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It is very common to have a pictorially adorned curtain on an aron kodesh (cabinet that hold the Torah scrolls in a synagogue).

It is also very common to have the shatz (prayer leader) stand before the aron kodesh, facing it at eye level.

It's even pretty common to have both those situations in combination, meaning in the same synagogue.

Are there any halachic sources (e.g. t'shuvos) that specifically denounce or defend the above combination of practices in light of the general idea that one ought not pray [the amida] in front of pictures (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 90:23)?

  • From photos I've seen, it seems to have been pretty common in Eastern Europe to place the amud beside the Aron. Furthermore, I've seen plenty of pictorial parochot from across Europe, including the shtetlach. On the other hand, I know that in Germany and western Europe, most schuls were careful to locate their amud in an axis running from the centre of the aron to the rear of the room which would also bisect the almemer. – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 8 '15 at 13:47
  • Also, FWIW, I've seen some pretty heavily decorated aronim, some of which include realistic sculpture work. See facebook.com/… – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 8 '15 at 13:54
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    @NoachmiFrankfurt re "it seems to have been pretty common in Eastern Europe to place the amud beside the Aron": it's still very common. I didn't mean to imply that the practices I describe in the question as common are universal. – msh210 Oct 8 '15 at 14:04
  • Weren't there Arons from Eastern Europe that even had pictures of animals painted and carved on them? That seems problematic. – Mike Oct 9 '15 at 3:26
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Rabbi Eliezer Melamed says it is permitted.

It is permissible to decorate the parochet (curtain) and the aron kodesh in the accepted manner, for people are accustomed to the decorations on them and the artwork does not distract them from praying.

  • He has citations all over that Web page, but none for that claim. I guess it's his own p'sak. – msh210 Oct 8 '15 at 15:36

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