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I observe that some people leave the synagogue with their face toward the Ark (and not with their back to the Ark) and therefore go out backwards.

Where is the source for this and does it depend on whether the exit is directly opposite the Ark or on the side?

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See O.C. 132:2 Ba'er Hetev #9. He says that Mahari"l bowed down 3 times when he left his place, and faced the ark while doing that. He repeated this when he was at the entrance of the shul. He then adds that when leaving, one should not have his back to the ark, but should face sideways. One should also face sideways when he leaves the teiva (after being Shat'z or Torah reader.)

I'm inferring from this that one should never have his back to the ark when he leaves, and moreover, he shouldn't even face the ark (other than for bowing), but should face sideways when leaving. So, if the door is either next to the ark or opposite it, one should walk out facing sideways. If the door is to the sides, he can face the doors.

In my shul, the door is to the left when facing the ark. So, exiting the shul, the ark is to my right. I don't think I have a problem, then, according to this. The ark is actually on the south wall, not east. That may be a separate problem.

  • I have not seen people leave the shul facing sideways when the door is opposite the ark. Either they walk out with the back to the ark (which is clearly incorrect, per above), or the walk backwards. If someone knows of another minhag, that allows walking backwards, please edit it into my answer. – DanF Nov 28 '17 at 22:56
  • My understanding was that facing is better than sideways-on except it is difficult and potentially dangerous. See here, lehavdil for interest. – Avrohom Yitzchok Nov 29 '17 at 16:39
  • Interesting article and actually, not really lehavdil. If you look at the source that I cited, it specifically mentions this etiquette that one should walk backwards when leaving the king. So, indeed, it is quite an old etiquette. However, in my shul, as in many other shuls, there are often steps at the bima. My shul has 2 steps and there is a rail, so I use that when walking backwards. I think even O.C. would agree that one shouldn't walk backwards if it's dangerous to do so. And, actually, walking sideways might actually be safer than backwards. So, in a sense, O.C. has a "safe" solution – DanF Nov 29 '17 at 16:57

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