For thousands of years, Jews have been praying to God while facing Jerusalem. Muslims have a similar tradition. Only they bow toward the city of Mecca. Such cultural practice may seem a bit unusual for Christians who direct their gaze elsewhere, to the altar in front of them or to the heavens above. But for Jews facing Jerusalem during prayer is an ancient custom etched on the pages of the Bible (Daniel 6:10; 1 Kings 8:29-35). Of course, it's not about the city itself, but about the holy mountain, the spot God himself chose for his house three thousand years ago (1 Kings 8:44, 1 Chron 22:1-10). There is a special place where God manifested himself in the past, and people have not forgotten it.
This tradition of praying towards God's house has a considerable history, and I wanted to share a quote from Tosefta on Berachot 3 to expound on the exact reasons behind this unique custom. If you are wondering about how far back these words go, the text of Tosefta is quite ancient. It contains discussions of various Jewish traditions put into writing around the 3rd century CE. Of course, many of those traditions existed for much longer in oral form before they were finally expressed in writing. When Mishna was compiled, some of its content was redacted and set aside, and that body of text became known as Tosefta. It means “supplement" in Aramaic. So here are some sentiments from the sages about the direction of prayers from the supplement to Mishnah.
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