Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume II : Number 26
"Close The Window!"
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.
- 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)
- 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).
- 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.
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
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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
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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!