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Davening in a shul that faces West

Rabbi Jonathan Blass28 Tishrei 5763
Question
I am a member of a small orthodox shul. I discovered that when davening in this shul, the people are facing West instead of East. I’m not sure what to do. I asked about it and was told that when the Shul was built, in the early ’60s, they received permission from the Rabbonim of the Young Israel movement to build the shul in this fashion. Also, I have been davening there for a few years and feel comfortable there. I am part of the daily minyan and I’m afraid that if I stop davening there, the minyan will stop. Should I just continue to daven there and direct my Kavannah to Yerushalayim? Should I turn and face East? I asked the Rabbi in the Shul who told me just to have my Kavannah to Yerushalayim? What do you think about this? Is it right to construct a shul and daven in a minyan that you know to be facing the wrong way?
Answer
There is a difference of opinion as to how the individual should act in a synagogue where the Aron Kodesh is not in the direction of Eretz Yisrael and the congregation prays facing the Aron and not toward Eretz Yisrael. Shu”t Yad Eliahu requires the individual to daven towards Eretz Yisrael even though he is setting himself apart from the congregation and as a result he may start a “machloket” in the synagogue. Another opinion disagrees,however, and instructs the individual not to separate himself from the community (Beer Heitev Orach Chayim 94,3). The Mishna Brura (94,10) accepts this second opinion. If, as I assume is the case, your community rabbi is Orthodox – you should follow his psak; ignoring his psak, which is probably based on an assessment of what changes the community can bear, is a greater offense than praying in the wrong direction. If you question his psak or do not understand on what it is based, you should ask him- respectfully- why he doesn’t have the Aron Kodesh moved to its preferred place or why he doesn’t instruct the entire community to pray in the direction of Eretz Yisrael. This, since the halacha is that (a) a congregation should pray toward Eretz Yisrael and not toward the Aron Kodesh when the directions are not the same and (b) the Aron should not be directly behind those praying toward Eretz Yisrael (Mishna Brura 94,9).
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