Mizrah

Mizrah

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In Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, mizrah (Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

: מזרח "east") is the direction that most Jews in the diaspora
Diaspora
A diaspora is "the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland" or "people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location", or "people settled far from their ancestral homelands".The word has come to refer to historical mass-dispersions of...

 face during prayer, as Jewish law prescribes that Jews face the site of the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

 during prayer, and most Jews in the diaspora live west of Jerusalem, so they face eastward during prayer. The word "mizrach" also refers to the wall of the synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

 that faces east, where seats are reserved for the rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 and other dignitaries. In addition, "mizrach" refers to an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer in Jewish homes.

Jewish law


The Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 lays down the rule that if one prays in the Diaspora
Jewish diaspora
The Jewish diaspora is the English term used to describe the Galut גלות , or 'exile', of the Jews from the region of the Kingdom of Judah and Roman Iudaea and later emigration from wider Eretz Israel....

, he shall direct
himself toward the Land of Israel
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

; in Israel, toward Jerusalem; in Jerusalem, toward the Temple; and in the Temple, toward the Holy of Holies
Holy of Holies
The Holy of Holies is a term in the Hebrew Bible which refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was kept during the First Temple, which could be entered only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur...

. The same rule is found in the Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

; however, it is prescribed for individual prayers only rather than for congregational prayers at a synagogue. Thus, if a man is east of the Temple, he should turn westward; if in the west, eastward; in the south, northward; and if in the north, southward.

The custom is based on the prayer of Solomon
Solomon
Solomon , according to the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, a King of Israel and according to the Talmud one of the 48 prophets, is identified as the son of David, also called Jedidiah in 2 Samuel 12:25, and is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, and the final king before...

 (I Kings
Books of Kings
The Book of Kings presents a narrative history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of David to the release of his successor Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years...

 8:33, 44, 48; II Chron.
Books of Chronicles
The Books of Chronicles are part of the Hebrew Bible. In the Masoretic Text, it appears as the first or last book of the Ketuvim . Chronicles largely parallels the Davidic narratives in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings...

 6:34). Another passage supporting this rule is found in the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

, which relates that in the upper chamber of the house, where Daniel
Daniel
Daniel is the protagonist in the Book of Daniel of the Hebrew Bible. In the narrative, when Daniel was a young man, he was taken into Babylonian captivity where he was educated in Chaldean thought. However, he never converted to Neo-Babylonian ways...

 prayed three times a day, the windows of which were opened toward Jerusalem (Dan.
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 6:10).

The Tosefta
Tosefta
The Tosefta is a compilation of the Jewish oral law from the period of the Mishnah.-Overview:...

 demands that the entrance to the synagogue should be on the eastern side with the congregation facing west. The requirement is probably based on the orientation of the tent of meeting
Tabernacle
The Tabernacle , according to the Hebrew Torah/Old Testament, was the portable dwelling place for the divine presence from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. Built to specifications revealed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai, it accompanied the Israelites...

, which had its gates on the eastern side (Num.
Book of Numbers
The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, and the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch....

 2:2–3; 3:38), or Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount , before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE....

, the portals of which were to the east (Ezek.
Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and preceding the Book of the Twelve....

 43:1–4). Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 attempted to reconcile the Tosefta's provision with the requirement to pray toward Jerusalem by stating that the doors of the synagogue should face east, while the Ark
Ark (synagogue)
The Torah ark or ark in a synagogue is known in Hebrew as the Aron Kodesh by the Ashkenazim and as the Hekhál amongst most Sefardim. It is generally a receptacle, or ornamental closet, which contains each synagogue's Torah scrolls...

 should be placed "in the direction in which people pray in that city," i.e., toward Jerusalem. The Shulkhan Arukh records the same rule, but it also recommends that one turn toward the southeast instead of east to avoid the semblance of worshiping the sun.

If a person is unable to ascertain the cardinal points
Cardinal Points
Cardinal Points is a student newspaper published in Plattsburgh, New York which serves the SUNY Plattsburgh community. The newspaper publishes 3,000 copies every Friday morning throughout the semester, from February until May 12...

, he should direct his heart toward Jerusalem.

Mizrah in synagogue architecture


Excavations of ancient synagogues show that their design generally conformed with the Talmudic and traditional rule on prayer direction. The synagogues excavated west of Eretz Israel in Miletus
Miletus
Miletus was an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia , near the mouth of the Maeander River in ancient Caria...

