Open – Or Closed?

Question

The residents of 10, Chessed St. are divided. Some want the entrance door
to the building closed during the evening. Others wish it to remain open,
arguing that if the door is closed, this prevents charity collectors from
gaining access to potential donors. (Late at night, all agree it should be
locked.) Who is right?


Answer

The mishna in Tractate Bovo Basro (7a)
informs us: The residents of a courtyard can force each other to participate
in building a guardhouse. What is the function of a guardhouse? Rashi
explains that a guard used to sit in the guardhouse and prevent outsiders
from peeking into the courtyard. The mishna implies that having a
guardhouse is considered an enhancement for the residents. The gemora
challenges this assertion, citing the case of the pious person who ceased
receiving visits from Elijah the Prophet after he erected a guardhouse at
the entrance to his courtyard. Rashi explains that this was a sign of
disapproval, since he thereby prevented the poor from asking for the
residents’ support. The Chazon Ish (Bova Basra 4:7) is puzzled
why it was necessary for the gemora to prove the point that a
guardhouse prevents the poor from collecting donations. Surely this is a
matter of simple logic, without need for corroboration? He answers that this
matter is not so straightforward as it appears. We are confronted with a
conflict of interests. On the one hand, we have the interests of the poor,
as stated above. On the other hand, we wish to preserve the privacy of the
residents. Do their charitable duties really obligate them to suffer the
visual intrusion of strangers circulating in their courtyard? (One must bear
in mind that in those days many household activities took place in the
courtyard.) The pious person was of the opinion that such a sacrifice was
not obligatory. Elijah the Prophet indicated to him that even though there
may not be a legal obligation to allow free access to the poor, this would
be demanded in keeping with the higher standards expected of the pious.
Thus, the gemora asks that even though an individual is entitled to
build a guardhouse at the entrance to his private courtyard in order to
protect himself against visual intrusion, where the courtyard is shared by
several residents the situation is different. If one resident wishes to act
in accordance with the higher level of behaviour described above, the other
residents of the courtyard could not force him to accept construction of a
guardhouse.

Locking the entrance door to an apartment block has a similar effect to
the guardhouse. It prevents the entry of the poor and other charity
collectors. If all residents agree to keep the door locked, they are within
their rights to do so. We can not force them to allow unlimited access to
strangers in order to ensure that charity collectors can knock at their
door. However, if some residents wish to allow such access, they can force
the others to leave the entrance door unlocked. The other residents do not
have the right to prevent them from conducting themselves according to the
higher level of behaviour. One should nevertheless note that this rule would
only apply if all residents of the apartment block were owner-occupiers. Rav
Yitzchok Silberstein (Tuvcha Yabiu, No. 15) brings proof from the
Talmud Yerushalmi
(Ma’aseros 3:3) that one must differentiate
between where the courtyard is inhabited by two partners or a landlord and
tenant. A landlord can impose his will on the tenant. If he wishes to keep
the entrance gate locked, the fact that the tenant would like it open can
not prevent him from carrying out his intentions. Accordingly, only owners’
opinions are taken into consideration. Obviously, if charity collectors can
gain access by means of the intercom, there is no reason why the door should
not be kept locked.