Question: If one started praying and realizes that one is inadvertently facing away from Jerusalem, what should one do?
Answer: In the previous Halacha, we have explained that when standing to recite the Amida prayer, one must pray in the general direction of the Land of Israel and when located within the Land of Israel, one should pray while facing the holy city of Jerusalem. When located in Jerusalem, one should pray in the general direction of the place where the Bet Hamikdash stood.
Let us now discuss a situation where, for instance, one is standing west of Jerusalem, such as in the city of Ashdod, in which case one must face eastward while praying and instead, one is facing a different direction, i.e. west, north, or south. If one becomes aware of one’s error while praying, should one move one’s feet in the middle of praying in order to turn to the correct direction? Similarly, what if the individual praying is not aware of his mistake but someone else present is, should he point this out to the individual currently praying?
There are several different opinions regarding this issue. We shall only mention the opinion that we follow halachically based on the ruling of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Halichot Olam, Volume 1, page 146).
One Praying Alone in the Wrong Direction
If one is praying alone and should be facing eastward but is facing north or south by mistake, one should not move one’s feet while praying; rather, one should remain standing in place and merely turn one’s face to the east. If someone else sees this individual praying while facing the wrong direction, one should bring this to the individual’s attention so that he can turn his face to the east.
Nevertheless, if the individual is facing the complete opposite direction, i.e. in our situation this would mean facing westward, he cannot turn his face all the way to the east. Thus, some say that he should move his feet and turn to the east and then continue praying. On the other hand, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that one should not bring this mistake to the attention of the individual at all and even if the individual realizes his mistake on his own, one may not move one’s feet in the middle of praying in order to turn to the east; rather, one should continue praying while relying on the opinion (quoted in Baba Batra 25b) that Hashem’s presence is everywhere and one need not face any specific direction while praying.
One Praying With the Congregation in the Synagogue
When we have written above that one praying while facing the wrong direction may not move his feet and turn to the correct direction, this only applies to one praying alone. However, if one is praying in the synagogue and the entire congregation is facing one direction and this individual is facing the opposite direction, one must move one’s feet and turn to the direction the rest of the congregation is facing and only then continue praying.
Summary: If one should be facing eastward and mistakenly began praying while facing north or south, one should turn one’s face to the east and then continue praying. If one mistakenly began praying while facing westward, one should continue praying without facing east. If this happens when one is praying with the congregation in the synagogue, one must move one’s feet and turn to the direction the rest of the congregation is facing and continue praying.