Shulchan Oruch Horav 90 (22) advises against davenning in front of decorations on the wall of the shul. Is it, therefore, a good thing to use a picture of the Western Wall as a “mizrach” ("mizrach" refers to an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer in Jewish homes).

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    Since when are Jewish homes shuls? – Double AA Oct 25 '12 at 22:13
  • @DoubleAA I go to someone's house for a shiur. He has the mizrach to which I refer in the question. Afterwards we daven maariv. That is the origin of the question. – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 26 '13 at 21:33
  • @AvrohomYitzchok So what? That doesn't make it a shul. – Double AA Dec 26 '13 at 21:44
  • @DoubleAA Do I understand you to think that the Shulchan Oruch Horav is not bothered about davenning in front of decorations on the wall of some other place where one davens and if so why? – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 26 '13 at 22:19
  • I used to attend a shul set up in a narrow storefront facing north-south, with the aron on the north wall --- the east wall, which we turned towards during the amidah, had life-size wallpaper of the stones of the Kotel. – Shivaram Lingamneni May 13 '14 at 1:08

The relevant quote from Shulchan Aruch Harav is as follows (my own translation):

בגדים המצויירים שתולים בכותלי בית הכנסת לנוי אע"פ שמן הדין אין בהם משום חציצה אין נכון להתפלל כנגדם כדי שלא יהא מביט בציורם ולא יכוין בתפלתו ואם יקרה לו להתפלל נגדם יעצים עיניו וגם כשמציירים כותלי בית הכנסת נכון שלא לצייר ציורים נגד פניו של אדם אלא למעלה מקומת איש.

Pictures that are hung on the walls of a synagogue for decoration; although they are not considered a "separation", it is nonetheless not correct to pray in front of them, to avoid looking at the illustrations and lose concentration in his prayers. If he happens to pray in front of them, he should close his eyes. Similarly, when decorating a synagogue, it is correct not to draw pictures at eye level, but rather they should be placed above the height of people.

It seems quite clear from the words of the Shulchan Aruch Harav that this is a practical recommendation - it's not advisable to daven in front of things that will distract you.

This is the way the Lubavitcher Rebbe seems to understand the law. He writes in a letter (Iggres Kodesh vol. 10 pg. 137) that a possible justification for those shuls which do not follow the above and do have decorations, is that people who frequent the shul will not become distracted since they are already used to the decorations. He compares this to the law by Birkas Cohanim, that although a Cohen with physical deformities may not recite the blessing because it is distracting to the people present. However, if the Cohen is well known in the city it is permitted since he will no longer attract their attention. However the Lubavitcher Rebbe concludes that nonetheless this is not advisable, since newcomers may pray in the shul and get distracted.

It therefore stands to reason that if such pictures of the Kossel do not distract the person davening in front of them (or even cause him to think about Yerushalayim etc.) this would not be a problem. If however, he will spend the duration of the davening admiring the artistic techniques of the painter it is surely not correct to pray in front of them.

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  • Except that the main (minimum) focus a person should have is to direct his prayers towards Yerushalayim. A distraction caused by thinking about Yerushalayim may, then, not be such a problem. – Seth J Dec 25 '12 at 1:54
  • @SethJ if the focus is Yerushalayim and not the artwork perhaps. My point is this is not a prohibition in Shulchan Aruch, only a recommendation. So it stands to reason that if the issue is present the problem exists, and if not then not. – Michoel Dec 25 '12 at 2:45
  • Related?: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/7046 – msh210 Jan 24 '13 at 2:24
  • (Mistakenly hit save edit before I finished.. I'll finish of my edit a little later today).. – Michoel Jan 24 '13 at 5:17
  • @msh210 I think not. This does not seem to be a "Rabbinic enactment", but rather a practical recommendation to minimize distraction during davening. – Michoel Jan 24 '13 at 23:51

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