Reader: Why do many Jews face east when praying?
Mesora: I thank my friend Yaakove for pointing to this quote from Maimonides “Guide for the Perplexed”, Book III, Chapter XLV. I initially explained that Abraham faced the East to oppose the idolaters, however, the opposite is true:
“The precepts of the tenth class are those enumerated in the laws on the Temple (Hilkot bet ha-behirah), the laws on the vessels of the temple and on the ministers in the temple [Hilkot kele ha-mikdash veba-obedim bo]. The use of these precepts we have stated in general terms. It is known that idolaters selected the highest possible places on high mountains where to build their temples and to place their images. Therefore Abraham, our father, chose Mount Moriah, being the highest mount in that country, and proclaimed there the Unity of G-d. He selected the west of the mount as the place toward which he turned during his prayers, because [he thought that] the most holy place was in the West; this is the meaning of the saving of our Sages, “The ‘Shekinah’ (the Glory of G-d) is in the West” (J. T. Baba B 25a); and it is distinctly stated in the Talmud Yoma that our father Abraham chose the west side, the place where the Most Holy was built. I believe that he did so because it was then a general rite to worship the sun as a deity. Undoubtedly all people turned then to the East [worshipping the Sun]. Abraham turned therefore on Mount Moriah to the West, that is, the site of the Sanctuary, and turned his back toward the sun; and the Israelites, when they abandoned their G-d and returned to the early bad principles, stood “with their backs toward the Temple of the Lord and their faces toward the East, and they worshipped the sun toward the East.” (Ezek. viii.16). Note this strange fact. I do not doubt that the spot which Abraham chose in his prophetical spirit, was known to Moses our Teacher, and to others: for Abraham commanded his children that on this place a house of worship should be built. Thus the Targum says distinctly, “And Abraham worshipped and prayed there in that place, and said before G-d, ‘Here shall coming generations worship the Lord’.” (Gen. xxii. 14). For three practical reasons the name of the place is not distinctly stated in the Law, but indicated in the phrase, “To the place which the Lord will choose” (Deut.xii. 11, etc.). First, if the nations had learnt that this place was to be the centre of the highest religious truths, they would occupy it, or fight about it most perseveringly. Secondly, those who were then in possession of it might destroy and ruin the place with all their might. Thirdly, and chiefly, every one of the twelve tribes would desire to have this place in its borders and under its control; this would lead to divisions and discord, such as were caused by the desire for the priesthood. Therefore it was commanded that the Temple should not be built before the election of a king who would order its erection, and thus remove the cause of discord. We have explained this in the Section on judges (ch. xli.).”
As Abraham dwelled in the East, he faced west towards the Temple. Therefore, those who reside in the West face east to also face the Temple.