Ask the Rov: Where in a shul must one avoid hanging a picture or mirror?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
The Shulchan Aruch teaches that one should not daven facing decorative tapestries hanging in a shul since they can distract one’s focus. For this reason, shuls that have drawings on the walls should not have them at eye level but rather higher up.1 Standard designs (such as on the paroches of the aron kodesh) are not considered problematic since people are accustomed to them and won’t get distracted.2
Another concern with images of humans is that it can appear that one is davening to them ch”v.3 Therefore, pictures of people should not be hung in a shul where people may face it.
There is an old custom to feature lion images in shul to symbolize the lions carrying the kisei hakavod and to remind us of how we should be strong like a lion in our avodas Hashem.4 While some poskim raise an issue with this,5 the consensus of poskim is to allow it, and it is an accepted age-old custom that dates back to the rishonim.6
At one point, the gabboim of the Beis Menachem shul in Kfar Chabad planned to add depictions of the shevatim and their corresponding animals around the sides of the shul to complement the existent eagle images inside the shul’s dome. When Harav Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi a”h asked the Rebbe about this during a yechidus, the Rebbe discouraged it, absent of any established local customs, due to the distractions they cause.7
Although the primary issue is on the eastern wall at the front of the shul, the Rebbe noted in the yechidus that practically, people end up davening facing in all directions.8
Facing a mirror during davening gives the appearance that one is davening to his image and is prohibited even with closed eyes.9 When facing a window when there is a reflection of one’s face, it is likewise problematic. However, since it isn’t an actual mirror, some say one can suffice with closing their eyes.10
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash