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90:21. There should be (63) nothing (64) between a person and the wall in front of him. Something fixed, e.g. a cupboard or (65) box, does not constitute a separation. {Only (66) something large, 10 handsbreadths high by (67) four wide would constitute a separation, but something small (68) does not.} A living animal does not constitue a separation, even a human being. {Rama: It seems to me that animals are indeed a separation but not humans, and this appears to be the opinion of the codifiers; possibly a mistake crept into the text.}

MB 63: Nothing – As it says ‘And Chizkiyah turned his face to the wall and prayed.’ Nevertheless, this is only to perform the Mitzvah in the best possible way, but there is nothing wrong if this is necessary because of lack of space. Therefore, if it is not easily possible to pray in this way e.g if 10 people are praying in a room where it would be impossible for each of them to stand by the wall without something in between, one should not delay the service in order to go to another room to pray. However, one should close his eyes or pray from a Prayer Book and not look around, so as not to divert his attention as a result of the item in front of him.

MB 64: Between him and the wall – Even if one is far away from the wall and standing in the middle of the Synagogue, he should also ensure that nothing is between himself and the wall. The Pri Megadim leans towards saying that if the item is more than four footsteps away it is considered outside his area and is not a problem, and so rules the Magen Geborim.

MB 65: Or a box – As it is unusual to move our type of beds (for sleeping) from place to place, they are considered ‘fixed’ and do not constitute a separation. Some disagree, and it is good to take the stricter view where possible.

MB 66: Something large – Look in the Taz, who says that anything that is required for services, even if very large, does not constitute a separation – e.g. a table upon which one rests his Prayer Book. Therefore we are accustomed in synagogue to have a small table (called a Shtender) in front of each person upon which he puts his Siddur, even though it is higher than 10 and wider than four. And other Later Authorities agree.

MB 67: Four wide – even if it it only has a width of 4 at the top and not at the bottom.

MB 68: It does not constitute a separation – The Pri Chadash disagrees, and the Maamar Mordechai writes that from the words of a responsa of the Rambam quoted by the Beis Yosef this does not appear to be so. Nevertheless, the benches (or seats) in the Synagogue do not constitute a separation according to all opinions, because they are considered fixed. Look in the Pri Chadash.

90:22. Some are of the opinion (69) that one should be careful not to pray behind any other person, and it is good to follow this opinion.

MB 69: That one should be careful not to pray – The Maamar Modedechai writes that this point needs detailed examination, because this is impossible to put into practice: how can everyone in the Synagogue be directly opposite the wall, without anyone else in the way?! Therefore it seems that even accodring to this view it is not a full separation, to the extent that it would be forbidden to pray, but all it means is that where possible one should try to put this into practice. In the Synagogue or anywhere similar where it is impossible otherwise, it is obvious that one is allowed a priori to pray behind another person. However, someone who examines his actions in detail should see that he has a set place for prayer next to the wall.

90:23. (70) It is not correct to pray while facing garments upon which there are drawings, even if they don’t protrude. If it occurred that one ends up facing a garment or wall with pictures upon it, he should avert his eyes. {Rama: Therefore it is forbidden to draw (71) pictures in Prayer Books, in order not to distract the user. If a garment is covered with drawings or words of frivolity, (72) it is forbidden even to sit upon it in a Synagogue.}

MB 70: It is not correct – So as not to look at the pictures and fail to concentrate on his prayers. But clothing does not constitute a separation [concerning 90:22], and therefore if there are unpainted clothes hanging on the wall one may pray in front of them.

MB 71: Pictures in Prayer Books – For this reason one should also be careful not to draw pictures on the walls of a Synagogue at eye level, but only above. It is forbidden to pray in front of a mirror, because it looks as if one is bowing down to his own image, meaning even if he shuts his eyes; with his eyes open it is certainly forbidden, because it will distract his attention.

MB 72: It is forbidden to even sit upon it – Because it says “You shall not bring an abomination into your house” – so even into one’s own house it is forbidden.