Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Sounds of Silence (Not!)

Exactly one month ago, we were putting the final touches on our Sukkahs, which served as our “homes-away-from-home” for the subsequent week. In addition to eating in the sukkah, many people sleep in the sukkah as well, as a component of “living in the Sukkah,” if and when the conditions are right. Indeed, during Sukkot, we are to live in the sukkah in the same manner as we live in our homes the rest of the year.

Suppose a group of people chose to fulfill the mitzvah in its ideal form by sleeping in the sukkah, but one of those individuals snores heavily and the snorer’s presence would prevent the others from sleeping. How would Jewish law handle this situation? Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of Bet El in Israel, analyzed this question.

A principle of the laws of Sukkah is that someone who is very uncomfortable, in Hebrew mitzta’er, is exempt from living in the Sukkah. With the exception of the first night of Sukkot (and the second night outside of Israel to a lesser extent), many people leave the sukkah when it rains, when it is excessively hot or cold or when faced with other impediments to our comfort. According to some contemporary sages (Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and his son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky) those who would be unable to sleep due to snoring, are considered mitzta’er, and as such, would be exempt from sleeping in the sukkah.

Other rabbis disagree. Some feel that this law should not be viewed from the perspective of fulfilling the laws of Sukkot, but rather, seen in the context of basic human decency, that it’s not ok to keep people awake, even inadvertently. As such, the snorer who is causing damage (lack of sleep), should be the one to leave the sukkah.

Rabbi Asher Weiss, a renowned Israeli decisor of Jewish law, offered 3 reasons why the snorer should leave. He argues that there is precedent when performing a mitzvah, that we defer to the majority over the minority. He also feels that the snorer, by leaving the sukkah, allows others to sleep in peace, and, thus, fulfills a mitzvah. Finally, in general, one should not do anything that would prevent others from sleeping.

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