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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
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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. We then discussed the matter of cold drafts which in the course of one’s travels or activities can be harmful to one’s health, and how King Solomon (Proverbs 22:5) counsels that the wise take proper precautions when encountering such weather. “Tzinim pachim b’derech ikesh shomer nafsho yirchak me’hem – Cold drafts are snares in the way of a stubborn person; one who guards his soul will distance himself from them.” We noted (citing Bava Batra 144b) that everything is in the hands of heaven, with certain exceptions: “Tzinim pachim – cold drafts,” and, as Tosafot (ad loc) noted, “Yirat Shamayim – fear of heaven.” Thus “cold” involves both physical and spiritual matters about which we must be ever vigilant.

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Answer: In seeking a solution to your dilemma I searched through various responsa, and I found the Responsa Me’ah She’arim authored by HaGaon Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein (Yoreh De’ah siman 211). He was asked a similar question, with one caveat: Though it was winter, the conditions in that situation were decidedly different. The question in viewing his response is whether his solution can be applied to your situation as well.

In the situation presented to Rabbi Zilberstein, it was winter but unusually warm for a winter’s day; nevertheless, there were seasonable winds and in the crowded Beit Midrash where many talmidim and kollel yungerleit were learning it was unusually warm. For whatever reason, it was not possible to turn on the air-conditioning. Those sitting in the center of the Beit Midrash were unusually uncomfortable due to the heat, while those closest the windows found the winds that entered the window extremely uncomfortable. Each side of this equation had strong arguments in seeking their own comfort. The question was how to strike some sort of balance.

At the outset, Rabbi Zilberstein cites our Tosafot (Bava Batra 144b) and the incident of Antoninus and Rebbe. As noted earlier, one who encounters cold has more options than one who encounters (excessive) heat. For cold, as Antoninus himself suggests, one has only to add layers of clothing, but when one encounters heat, no matter how many layers one removes (aside from the matter of modesty), one might still be uncomfortable.

Now one must take into account that a warm day in the winter is very different from a warm day in the summer. In the winter when it is warm it is moderately so, and at night it usually cools off (unlike summer when the heat differential between day and night is minimal.) Thus, those coming into the Beit Midrash early in the morning and staying until late will come dressed for winter.

Rabbi Zilberstein now suggests that those closest to the window add layers of clothing such as sweaters. Thus he seems to give preference to the comfort of those sitting away from the windows. Especially when the sun is warm, there is no escaping the heat generated (especially in a crowded room). Now if it is only a matter of comfort – that some find the heat uncomfortable while some find the cold uncomfortable, nonetheless sitting with an overcoat (for long periods) is also not very comfortable. If one is to argue “let us follow the majority,” that rule certainly can’t apply, as the yeshiva is equally responsible for every student’s needs and well-being. What would you tell them? That they leave?

Rabbi Zilberstein now cites the Gemara (Sanhedrin 32b): “Two boats were sailing along a narrow river (probably headed in opposite directions or even the same direction), and they came upon each other; if both proceed at the same time, both will sink, but if one makes way for the other, both will pass. Similarly, two camels that met on the ascent to Beit Choron, if both seek to ascend at the same time [on that narrow path], both will surely fall. What to do? The one that is [more] laden and other not [or less] laden, the one not laden gives way to the one laden, or if one is closer to its city and the other furthest [from] its city, the closer gives way to the further. What if they are equidistant to their destinations? They are to draw lots, and one should compensate the other.”

Meiri (Sanhedrin ad loc) explains that the reasoning for the Gemara’s rule is that when we see that one can withstand the delay longer, that one makes way for the other, and similarly, a healthy person makes way for one who is ill.

Now Rabbi Zilberstein suggests a not-so-novel solution. We are to take a totally neutral person (from the outside) whose honesty is without question, and have him sit for an hour next to the window and then one hour in the center of the Beit Midrash, and he will accurately assess the degree of suffering of each side. Obviously, that side to which he assigns less discomfort will have to accommodate the other. Now if it is impossible to measure, then he suggests that there be a revolving solution, for a short period the window be open and then be closed – let’s say for a half hour each way, since (in Rabbi Zilbestein’s view) one can tolerate the cold for half an hour. This solution is, of course, when neither of them is ill, but if there is one person who is ill and it disturbs him greatly, we look to keep him as comfortable as possible. Again, for the reason above, the yeshiva has to satisfy those who are ill just as it seeks to satisfy those who are well.

Now returning to your situation where it is cold outside and the heating system leaves the synagogue uncomfortably warm, if not for an open window or two and no one is ill, then the best solution is for you to change seats toward the interior of the synagogue, as we can look upon the entire synagogue (as in the view of Rabbeinu Yonah) as being one’s makom kavuah.


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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.