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For example, if one was in Sydney, would it be better if he faces north-west or north-east? Is it more important that he faces the direction in which there is the smallest possible distance between where he is and Jerusalem, or is it more important that he is facing east?

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  • Face whatever direction you would take if you were actually travelling to Jerusalem. Jan 21 at 17:18
  • @MauriceMizrahi normally I heard towards the nearest airport
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 22 at 10:08

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The law is when you pray Amidah, you face Jerusalem, whichever direction Jerusalem happens to be from where you are. See Shulchan Aruch OC 94:1:

בקומו להתפלל אם היה עומד בח"ל יחזור פניו כנגד ארץ ישראל ויכוין גם לירושלים ולמקדש ולבית קדשי הקדשים היה עומד בא"י יחזיר פניו כנגד ירושלים ויכוין גם למקדש ולבית קדשי הקדשים. היה עומד בירושלים יחזיר פניו למקדש ויכוין גם לבית קדשי הקדשים היה עומד אחורי הכפורת מחזיר פניו לכפורת:

When he gets up to pray if he was standing outside the Land of Israel, he should return his face toward the Land of Israel and focus also on Jerusalem and to the Temple and to the Holy of Holies. If he was standing in Jerusalem he should return his face to the Temple and focus also to the Holy of Holies. If he was standing behind the (Ark) he should return his face to the (Ark)

Note, the Rema brings in 94:2 the Tur and Sma"g, which clarify that indeed we don't always face east:

ואנו שמחזירין פנינו למזרח מפני שאנו יושבים במערבה של א"י ונמצא פנינו לא"י (טור וסמ"ג)

And we who turn our faces to the east, it is because we dwell to the west of the land of Israel, and so our faces are towards the land of Israel (Tur, Orach Chaim 94:1 and Sefer Mitzvot Gadol)

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    but do you follow a great circle route, or a rhumb line?
    – Joel K
    Jan 21 at 12:32
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  • @joelK it seems very implausible that one should have to calculate the precise angle to face - I can't imagine that medieval communities had the knowledge to do that. For that matter, even modern shuls are usually not built in line with the exact direction
    – AKA
    Jan 21 at 13:42
  • @AKA who's talking about a precise angle. If you're in San Francisco do you face East, or North?
    – Joel K
    Jan 21 at 14:39
  • see the discussion at myzmanim.com Jan 21 at 16:03

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