Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5764
Distancing Damage to Neighbors - Part I - Introduction
When one thinks about the laws of damages, he usually thinks about payment for clear-cut damages that were either done by accident or by an act of wickedness or vengeance. However, the question often arises when a good man wants to do something which is ostensibly innocuous and unrelated to his friend, yet his friend tries to prevent the action with the claim that he will be damaged by it. Welcome to the world of hilchot shecheinim (the laws of neighbors) and harchakat n’zikin (distancing damages).
There are extensive discussions on these issues in the gemara, with the most focused discussions being in the 2nd perek of Bava Batra. Difficulty in applying the halachot is two-fold. Firstly, the living conditions that exist among neighbors nowadays are very different from those of the times of Chazal. Therefore, significant effort is needed to convert concepts found in the gemara to parallel but different, modern cases. Secondly, some of the halachot may be changed by widespread public agreement to certain practices that were once forbidden or, to the contrary, by widespread opposition to certain practices which were accepted and acceptable in former times.
The beauty of the halachic process is that we can apply our living Torah to new cases in new ways without compromising the integrity of its eternal truths and rules. We will concentrate more on the basic, classic principles in our treatment of the topic than on the ever-changing applications (although we will touch on some of those as well).
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