Facing Doors

Question

Aharon wishes to buy an apartment in a new development
for observant Jews. He is amazed that almost all entrance doors to these
apartments face another entrance door. Does this not contravene the law,
mentioned last week, that non-facing doors are a prerequisite for having
the Divine Presence dwell amongst the inhabitants?


Answer

Reuven and Shimon jointly own the courtyard between
their houses. Reuven wishes to open a window which looks out onto the
courtyard. Shimon can object, since Reuven will be able to see what he is
doing in the courtyard from the window. However, he gives him permission
to do so. Is it now permissible for Reuven to open the window in a
position where it directly faces Shimon’s window? The Shulchan Oruch
(Choshen Mishpot 154:3) rules that permission to open a door or
window does not automatically mean that these can face the neighbour’s
door or window. This would seem to imply that if specific permission had
been given to open a facing door or window, it would be effective.
Nevertheless, one should note that according to the Nesivos (Note
12) opening a facing window is a Torah prohibition. Accordingly, foregoing
one’s rights would be ineffective since the act is forbidden. The Rashbam
states that if Reuven opened the window without Shimon’s permission, the
fact that Shimon has failed to object for many years does not confer any
rights on Reuven to keep his window in its present position. Since there
is no chazokoh (established right) for visual
intrusion, Shimon could demand that the window be closed up even after
many years of silence. The Beis Yosef (154) points out that we do
not rule according to the Rashbam. Thus, if Shimon failed to object
to Reuven opening the window or door until many years had elapsed, his
objection is invalid.

The Remah (quoted by the Tur) draws a
distinction between doors and windows. Chazokoh will not be
effective if a door is built facing the neighbour’s door. Yet, when a
window is opened facing the neighbour’s window, lack of objection does
confer chazokoh rights on the owner. This seems inconsistent. If it
is possible to forego visual intrusion, this should be effective even
where door faces door; if one can not forego visual intrusion, even window
facing window should be forbidden. One must therefore differentiate
between the levels of visual intrusion. Since door facing door creates a
severe visual intrusion, a door opened in contravention of the prohibition
can never gain chazokoh rights. The level of visual intrusion
presented by window facing window is less and chazokoh is therefore
effective. The Sema (Note 10) explains that the Rashbam is
of the opinion that visual intrusion is an absolute Torah
prohibition. It is therefore not up to the individual to forego such
intrusion. The Remah, however, holds that the individual can decide
whether he objects to visual intrusion. Generally, people do object to the
major visual intrusion of door facing door, but not to the lesser
intrusion of window facing window. It would follow that if a neighbour
gave specific permission for door facing door, this would be effective.
The Remo (Ibid.) quotes both opinions. The Shulchan Oruch HaRav
(Nizkei Mommon 12) seems to rule according to the stricter
opinion of the Rashbam.

What is then the justification for building apartments with facing
entrance doors? The Emek Hamishpot (3:10) writes that our
hallways and stairways are not used in the same way as the heavily used
courtyards of the Talmudic period. Entrance doors were left open in those
times, since people were constantly entering the house to fetch and bring
items. Nowadays, entrance doors are basically kept closed, unless someone
knocks on the door to request entry. There is, therefore, no visual
intrusion.