The 5 Towns Jewish Times

The Air Conditioner and Halacha

(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)

It is a debate that reaches, in similar form, back to the times of Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l.   Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita cites proofs against Rav Salanter’s position. But this debate has newer manifestations that may change things around.

There is a Beis Medrash laying deep in the heart of a major Torah community, that houses both a Yeshiva and a Kollel. The Kollel was established many years ago and its members have been learning Torah for many decades – some since the time of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. Some are in their mid-to late fifties. Others in the Kollel are in their sixties and seventies. There are one or two who are in their eighties.

The Yeshiva, however, is relatively new. Its students are much younger – ranging in age from 18 to 20. And while there are two separate groups in the same Beis Medrash – there is only one thermostat. Which brings us to our halachic dilemma.

Apparently, as the human body ages, it is less and less tolerant to colder temperatures.  Thus, the Kollel guys want the temperature to hover around 72 to 74.  The Yeshiva boys would like it to be around 68-70.

OTHER APPLICATIONS

The underlying issue is not limited to that Yeshiva in Monsey. It also applies to Shuls during Yomim Noraim, and office settings that employ both men and women. Fighting over the air conditioner seems to be universal.

THE MITZVAH

The verse in Parshas VaEschanan (Dvarim 6:18), “V’asisa hayashar vehatov and you shall do that which is straight and good” teaches us that we must take into account the opposing view whenever we embark upon something. The Bais Yoseph in Choshain Mishpat 103 uses this verse in this manner as normative halacha. It is a Torah Mitzvah to approach things fairly.

RAV SALANTER’S OPINION

Regarding shutting or opening the windows, Rav Yisroel Salanter ruled that during winter, if someone wishes that the windows be shut – his opinion has preference.  During summer, on the other hand, if someone wishes that the windows be open – then his opinion must be followed.  In both cases this ruling applies even if the vast majority of the others disagree.  Rav Salanter cited a proof to this ruling from the Mishna in Pe’ah 4:1:

“The Peah, corner of the field is given [to the poor] while connected to the ground. It is given from vines and palm trees, and the property owner goes down and collects and distributes them for the poor [because it may be dangerous for the poor people to climb]. Rabbi Shimon says: It is also given for smooth nut trees. Even if ninety-nine [of the poor people] say to distribute and one says to leave it for the poor to take for themselves when they can, we listen to him because he spoke true halacha.”

We see from here that, regarding deviating from the expected norm, the one poor person can force the other ninety nine to take the Peah for themselves and not have the owner do it for them.

RAV CHAIM KANIEVSKY’S OPINION

Rav Chaim Kanievsky in his Sefer on Mishnayos Pe’ah entitled Shaarei Emunah disagrees with Rav Yisroel Salanter and holds that the view of the majority must still be followed.  Rav Kanivsky brings a proof from the conclusion of Mishna Brurah in 53:53.

The Agur and the Maharik (Shoresh 44) citing Rabbi Simcha states that even one individual can prevent another from becoming a Shliach Tzibbur [if he had good reason according to the Ramah and if he had not previously agreed to it].  The Shulchan Aruch codifies this view in OC 53:19.  However, the Mishna Brurah cites the view of the Acharonim that the law of the Shulchan Aruch was specifically in those days, but nowadays, due to the abundance of our sins, there are so many people who are argumentative and confrontational that no one would agree on anything if we were to listen to the minority or individual views – therefore, everything must be done by sticking to the desire of the majority.

Rav Shmuel HaLevi Vosner (1914-2015) zt”l in his Shaivet HaLevi Vol. IX #298 also rules that the will of the majority must be followed in these cases.

The Sefer Mishp’tei HaTorah Vol. I #89 concurs with this view and goes so far as to state that since cold weather is damaging in the winter to others – they are considered like an istenis – one who is particularly sensitive or felixitous and cannot act any differently.  Whomsoever is with the public during these times is there with this in mind and therefore must acquiesce to the desires of the majority.  He bases this on the view of the Shulchan Aruch and Rama in CM 155:39.

While the rule of the majority may apply to windows and fans – this is not necessarily the case regarding air conditioner units.  The Shaivet HaLevi Vol. VIII #307 and Rav Meir Pinchasi in his Toras HaYeshiva page 278 both are the view that air conditioners are fundamentally different than windows and fans and one cannot say that the principle of istenis would apply regarding a modern day air conditioner.

WHAT ABOUT IF PART OF THE ROOM IS COLDER THAN THE OTHERS?

Clearly, when a section of the office, room or shul is air-conditioned and the worker who is too cold has another option – then it is obvious that other worker cannot force those who want it cooler to raise the temperature.  (See Shaivet haLevi Vol. IX #298).

CONCLUSIONS

While there may be halachic parameters as to whose view gets precedence, we must bear in mind that there is another Torah Mitzvah in compromising.  Taking this approach in life and especially during the Yomim Noraim will ensure that we have a positive judgement.  May we all have a kesima vachasima tova.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com