus, plane, or train seat is not an ideal place to daven.  Even so, our siman (se'if 4-6) suggests that if one does not have plenty of time remaining before the end of zeman tefilla after expected arrival time, it may be a good idea to daven during travel, assuming that one is not in an aisle seat where one is constantly having to move.  Even though Israel flights customarily have a minyan in the back, other flights do not.  Many people will feel embarrassed standing up to daven in sight of everyone on the plane if there is no minyan, and this will compromise one's concentration - again, according to our siman it follows that sitting down would be better.


[When a group of people make a minyan on the plane, they immediately block access to the bathrooms or even to other peoples' seats.  This raises a question of halakhic and lawful damages to fellow travellers.  Additionally, causing a fellow Jew to disdain Torah practices or other Jews is a problem of Lifnei iver.  Even without the aspect of loss of concentration, it is my opinion that one should forego tefilla be-tzibbur in such a situation. - M. Friedman - editor.]


            According to R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabi'a Omer 3:9), if one will not have adequate concentration it is better to skip davening altogether, and to make up the missed tefilla during the next tefilla (e.g. make up Mincha at Ma'ariv).  This makes sense, especially since, according to the Rambam (Nesi'at Kapayim 4:15), such travellers are exempt from prayers altogether.  Furthermore, proper concentration in the first berakha (Avot) is essential (101:1), so it is logical that anytime one can not concentrate at least during this berakha, one need not start at all (Arukh HaShulchan 101:2).


            Most large airports have a chapel (some even have chaplains).  This is a quiet room set aside for people of different faiths to pray.  Usually, there are no prominent religious symbols.  It is tempting to take advantage of this quiet and modest place - is it proper?  According to the MB s.k. 29, the main problem with the "malon shel ovdei kokhavim" is religious symbols (crosses and statues), so from that point of view a chapel is preferable.  On the other hand, a chapel is actually designated for non-Jewish prayer.  It is not designated specifically for this, so it does not have the status of an idolatrous place.  But it does involve a real likelihood that in the middle of one's Amida one will be surrounded by a revival meeting.  Of course if this happens one should move even in the middle of Amida, but common sense suggests that a better place to daven could be found.


            What is the halakha if one will arrive in time to pray in a suitable spot, but only after the main time of tefilla - after a third of the day for shacharit or after sunset (but before nightfall) for mincha?  Is it better to sit on time or to stand late?  See MB 89:42.








"It is taught (in a beraita), R. Yehuda said, Such was the custom of R. Akiva: When he would pray with the congregation, he would be brief so as not to impose upon the congregation.  But when he would pray by himself, one would leave him in one corner of the room and find him in another corner, because of all of his kneeling and bowing."  (Berakhot 31a)


"And why eighteen [berakhot in the Amida]? ... R. Simon said: Corresponding to the eighteen vertebrae in the back, because when one stands to pray he needs to bend down in all of them, as it is said, 'All of my bones shall see, HaShem, who is like unto You?!'"  (Tanchuma Vayera 1)


            Many Jews rock back and forth as they pray.  This must be a very ancient custom, as it is mentioned about 900 years ago in the Kuzari (II 79-80) as a distinctive characteristic of Jewish prayer and study.  R. Yehuda HaLevi thought that the origin might have been in the fact that it was necessary to move back and forth a lot when several people would read from one book (as Yemenite Jews did until recently), but the MB (s.k. 7 - citing Pri Chadash who cites Kenesset HaGedola citing a midrash - evidently the one cited above) gives a different reason.


            On the other hand, many people consider that the greatest concentration is achieved by standing perfectly still.  R. Yisrael Gustman zt"l used to daven standing perfectly still, and I read that he adopted this custom after experiencing the awe and dread this posture induced after the cursed Nazis compelled him to stand at attention for long periods.  According to this approach, we would say that R. Akiva's bustle was not during the Amida, and that the Midrash is referring to the requisite bowing during Avot and Modim, and not to movement throughout the Amida.






            We mentioned in a previous shiur that this siman contains an important ruling: if one did not have proper concentration in Avot, one may start over again if one can locate and eliminate the source of one's distraction - such as holding onto something (MB 96:2 and Sha'ar Ha-tziun 2).


            See the MB at the end of s.k. 4.  Taking care of children is a wonderful mitzva and a tremendous merit, and it certainly overrides the mitzva of praying with the congregation - especially if by bringing children to shul the prayer of the entire congregation is itself undermined.