Question: May a man have yichud in a back room (e.g., a den) of a house when the front door to the house is open?
Short Answer: Yichud is permitted in a back room if the front door to the house is open (or according to some poskim, merely unlocked) and the back room is open directly to the front room. There are some poskim, though, who might permit it even if the door to the back room is closed (but unlocked).
I. The Open Door
The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) states that we are not “concerned” for yichud where the door is open to the r’shus ha’rabim (the public thoroughfare, i.e., the street). The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:9) codifies this halachah, ruling that if the door is open to the street, there is no problem to have yichud. The language of the Shulchan Aruch implies that one can even ideally (l’chatchilah) have yichud when the door to the house is open to the street.
The Tzitz Eliezer (6:40:11:11) notes that the language of the Rambam implies the opposite. The Rambam (Hilchos Isurei Biah 22:12) writes that if one is in a situation of yichud and the door to the house is open, there is no concern that he violates the prohibition of yichud. This implies that one may not ideally place himself in such a situation (i.e., l’chatchilah), but if he is in such a situation, there is no prohibition. Interestingly, while the Aruch HaShulchan (22:6) appears to adopt the understanding of the Rambam (even though he does not cite the Rambam), the Tzitz Eliezer states that this opinion is against the majority of poskim, including the simple understanding of the Shulchan Aruch, that it is even permitted l’chatchilah.
The sefer Shaar HaYichud (22:9, Darchei Elyashiv 3) queries whether Rashi holds that one can ideally (l’chatchilah) have yichud when the door to the house is open to the street. As we discussed in a previous article (Yichud #5), Rashi holds that a woman cannot ideally have yichud by relying on the leniency that her husband is in the city. Since the Gemara employs the same language (“ein chosh’shin”) for both cases, perhaps Rashi is strict in the case of the open door, as well.
However, the Shaar HaYichud cites the Chida, as well as other poskim, who rule leniently, that even Rashi would agree that one can ideally have yichud when the door to the house is open to the street. Indeed, the Sheivet HaLevi (5:203:7) distinguishes between the two cases. In the case of the husband, it is a permitted yichud (and thus Rashi is strict), while in the case of the open door, it is not even yichud, as they are not secluded.
II. The Reason for the Leniency
The sefer Hilchos Yichud (Rav Reisner, p. 49) cites a machlokes Rishonim why yichud is permitted when the door to the house is open. The Ri Mi’Loniel explains that yichud is permitted because the fear that a passerby can see into the house deters any improper behavior. On the other hand, the Rashba permits it because there is a chance that someone will enter into the house (with or without permission).
One potential ramification of this machlokes is whether it is permitted to have yichud in a house with an unlocked, but closed, door. According to the reason of the Rashba (that someone may enter), this leniency should apply even when the door is simply unlocked, even if it is closed. Indeed, the Rashba himself writes that the leniency applies in such a case, and cites a proof from a tersely-worded Gemara (Yerushalmi K’subos 7:6) that states: “When the door is locked, the woman is a sotah [i.e., something improper occurred].” The implication is that there is nothing improper about the door being closed, as long as it is unlocked. The Ridvaz (cited in the Pischei T’shuvah, Even HaEzer 22:8) adopts this Rashba, as do numerous Acharonim, including the Binyan Tzion (138) and the Maharsham (2:76).
The Chazon Ish (cited in Hilchos Yichud, p. 43) likewise rules that there is no problem of yichud when the door is unlocked, but for a slightly different reason. He writes that yichud is permitted because of the fear of the public, i.e., the very fact that someone could enter, even if he or she likely won’t enter, the house.
On the other hand, the Beis Meir and Rabbi Akiva Eiger (also cited in Pischei T’shuvah, 22:8) rule that yichud is only permitted when the door is actually open to the house. They suggest that there is an error in the text of the Rashba, and while there is only a concern for something improper if the door is locked, there is still a prohibition of yichud when the door is simply closed, even if unlocked. See Hilchos Yichud (p. 144). This opinion presumably understands that the leniency of the open door is limited to open doors because passersby will be able to see inside the house.
As an aside, the Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer 4:65:4) has a unique interpretation, ruling that yichud is even permitted when the door is locked, as long as people could potentially knock on the door. Since it is accepted practice to open the door when there is a knock, the people having yichud inside will be afraid to do anything improper lest there is a knock on the door and they will “have” to open the door. [However, Rav Moshe does acknowledge that if people do not frequently knock, the only leniency is where the door is open and not merely unlocked.]
However, many attack Rav Moshe on this point. The Ohel Yaakov (Yichud, p. 96) cites the Nit’ei Gavriel and Rav Asher Weiss shlita who both question whether a person inside the house always answers the door, for example if he is on the phone, and especially if he is doing something improper inside! They, therefore, rule against this Igros Moshe.
III. Relying on the Leniency Nowadays
Hilchos Yichud (p. 44) cites the Sheivet HaLevi (5:203) and other poskim who are machmir nowadays, that the door must be open, especially because it is highly unusual nowadays for a stranger to walk into someone else’s unlocked house.
Indeed, the sefer Ohel Yaakov (p. 97) cites many Acharonim who rule that this leniency only applies where the door is open, including the Minchas Yitzchak (7:73), T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (2:657), Emes L’Yaakov (Even HaEzer 22, n. 8), and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l.
IV. In the Den
A final issue to consider is whether one may have yichud in a back room where the front door to the house is open.
As an initial matter, the reasoning of the Chazon Ish – that there is an inherent fear to inhabitants when the door is open – would seemingly allow yichud here. See Hilchos Yichud (ibid). But what about according to those poskim who require an open door: Does an open front door – which allows visibility into the front of the house – protect yichud in the back, and non-visible, room?
The Divrei Sofrim (p. 106) cites the Binyan Tzion and others who explain that, according to the poskim who require open (and not merely unlocked) doors, yichud is only permitted in a room that is visible from the front door. The Divrei Sofrim, however, queries whether this is correct. It is possible that even the poskim who require open doors understand that the leniency is based on the fear that a stranger could enter the house and, as such, the leniency should apply anywhere in the house that a stranger could walk. [But, the Divrei Sofrim concludes with “tzarich iyun” and doesn’t give a definitive lenient ruling].
Similarly, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 95) cites Rav Asher Weiss shlita as suggesting that the Yad Ramah agrees with the above interpretation – that the poskim who require an open door understand that the leniency is based on someone entering, and as such, yichud in the back room is also permitted, and yichud is permitted even if the door is only open a little.
The Nit’ei Gavriel (Yichud, 32:2-3) sets forth the general rule that yichud is permitted in any room that is accessible directly from the front room.
Next Week’s Topic: May a man have yichud when his young son or daughter is sleeping in another room?