The Politics of the Open Shul Window

We’re taking a break from the growth culture series to explore a deep Shul mystery – How the window became such an explosive issue. Let’s take look at some of the issues involved.

It’s All in the Airflow
Perhaps the only way to prevent window fights is by making a building without windows. If you do build a Shul, make sure you have a good mechanical engineer who is concerned about ac vents, return vents, air flow and multi-zone thermostats. Unfortunately many Shuls skimp in this area. Usually different parts of the Shul experience very different actual temperatures, with those near air vents being cold, while those at a distance are warm.

Body Temperature
Beside building issues, people have different internal thermostats so their acclimation for heat or cold varies. It’s interesting to note that our sensitivity to temperature variations can be very fined tuned and people will feel comfortable at 69 degrees, but will start to feel warm at 70. An unscientific sample informs me that the acceptable range of temperature in New York is between 68 and 71 degrees.

How To Decide
Some people hold that in the summer opening the windows is given preference, while in the winter, it’s the window closers who have the upper hand. Added to the mix is the room stuffiness factor, which can be alleviated with a slight opening. Although it would make sense if thermometers played a role, I haven’t heard of a Shul that uses strategically placed thermometers to drive a decision.

Who Has The Authority
By what authority to open or close the window. Is it
1) the person who sits near the window,
2) the most aggressive window opener/closer
3) a formal decision making process.
In most Shuls it’s not a formal process and perhaps making one would solve many issues.

Some Solutions
I think the two solutions to fix the problem is set a policy based on actual temperature measurement and install thermometers. Then create a committee or a person to enforce the policy. We can never make everybody happy but we can prevent stronger disagreements with a fair policy. In the end our goal is to make sure nobody gets thrown out of the window.

3 thoughts on “The Politics of the Open Shul Window”

  1. When I was a kid, our Jersey Street Shul on the north shore of Staten Island was downwind of a bakery. The Shul had no air conditioning, so, one unusually hot Yom Kippur day, the windows had to be open. Unfortunately, this non-shomer-Shabbos bakery was in full operation that day, so we were treated to some very distracting odors.

  2. Where a shul’s temperature is regulated by central HVAC, then the windows should be closed, unless during the week, for energy conservation, the HVAC system may not be running. In such a case, ventilation by openning the windows is a necessity so that someone learning or davening doesn’t fall asleep or worse in the shul.

  3. I learned a long time ago:

    If a synagogue window is open, then do not close it.
    If a synagogue window is closed, then do not open it.
    If a synagogue air conditioner is on, then do not turn it off.
    If a synagogue air conditioner is off, then do not turn it on.

    To ignore this advice is to risk starting a conflict.

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