The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 17 October 2009 / 28 Tishri 5770

Bava Basra 58 - 64

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Sodom and Peeping Tom

The Case: Reuven and Shimon have lived across from each other for several years. One day Reuven decides he wants to build a window in the wall of his home facing Shimon's front yard. Shimon objects on the grounds that this exposure to Reuven's view will infringe on his privacy.
The Ruling: If the window is large enough for Reuven's head to enter it and this window is less than four cubits (the height of an average man standing on tiptoes) he can be prevented by law from building the window in order not to harm his neighbor by limiting his ability to utilize his front yard for personal matters. If this window is higher than four cubits there is a difference of opinion:

Rabbi Zeira rules that in such a case Shimon is restrained from objecting to the window. Since there is virtually no danger that Reuven will look through such a high window, Shimon's unreasonable objection to his neighbor's benefiting without any loss to him is considered an expression of the character of the wicked people of Sodom which we compel him to abandon.

Rabbi Iloa agrees that if there is absolutely no possibility of any loss to Shimon we would indeed consider his objection Sodomite selfishness and would deny him the right to prevent the building of the window. But in this particular case there is the possibility that Reuven may stand upon a chair and look through the his window into Shimon's yard. Shimon is therefore not considered to be expressing the evil character of Sodom but protecting his privacy against even a remote threat of invasion from his neighbor.

The Problem: When two neighbors share a yard between their homes one can compel the other to join him in building a wall between their properties in order to protect their privacy. This wall, however, need not be higher than four cubits. Why are we not concerned in this case that one of the neighbors will stand on a chair and peer over the wall?
The Solution: The yard is an exposed area so the neighbor intent on being a "peeping tom" will be ashamed to be detected by his intended victim while standing on a chair, a deterrent not present in the privacy of his home.

  • Bava Basra 59a

Suburbs and Peeping Tom

People living in a close proximity should avoid having the doors or windows of their homes directly facing those of their neighbors. The source for this consideration of tznius modesty is the Torah's description of what moved Bilaam, who had been hired to curse the Jewish people, to praise them with the tribute of "Mah Tovu" - "How good are your dwellings Israel." (Bamidbar 24:5)

"Bilaam raised his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes." (Bamidbar 24:2)

What did Bilaam see? He saw that the entrances to their tents did not directly face each other. These people, he concluded, are worthy of the Divine Presence resting upon them.

  • Bava Basra 60a

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