, Priene
Priene
Priene was an ancient Greek city of Ionia at the base of an escarpment of Mycale, about north of the then course of the Maeander River, from today's Aydin, from today's Söke and from ancient Miletus...

, and Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

 all show an eastern orientation. Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

, in his work Against Apion
Against Apion
Against Apion was a polemical work written by Flavius Josephus as a defense of Judaism as a classical religion and philosophy, stressing its antiquity against what he perceived as more recent traditions of the Greeks.-Text:Against Apion 1:8 also defines which books he viewed as being in the Jewish...

, recorded that the same was the case for Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 synagogues. Synagogues north of Jerusalem and west of the Jordan River, as in Bet Alfa, Capernaum
Capernaum
Capernaum was a fishing village in the time of the Hasmoneans. Located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other...

, Hammath, and Khorazin, all face southward, whereas houses of worship east of the Jordan all face west. In the south, the synagogue excavated at Masada
Masada
Masada is the name for a site of ancient palaces and fortifications in the South District of Israel, on top of an isolated rock plateau, or horst, on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. Masada is best known for the violence that occurred there in the first century CE...

 faces northwest to Jerusalem. The Tosefta's regulation that the entrance to the synagogue should be on the eastern side, while the orientation of the building should be toward the west was followed only in the synagogue in Irbid
Irbid
Irbid , known in ancient times as Arabella or Arbela , is the capital and largest city of the Irbid Governorate. It also has the second largest metropolitan population in Jordan after Amman, with a population of around 660,000, and is located about 70 km north of Amman on the northern ridge of...

.

Initially, the mizrah wall in synagogues was on the side of the entrance. However, the remains of the Dura-Europos synagogue
Dura-Europos synagogue
The Dura-Europos synagogue is an ancient synagogue uncovered at Dura-Europos, Syria, in 1932. The last phase of construction was dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE, making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world...

 on the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

 reveal that by the 3rd century C.E. the doors were on the eastern side and the opposite wall, in which a special niche had been made to place the scrolls during worship, faced Jerusalem. In Eretz Israel, the wall facing the Temple site was changed from the side of entrance to the side of the Ark in the 5th or 6th century. This change is found in synagogues at Naaran, near Jericho
Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

, and Bet Alfa. Worshipers came through the portals and immediately faced both the scrolls and Jerusalem.

Exceptions to the requirements of the Halakha
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 still occur. The directions of the buildings frequently varied slightly due to the terrain. In the synagogues at Khirbat Summaqa, a village on the Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel ; , Kármēlos; , Kurmul or جبل مار إلياس Jabal Mar Elyas 'Mount Saint Elias') is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses at various locations on Mt. Carmel...

, and at Usifiyya, where the orientations are not toward Jerusalem, and there is no satisfactory explanation for this divergence from the norm. With one exception, the ruins of synagogues in the Galilee
Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

 were oriented from north to south, i.e. away from Jerusalem; most probably, the decision was made out of consideration for how the building would look from a distance. In Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, synagogues were usually oriented toward the east, i.e. not exactly toward Eretz Israel, and congregations were very meticulous in choosing sites that would enable an eastward orientation.

Mizrah in Jewish homes


It is customary in traditional Jewish homes to mark the wall in the direction of mizrah to facilitate proper prayer. For this purpose, people use artistic wall plaques inscribed with the word mizrah and scriptural passages like "From the rising (mi-mizrah) of the sun unto the going down thereof, the Lord's name is to be praised" (Ps.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms , commonly referred to simply as Psalms, is a book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible...

 113:3), kabbalistic
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 inscriptions, or pictures of holy places. These plaques are generally placed in rooms in which people pray, such as the living room or bedrooms.

Influence on other religions


The Jewish custom of fixing the direction of prayer and orienting synagogues accordingly influenced both Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 and Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. In early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

, it was customary to pray facing toward the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

, see also Jerusalem in Christianity
Jerusalem in Christianity
For Christians, Jerusalem's place in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostolic Age gives it great importance, in addition to its place in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.-Jerusalem in the New Testament and early Christianity:...

. The orientation of churches
Orientation of Churches
The orientation of churches is the architectural feature of facing churches towards the east .The Jewish custom of fixing the direction of prayer and orienting synagogues influenced Christianity during its formative years. In early Christianity, it was customary to pray facing toward the Holy Land...

 toward the east has preserved until nowadays. In Islam, the original direction of prayer (qibla
Qibla
The Qiblah , also transliterated as Qibla, Kiblah or Kibla, is the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salah...

) was toward Jerusalem; however it was subsequently changed to Mecca
Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

.