Proper Location and Immersion in a Mikvah

Our sages would put much effort into their prayer preparations.1 The essence of prayer is kavanah—focus and concentration. In order to achieve proper kavanah, it is important to pray in the proper place and with as few distractions as possible. This article focuses on the appropriate location for prayer, as well as the immersion in a mikvah (ritual pool) before prayer. There are additional preparations; they will be discussed in another article, G‑d willing.

In a Synagogue

The ideal place to pray is in a synagogue.2 One should always try to pray with a minyan (congregation);3 but even if one is unable to do pray with a minyan, he should still try to pray in a synagogue.4

Isaac went out of his way to pray in a special, holy placeRabbi Yochanan said5 that the reward for regularly praying in a synagogue, morning and evening, is longevity. Reish Lakish says6 that one who has a synagogue in his city and doesn't attend is called a "bad neighbor." The very air of a synagogue is sanctified due to all the prayers uttered there.7

This concept can be derived from our Patriarch Isaac's prayers. When Isaac prayed the afternoon prayer (which he instituted8), he did so in the "field."9 Some say10 that this is a reference to Mount Moriah. The Zohar11 says that this was the field of Machpela (where his mother, as well as Adam and Eve, were interred).12

Either way, we see that he went out of his way to pray in a special, holy place—where he felt that his prayers would be more easily accepted. And indeed they were, because even before he finished praying, G‑d sent him his righteous wife—Rebecca.13

A Fixed Place

Within the synagogue, or when praying at home for whatever reason, one should always pray in the same spot.14 The Talmud15 derives this from the story of Abraham,16 who, on the morning after Sodom was destroyed, went back to pray to the same spot where he had prayed the previous day to prevent its destruction.17

Various reasons are given for praying in a fixed location:

1) This allows one to concentrate on his prayers rather without the distractions posed by unfamiliar surroundings.18

2) Prayer is compared to the sacrifices offered in the Temple. Just as sacrifices must be brought in a fixed place, so too the prayers must be recited in a fixed place.19

3) A place is further sanctified by each prayer recited therein. This aids the power, and the potential for acceptance, of further prayers.20

A place is further sanctified by each prayer recited thereinIncluded in this principle is that one should always pray in the same synagogue.21 One may, however, have one fixed synagogue for the morning prayers and a different one for the afternoon prayers, or a different synagogue for Shabbat and weekdays.22

Anywhere within the radius of four cubits (approximately six feet) is considered to be within the "fixed place."23

One should not insist on praying in one's fixed place if this will cause an argument.24 Similarly if there's a disturbance that makes it difficult to concentrate, he may pray in a different spot.25

Surrounding Distractions

In order to focus on the prayers, one should not pray in front of a picture, mirror or anything else that might distract one's attention. For this reason, one should not put up pictures, etc., in a synagogue at eye level. Above eye level is permissible. If there's no choice but to pray opposite such objects, one should close their eyes or look into the prayer-book.26

Facing a Wall

While praying (the amidah), there should be nothing separating an individual and the wall.27 This minimizes distractions.28 Also, as mentioned, prayer is compared to a sacrifice brought in the Temple. Just as there could be no separation between the priest and the holy vessels of the Sanctuary, so too there may be no separation between the one praying and the wall.29 The Zohar30 says that the wall alludes to the Shechinah (Divine Presence), to whom we pray directly—with no separations.

If an object has a fixed place (e.g., a piece of furniture), it is not considered a separation. According to most halachic opinions, another person is also not considered a separation, but some are strict even in this regard.31

Immersing in a Mikvah

Ezra the Scribe instituted that a man who had a seminal discharge – during intercourse or otherwise – should go to the mikvah before praying, reciting blessings or studying Torah. The Jewish people found this decree too difficult to keep, so the Sages repealed it.32 Some say the decree was only repealed with regards to Torah study, not in relation to prayer. Although this is not the commonly accepted view, all agree that prayer is more accepted after immersion.33


  • Many chassidim have a custom to immerse every day before prayerA body of water that is the size of a mikvah and is connected to the ground is considered acceptable for this purpose, although the water was drawn through city pipes, etc.34 For this reason, a swimming pool is fine. Nevertheless, the filter should be turned off.35
  • For the purpose of this immersion, it is not necessary to remove substances which appear to be a chatzitzah (intervening substance), e.g., Band-Aids.36
  • It is best not to shower after this immersion. But doing so does not invalidate the immersion.37
  • If one is unable to immerse in a mikvah, one should take a shower for at least three minutes.38

In addition, many chassidim have a custom to immerse every day before prayer – even if they did not experience a seminal discharge – in order to add a greater dimension of purity before praying.39 This is similar to a priest who would immerse before serving in the Temple—even if they had no known impurity.40

One who is unable to immerse in the mikvah but wishes to achieve a level of additional purity should study Mishnah, especially tractate Mikva'ot.41