Photo Credit:

Question: I am a member in a wonderful synagogue, wonderful people, and 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 heating system. Do they have the right to impose their comfort at the expense of our health?

Name withheld
Via email



Synopsis: Previously, we sought to offer the solution that you simply switch seats, and as a matter of greater solution, that those in the synagogue’s interior switch seats with those nearest the windows. However, we noted the problem of makom kavuah, a fixed place; thus if one moves they are no longer at their makom kavuah. We then progressed to a discussion of makom kavuah and sought to prove that the entire synagogue might be considered one’s makom kavuah. Even so, it would seem that either way, some people will be out of their comfort zone.

* * *

Answer: The Torah (Deuteronomy 22:8) warns: “When you build a new house you must build a parapet about your roof for surely one will fall.”

Rambam (Hilchot Rotze’ach u’Shmirat Nefesh chap 21) records this verse as a positive command. Under this command, he includes many things that are dangerous to the person. Even though he does not mention it, we would be remiss if we did not include our case whereby one is sitting by an open window in winter. It is incumbent upon all to take precautions all year long and refrain from all matters that can cause injury to one’s health, and especially in the winter.

Therefore, if one feels that he might suffer by catching a cold, it is obvious that he has to utilize any and all resources available to avoid harm to his health. In our situation, that would mandate that he move away from the window.

King Solomon (Proverbs 22:5) in his divine wisdom states: “Cold drafts are snares in the way of a stubborn person; one who guards his soul will distance himself from them.”

Based on this verse, Ralbag and Metzudas Dovid (ad. loc.) explain that there are situations that one encounters in the course of his travel, among them cold, and one who is wise will take proper precautions to protect himself from them.

Indeed, we find in the Gemara (Bava Batra 144b) that R. Chanina proclaims, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven with the exception of tzinim pachim (cold drafts), and he cites the above verse. Rashi (s.v. “tzinim pachim“) explains like the commentators above that it is within his power to protect himself from cold. He notes that there are others who explain tzinim pachim as [both] cold and heat.

Tosafot (ad. loc. s.v. “hakol biydei shomayim…”) explain that this refers to encountering a [wild beast such as a] lion or a band of thieves, those encounters are decreed from heaven while tzinim pachim are not decreed and therefore one can take the necessary precautions to protect himself against them. However, if a person wishes to be in harm’s way through heat he may do so in spite of the inherent self-inflicted danger. Tosafot cite the Gemara (Berachot 33b) that clearly conflicts with R. Chanina: “All is in the hands of heaven except for yirat Shomayim – fear of heaven. Tosafot resolve that our Gemara is referring to one’s physical well-being while the Gemara there (Berachot) refers to one’s spiritual well-being.

The following Tosafot on our daf (s.v.chutz mi’tzinim pachim’) reflects the second view in Rashi that tzinim pachim refers to cold and heat. Tosafot now question, from the following verse in parashat Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:15) “And Hashem will remove from you every illness; and all the maladies of Egypt that you knew – He will not put them upon you, but will put them upon all your enemies.” The Gemara in Perek HaMekabel (Bava Metzia 107b) says this refers to cold; do we thus understand that even cold is in heaven’s hand? Tosafot therefore explain that this verse means that He will give one the understanding to take heed of the cold and give one the clothing with which to cover oneself [from the cold].

Tosafot cite a Jerusalem Talmud: Antoninus was about to go on the road; he therefore asked Rebbi to pray for him. Rebbi prayed: “May it be His will that He protect you from the cold.” Antoninus said to him; “Is this a prayer? Just add one layer [of clothing] and the cold will depart.” Rebbi replied, “May it be His will that you are protected from heat.” Antoninus responded that this was without doubt a prayer, as the verse (Psalms 19:7) states, “…v’ein nistar me’chamaso – and nothing is hid from His heat.”

From all the above it would seem that perhaps those in the synagogue’s interior (away from the windows) have an argument.

(To be continued)


Previous articleDear Dr. Yael
Next articleA Censored Sefer
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.