When davening Towrads Eretz Yisroel, do we view our position in the world as being on a flat map and we draw a straight line from us to Eretz Yisroel or do we view ourselves as on a globe? The difference being that in NY we shouldn’d daven direct east but northeast.
This question was raised by Rabbi Ben-Zion Fihrer in Noam (Vol. 2), who questioned whether Jews in America should daven eastwards or northwards. The closest line from America to Jerusalem points northwards (on a globe–this is also the way that airplanes fly to Israel), but the common custom is to daven eastwards. His conclusion is that it is correct to daven northwards, though he also justifies the custom to daven eastwards.
However, others have asserted that it would be wrong to daven northwards, and one should specifically daven eastwards, leaning a little (from NY) to the south. The reason for this is that looking at the world objectively, one cannot decide of any directions, for the world is a ball, and there is no east, west, north, and south. However, the way in which direction are established is by means of the sun, which rises in the ‘east’ and sets in the ‘west’. The path of the sun given the world four directions: east, west, north, and south, but nothing than these four directions can be said.
This effectively means that for the purposes of direction, we look at the world as though it was flat, and somebody davening northwards is praying towards the North Pole, and not towards Israel. Based on this rationale, it is correct to uphold the common custom, and daven eastwards from the States.
Sources: See a lengthy debate on this matter in Kovetz Beis Aharon Ve-Yisrael, Vol. 97. The debate was sparked by an article by Rabbi Baruch Shuvaks, who wished to suggest that one should face northwards from the States, rather than eastwards.