Chof Hei Teives, 5775
The members of an early-twentieth-century shul once decided to renovate the ezras nashim, which was located in a small, cramped room adjacent to the ezras anashim. The proposed plan entailed elevating the roof of the ezras nashim, which would cause two-thirds of the height of the shul's windows to be obscured, significantly decreasing the illumination of the shul. Were they allowed to continue with their plans?
The rov of the community, R. Dov Te'omim, sent a letter to the famous Galician gaon, R. Meir Arik, detailing the question under discussion. One possible issue was the halachah that one may not destroy any portion of a shul (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 152:1). Perhaps obstructing the windows, thus diminishing their ability to illuminate the shul, was tantamount to destroying them?
R. Meir brings a proof that this might indeed be the case from a law dealing with an eved kna'ani. An eved kna'ani earns his freedom if his master strikes him and severs one of his limbs. The gemara states that if a master struck his slave on the eye and blinded him, the slave has earned his freedom, because disabling the eye is equivalent to severing it (Kiddushin 24b). The same can be said in this case as well: obstructing the windows is the same as breaking them and should be forbidden.
However, one can reach the opposite conclusion by examining the very same gemara. The gemara continues that if the slave can continue to see with his eye, he does not earn freedom. Even if his eyesight has suffered as a result of the blow, being that some quality of sight remains, the eye is not viewed as having been removed.
This rationale can be applied to our case as well. Although the ezras nashim will obstruct the windows of the ezras anashim, the windows will still retain their capacity to illuminate the shul to some degree, by allowing light to enter the shul via the outside windows of the ezras nashim. The renovations are thus not to be seen as an act of destroying the windows.
There is an additional problem, based on the premise of horadah mikedushah chamurah likedushah kalah-decreasing the holiness of an object. Until now, the windows had served the ezras anashim; now, they will serve the ezras nashim as well, which possesses a lesser degree of holiness. B'ezras Hashem, in the next issue we will see if this reason might call for them to withdraw their plans.