- Question: [Monday, 17th Menachem Av 5781]
Our summer vacation home is in an area that is adjacent to a barn and quite often the smell of the barn carries over to the location of our home. Is it permitted for me to learn or Daven or say a blessing when the smell is around, and does it make any difference if I am already so used to the smell that I don’t really notice it anymore?
This is indeed a serious problem that does not have a solution that works according to all Poskim, and therefore initially one should avoid entering himself into the situation and not rent a vacation home in such vicinities. Practically, during times that one can smell the awful stench of the barn one is to avoid learning Torah or praying until the stench leaves or he enters into an area that does not smell, although in a time of need one may be lenient to spray air freshener in the room to overcome the smell. Likewise, in a time of need, one may be lenient if he is no longer conscious of the smell due to becoming accustomed to it.
Explanation: It is biblically forbidden to pray within four cubits of feces, or within its site, or smell. Accordingly, it is forbidden to say a blessing in a chicken coop due to the stench even if one is a distance of four cubits from any actual fees and the feces are covered, and thus we find a discussion in the Poskim as to what a Shochet is to do regarding saying a blessing prior to slaughtering. The Achronim conclude that the same also applies to a barn that has a very bad smell. Now, the Poskim rule that even one who has lost his sense of smell is still prohibited in prayer and learning, and from here we can learn that the prohibition applies even to a person who becomes used to the smell and is not conscious of it, so long as other people can still smell it. Now, regarding if one who is outside of the chicken coop and barn and can smell the awful odor is also included in this prohibition, this falls under the discussion of whether the prohibition of prayer and learning applies even when the feces is in a different domain altogether. Practically, regarding this matter of feces in another domain, we rule that while one may be lenient regarding it being within his four cubits, and according to the main opinion one may even be lenient regarding having it in one’s view, we are not lenient regarding its smell. And hence, if the bad odor reaches one’s nose, then it is forbidden to pray or learn Torah even if the feces is in another domain. Based on all this, it is clear that one who can smell the bad stench from a nearby barn or chicken coop is prohibited in learning Torah and praying, even if he is in a totally different area, such as inside of his home.
The law if one overcomes the smell: It is unclear if in the above case one may be lenient if he personally cannot smell the odor of the barn or chicken coop, such as if he has lost his sense of smell, or is used to the smell and is hence no longer conscious of it, or sprays air freshener in the room to overcome the smell. On the one hand, the Poskim rule that if feces were removed from a room but the smell was yet to dissipate, then one who doesn’t have a sense of smell may pray and learn, and perhaps the same would apply regarding if the feces is in another room. On the other hand, perhaps in the case that the smell itself is still coming from its source, such as in the case that the feces is in another room and dissipating its smell, then perhaps it is more stringent, and hence indeed we do not find that the above Poskim write this allowance also regarding this case. Thus, the question remains as to whether feces that is in another domain, and the same would apply regarding covered feces, has the status of a smell that does not have a source, of which lack of smell, irrelevant of reason, permits praying and learning Torah, or if it has the status of biblical feces of which overcoming the smell does not help. Practically, the Poskim debate this matter, with some ruling that it does have the status of a smell without a source, of which overcoming the smell validates prayer and learning Torah, and with other Poskim being stringent. Opinion of Admur: From Admur, the above question remains unclear, as he clearly writes a more stringent tone of prohibition in the case that the feces is dissipating its smell from another room versus if it was removed from the room and its smell has yet to leave the room, as well as he clearly defines Reiach Sheiyn Lo Ikkur specifically as a case of one who releases gas which seemingly comes to exclude the case of where the feces is covered or in another room as write other Poskim. Although, on the other hand, he also writes very precisely that the prohibition in another room only applies if the smell reaches his nose, hence implying that if he doesn’t smell it for whatever reason, then there is no prohibition applicable. Vetzaruch Iyun, although practically it seems that according to his opinion one is to be stringent!
Sources: See Admur 79:2 [that even one who has lost his sense of smell is prohibited in prayer and learning if other people can smell it, and the same would apply regarding one who became used to the smell.]; 79:4-5 [regarding feces in another domain, that if can smell is forbidden, and makes no mention of allowance for one who cannot smell]; 79:6 [regarding that if the feces was removed from the room but the smell has yet to dissipate, then one who doesn’t have a sense of smell may nonetheless be lenient]; 79:9 [regarding that a chicken coop has a status of feces being that it has a very bad stench]; 79:11 [regarding the exact definition of Reiach Sheiyn Lo Ikkur]; Michaber 79:1-2; 7; Rama Y.D. 19:1 regarding blessing in slaughterhouse; M”B 79:5 regarding sewage smell; 85:7 regarding one who becomes used to the smell; Kaf Hachaim 79:20 in name of Pesach Hadvir and Chesed Lealafim regarding spraying a good scent; See regarding the status of covered feces or feces in another room and if it has the same leniencies as Reiach Sheiyn Lo Ikkur: Rashba, brought in Beis Yosef 79 [lenient]; Perisha 79:1[lenient]; Rokeaich 323 [stringent]; Admur 79:11 [implies to be stringent]; Elya Raba 79:10 [stringent]; Chayeh Adam 3:22[stringent]; Tehila Ledavid 79:8 [lenient]; M”B 79 Hakdama Din 7 and 79:18 [lenient in time of need]; Biur Halacha Poskim in Kaf Hachaim 79:1; Maharsham 2:38; Minchas Yitzchak 8:9; Shevet Halevi 3:17; 4:157; Nishmas Avraham 79; Tzitz Eliezer 12:12;20:11; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 79:1-2, 4-6; Regarding the status of a barn: See Chayeh Adam 3:6; Kitzur SHU”A in Peas Hashulchan 5:6; Biur Halacha 79:6; Piskeiy Teshuvos 79:7