man in pajamas hides her head wih pillow

Gezel Sheina: Stealing Sleep

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by R. Ari Enkin

To disturb someone who is sleeping or to prevent someone from falling asleep is a violation of gezel sheina.1 In fact, some sources maintain that stealing sleep is even worse than stealing possessions.2 This is because one who steals another person’s possessions can usually make restitution by returning the stolen items or reimbursing the owner for their value. On the other hand, lost sleep can never be returned.3 Stealing someone’s sleep is also considered to be a form of personal injury.4 It is taught that gezel sheina is so serious that we should really be required to recite Selichot for stealing someone’s sleep!5

The Talmud cites the view of Rav Nachman, who seems to say that one should not wake people up in order for them to pray. It is even forbidden to wake someone up in order for him to attend a minyan, unless he specifically asked to be woken.6 According to most authorities, one should wake someone up in order to recite an obligatory prayer whose time limit will soon expire, such as Kriat Shema.7

A resident of a common courtyard can be prevented from opening a store if the noise generated by the customers will disturb the sleep of the other neighbors.8 One must avoid engaging in any activities late at night that could wake up a neighbor, such as moving furniture or drilling holes. Indeed, one should always take into consideration others in the vicinity who might be ill or otherwise in need of sleep, especially in the evening hours.9 It is said that Rav Yisrael Salanter once criticized one of his students who went out early in the morning to fetch some water in order to wash his hands as is halachically required. To get to the water, the student needed to pass closely alongside the homes of his neighbors. Rav Salanter exclaimed, “Netilat yadayim is only a rabbinical decree, whereas stealing someone’s sleep is a Torah prohibition!”

Some authorities hold that stealing someone’s sleep violates “v’lo tonu ish et amito” (you shall not mistreat your fellow),10 a biblical prohibition known as ona’at devarim.11 While ona’at devarim is generally understood to be a prohibition against upsetting or causing pain to others through speech,12 a number of authorities extend it to include causing others any sort of pain, as well.13 According to this approach, it can be suggested that disturbing someone’s sleep is indeed a Torah prohibition.14 Similarly, a number of authorities assert that gezel sheina is a violation of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (you shall love your fellow as you love yourself), as no doubt you would not want to be woken up, either.15 One may not even learn Torah or perform any other mitzva if it will disturb someone who is sleeping.16 One should also not needlessly wake up or scare animals.17

  1. See Mishneh Halachot 12:443, 14:12. 

  2. Sichot L’sefer Vayikra (Nebenzhal), p. 293. 

  3. Hachafetz Chaim U’pa’alav, vol. 3, p. 105; R. Chaim Ephraim Zaichyk, Hame’orot Hagedolim (1962 edition), p. 376. Cited in Weiner, “Praying with a Minyan on an Airplane.” 

  4. See Meiri, Bava Batra 20b. 

  5. Limnoa Michshol 7:1. 

  6. Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:50. 

  7. Berachot 13b; Divrei Yechezkel, Halichot V’halachot, p. 393; Keren L’David, OC 18. 

  8. Bava Batra 20b. 

  9. Shevet Halevi 7:224. 

  10. Vayikra 25:17. 

  11. Sma, CM 227. See also Weiner, “Praying with a Minyan on an Airplane.”  

  12. Bava Metzia 58b. 

  13. Sefer Yira’im 180; Sha’arei Teshuva, 3:24; Sefer Hachinuch 338. 

  14. Keren L’David, OC 18; Darchei Choshen 235; Pitchei Choshen 4:15, n. 3, s.v “B’sefer”; Shulchan Aruch Hamekutzar 8:217. 

  15. Vayikra 19:18. See Mishneh Halachot 12:443, 14:199. See Derech Sicha, vol.1, p. 367; Halichot Chaim, vol. 2, p. 168, for more on this. 

  16. Shevet Halevi 7:224. See, however, Mishneh Halachot 14:200 for an alternative view. 

  17. See “V’darashta V’chakarta: Gezel Sheina to a Cat?” Revach L’Neshama, 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

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