SARA SCHENIRER: A First-Class Option

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CLOSE THE SYNAGOGUE?

By: Rabbi Max Sutton

Abie is the owner of a downstairs apartment and basement of a two-family home. He enjoyed having many of his extended family members live nearby, and when the family suffered the loss of its grandfather, Abie decided to open a small synagogue in his basement for Shabbat services only. Before embarking on the project, he conferred with Joey, his upstairs neighbor, requesting of him permission to open the synagogue. As a gesture of good will and friendship, Joey consented to the opening of a synagogue for the duration of one year. Some two months after the synagogue began operating, Joey phoned Abie and notified him that he was now reneging on the agreement and told him to close the synagogue before the upcoming Shabbat. Abie, whose project was now well underway, refused to comply and the two turned to our Bet Din to resolve the matter. Joey defended his position, explaining that although he consented to the project, he was now suffering from a terrible infringement on his privacy. Abie countered that from the onset he and Joey agreed to no more than thirty people at a time attending services, and he never once violated that agreement. Furthermore, Abie claimed that Joey himself enjoyed the convenience of the synagogue and was a regular congregant until a few weeks ago.

Does Abie have the right to continue to operate the synagogue? Can Joey demand of Abie to close? How should the Bet Din rule and why?

TORAH LAW

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, one is severely restricted from infringing on the privacy of another. Various laws detail what is considered infringement and thus illegal. Disturbing a neighbor by allowing people to continuously enter and exit his property, thereby causing noise and commotion, is a primary example recorded under this restriction.

Interestingly, as opposed to other areas of law, in instances in which one consents to such infringement, he may later renege on his word. The rationale behind this leniency is that although consent was given, it is likely that the victim never fully understood the ramifications of such an agreement. Logically, no one willingly agrees to suffer in the privacy of his own home and thus the consent originally extended is rendered null and void. The victim may rightfully claim that originally, he believed it was possible, but seeing the present circumstances it is far too difficult to uphold. This leniency is limited to specific instances and is not necessarily applicable in other areas of law.

By enactment of our holy sages, local authorities are required to provide a proper educational system for the children of their district. This enactment was instituted to ensure that all Jewish children receive a Torah education. Consequently, this ordinance ensures that the Torah will not be forgotten by our nation. Due to the importance of this enactment, our sages permitted the opening of schools even in the proximity of private homes. While the opening of a school clearly causes noise and commotion, a homeowner may not protest the school’s establishment. By rule of the Shulhan Aruch not only is a homeowner's privacy rights waived in favor of a school, but the same ruling is applicable regarding any mitzvah.
A synagogue, mikveh, and the like, are all considered vital needs of our nation, and a homeowner may not protest their establishment claiming that it infringes on his privacy.

It is important to note, that the only type of institution which is included in this enactment is one which is incumbent on community leaders to provide for the public. If, however, the religious activity or mitzvah is not required, or it only serves a private group, a suffering homeowner may protest its establishment. As per our case at hand, a private synagogue established for an individual family is clearly not a public requirement. In such instances, the family members organizing the shul are instructed to conduct their services in a nearby local synagogue which already serves the public at large. Additionally, a Bet Din will consider applicable zoning laws and regulations before allowing such a synagogue to open.

       VERDICT Relocate the Synagogue

Our Bet Din ruled in favor of Joey, instructing Abie to relocate his private synagogue to the nearest local synagogue that already serves the public at large. As mentioned in Torah law, although the establishment of a synagogue is a mitzvah, nevertheless, since Abie's shul only serves his personal family members, it clearly may not infringe on Joey's privacy. Additionally, the fact that the shul was designated to open for only one year, indicates that it is not serving a vital public need, as multiple shuls serve the public nearby. By Torah law, Abie is restricted from disturbing Joey and his family with the continuous entering and exiting into the side of their home each Shabbat. The noise and commotion of the people and children is a severe infringement of privacy. Although Joey initially consented to the opening of the synagogue, by law, he has the right to renege on his word. Since Joey was initially unaware of the ramifications of such an infringement, his consent was extended under mistaken pretenses and is rendered null and void.