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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume II : Number 26

"Close The Window!"


Question:

Reuven recently began a new job in an office. Since he loves the outdoors and fresh air, it is important to him that the windows remain open when he works. However, his co-workers are complaining that the draft disturbs them and is causing them to catch colds. They would like to know what Halachic approach to take to help them resolve this dispute.


Answer:

  1. A. In the winter months, even if only one worker would like the window closed and the majority of the workers would like it to remain open, it must be closed. During the summer the opposite is true. Even if only one worker wants the window open against the majority that want it closed, it must remain open. This is true even if this might cause one of the people who want it closed to catch a cold. (1)

  2. B. During the spring and fall, if everyone involved is healthy, they have equal rights and must come to some sort of compromise.

    However, if one person is not well, he has the upper hand and the healthy workers must abide by his wishes.

    The same rules would apply when traveling with public transportation, or studying and praying in a synagogue or Bais HaMedrash (study hall).

  3. C. Although we have discussed a person's rights according to Halacha, the Jewish nation is a holy people who have the trait of Gemilus Chassadim - loving kindness - ingrained in their genes as an inheritance from our forefather Avraham. Therefore, each person must do his utmost to accommodate the wishes of his co-workers, and not allow any suffering or dispute result from insisting on his rights.


Sources:

1) The Gemara in Bava Basra (22b-23a) tells a story about Rav Yosef and his neighbor. Rav Yosef's neighbor was a doctor and would blood-let his patients in a private yard which adjoined Rav Yosef's yard. As a result of this, ravens would be attracted to Rav Yosef's yard, and would roost on his palm trees, soil his dates and chatter in a loud manner. Since Rav Yosef was very sensitive and disturbed by this, he requested that his neighbor refrain from bloodletting patients in the yard. The Gemara concludes that Rav Yosef was within his rights to request this, and this is stated as the Halacha in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 155:39).

The Rema there adds that this is true regarding any discomfort caused by a person to his neighbor which is difficult for the neighbor to endure. In this situation we look at it as if the person causing the discomfort is "shooting his arrows" (Girei Dilei) at the neighbor, and he is responsible to stop this action which is causing the discomfort, rather than tell the neighbor to move.

Consequently, in our case, since most people require fresh air and a breeze in the summer, and prefer windows to be closed in the winter, they are considered sensitive regarding this, and anyone who demands the opposite is causing discomfort, and is not permitted to do so.

The Chazon Ish (Choshen Mishpat 13:11) discusses a case where two neighbors living in an apartment building are having a dispute. One of the tenants was not well and was an insomniac, and the slightest noises at night would wake him. He therefore complained that the other neighbor had an infant that would cry at night, awaking him and aggravating his illness. The Chazon Ish rules that any time a person is using his property in a normal manner, even if the use will damage someone else who is ill and very sensitive, the person can not be prevented from normal use, even if the sensitive neighbor moved in first. The reason for this is because, anyone who moves into an apartment building or any property that neighbors someone else, understands and accepts that the other property owners will be making normal use of their personal property. Since it is normal for infants to cry at night, the ill neighbor can not say that they are "shooting arrows" at him and he must move if he does not want to be disturbed.

Therefore, when people join together in a working environment, they do so with the understanding that it will be conducted according to the preferences of most normal people, i.e. on warm days the windows will be opened (unless there is air conditioning) and on cold days they will be closed. Even though some people may be sensitive and require that the windows be closed when most people wish them to be open, they can not Halachically insist that the windows be closed, even if this will result in their illness. The fact that they have agreed to work in this environment indicates that they understand and agree that the climate will be determined by what is comfortable for the average person.

However, during the spring and fall, when it is not clear that most people prefer the windows closed or open, a person who is sensitive to either one can capitalize on this and argue that he is being damaged and the windows must be closed (or opened, whatever the case may be). We can not reply to him that he agreed to work in this environment with this understanding, as we can during the summer or winter. However, if it is only an issue of comfort and no one will become ill because of this, neither has preference, and they must find some way to amicably resolve the issue.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval.

We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!

 






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