If you have ever had a noisy neighbor or lived next door to a construction site, then you know how frustrating it can be to lose sleep because of someone else’s actions. In order to protect citizens from being disturbed (or from loud domestic fights), many municipalities actually have noise laws determining from what time in the night until what time in the morning one must refrain from loud noises.

This topic, sometimes referred to in Jewish sources as gezel sheina (stealing sleep),  actually comes up in discussions of Jewish law. It is agreed upon by all that one should not wake another person unnecessarily. In fact, there is a source for this concept in the Talmud: “Rabbi Nachman said to his slave Daru: ‘For the first verse [of Shema] prod me, but do not prod me for any more.’” (Talmud Brachot 13b). Prod, in this case, means to awaken someone from sleep and implies a discomforting act.

The rabbinic discussions revolved around the fact that the exact commandment or transgression involved is unclear. The use of the term gezel refers to an act of theft, and, most famously, the Chofetz Chaim – (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagen, and lived from 1838-1933) – is noted as saying that gezel sheina is the worst type of theft because it cannot be repaid. Theft, however, implies the loss of something tangible. In contrast, the prohibition of waking someone is frequently associated with the commandments of “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and “Do not mistreat your fellow” (ibid. 25:17).

Whatever the reason for the prohibition, one should keep in mind to be considerate of others when hosting a party, beginning a renovation project or even just having a late night telephone shmooze.

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