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Question: I am a member in a wonderful synagogue, wonderful people, and a wonderful rabbi very convenient to my home. As the community is small it is only one of four congregations in our town. Every winter, we run into the same problem: those of us who sit closest to the windows have to suffer the windows being open because those sitting away from the windows, more to the center of the sanctuary, claim they are too hot from the heat of the heating system. Do they have the right to impose their comfort at the expense of our health?

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Answer: When I first received your query, I instantly thought of a Solomonic solution. Let those away from the window switch seats with those close to the windows, then all will be happy. However, there is another matter to contend with – that one must have a fixed place for his prayer – a makom kavuah (Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 5:6, based on the view of R’ Huna, Berachot 6b). “One who sets a place for his prayer the G-d of Abraham comes to his aid, as the verse (Genesis 19:27) states: ‘And Abraham arose early in the morning to go to the place where he stood before the L-rd.’”

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim, 90:19) is more specific in this rule and opts for strictness in this regard as he says: “One is to set a specific place for his prayer, that he shall not change if not for a need and it is not sufficient in that he fixes a specific synagogue for his prayer, rather even in the synagogue itself he must have a specific place for his prayer.

As such, it would seem that this is a biblical requirement. If so, how would one be able to switch places with another as each would not be praying in his makom kavuah. Kesef Mishna (ad loc. sv ‘v’kovea makom l’tefilato, citing Rosh) explains that we do not read into this halacha that if one has two synagogues in his area that he must pray only in one; rather, it means in the synagogue itself he must have a set place for his prayer.

Rabbeinu Yonah (Berachot 6b) challenges this reading of the concept of makom kavuah as he explains that makom kavuah does not mean a specific spot in the synagogue, since the entire synagogue is a place – that makom for prayer. The Gemara (Chullin 91b) expounds the verse in Parashat Vayetze (Genesis 28:11) “And he reached the place and he rested there as the sun had set and he took of the stones of the place and arranged them about his head and he lay in that place.” From here we learn that the entire land of Israel was condensed and placed under Jacob. And the Gemara (supra, Berachot 26b) derives that “bamakom – the place,” means the makom haMikdash – the place of the Temple. Thus, not only was the entire land of Israel gathered under but this obviously included the Temple; consequently, it is referred to as one place.

Rather makom kavuah as a specific spot refers to a spot in one’s home, for at times one might not be able to go to the synagogue and in that event, when he prays at home he is to establish a specific place where he prays.

As for the need to set aside a specific place at home for his prayer, Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chayyim 90: sk 18) explains that this is in order that those in his household do not disturb him during his prayer. It would seem that we read into his words that even in this regard it is not an absolute, as one’s entire home is considered his Daled Amot – his four cubits; rather, we fear that he might be disturbed in the course of his prayer.

Thus, an exchange of seats might be a solution.

With all the above in mind, I thought a simple exchange of places would resolve the entire matter. However, I rethought and realized that while you might end up being more comfortable, the person with whom you switched places might, in turn, be the one to ask your same question. I also suspect that if your membership would invest in a new heating system that would more evenly distribute the heat, there would be less need for any open windows. However, it seems from your question that that is not happening.

In any event, I’ve noticed that even with more modern forced air heating/air conditioning systems, there is more often than not a draft – hot or cold – and so one sitting near the vent would encounter the same problem, as it would be the equivalent of being near an open window.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.