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MIZRAḤ:

Hebrew term denoting the rising of the sun, the east (Num. xxi. 11; Ps. I. 1); also used to designate an ornamental picture hung on the eastern wall of the house, or in front of the readingdesk in the synagogue, and applied to the row of seats in the synagogue on either side of the Ark. The custom of turning toward the east while at prayer, observed by the Jews living west of Palestine, is of great antiquity (Dan. vi. 11; comp. I Kings viii. 38; Ber. 28b; see East). The Jews of Palestine prayed with their faces turned westward (Suk. 51b). In later times opinion varied on this subject. While some of the rabbis, claiming that the Divine Presence ("Shekinah") is everywhere, maintained that it makes little difference in which direction one's face is turned in prayer, others were of the opinion that the Divine Presence is especially located in the west, and that therefore one should turn westward. R. Sheshet positively objected to the custom of praying while facing the east because the Minim prayed in that direction (B. B. 25a). The custom, however, predominated and was formulated in a baraita reading as follows: "One who is outside of Palestine should turn toward Palestine; in Palestine, toward Jerusalem; in Jerusalem, toward the Temple; and in the Temple, toward the Holy of Holies" (Ber. 30a; Yer. Ber. iv. 5).

In accordance with this injunction, synagogues are so constructed that the Ark may be placed in the direction of Palestine, and that the people may turn toward it in prayer (Maimonides, "Yad," Tefillah, xi. 2; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 94, 1-3). In places east of Palestine, the Ark is placed in the west and the door opposite to it in the east (Tosef., Meg. iii. 14; Rosh, ib. iii. 12; Ber. 6a; Tos. s.v. "Aḥure"; "Yad," l.c.; comp. Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 150, 5 and Isserles' gloss; "Ḥatam Sofer," ib. 27).

In spite of the objection of the medieval rabbis to the presence of any object of art in the synagogue, there were still some figures and pictures retained (see Art). In many synagogues and in almost every bet ha-midrash of modern times an ornamental picture, usually bearing the inscription "From the rising of the sun unto the setting thereof, the name of the Lord is praised" (Ps. cxiii. 3, Hebr.), is hung in front of the reading-desk, which latter is near the Ark. Many other passages, and even whole psalms, are added, and frequently are artistically strung together so as to form the likeness of the menorah or of some animal. One of the later authorities ("Ḥatam Sofer," Yoreh De'ah, 127) forbids the engraving of the above-cited passage around a picture of the sun in one of the eastern windows of the synagogue (comp. "Sefer Ḥasidim," ed. Wistinetzki, § 1625). No one, however, seems to raise any objection to the mizraḥ, which is found in synagogues and in many homes.

Bibliography:
  • Dembitz, Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home, pp. 65, 199, Philadelphia, 1898;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 1144.
A. J. H. G.
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