Ask the Expert: What Are the Customs for a New Home?

How do I make move-in day Jewish?

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Question: Are there any Jewish traditions (besides hanging a Mezuzah) when a person buys a new house?
–Tara, New York

Ask the Expert JewishAnswer: Sometimes it seems like Jewish tradition has a suggested ritual for just about everything, from giving a child a haircut to ending the workweek. But you’re right that there aren’t a lot of rituals set up for moving into a new home.

That said, hanging a mezuzah is actually quite a big deal. Many people wait to finish hanging the mezuzot in their home until they’re ready to have a housewarming, and then they have their friends and neighbors come help them in performing the mitzvah. Ideally the mezuzah for the front door should be hung immediately upon moving in, but there is a grace period of 30 days.

If you’re not ready to hang all of your mezuzot quite yet, another important part of moving into a house or apartment can be kashering your kitchen. Depending on your level of observance, this can mean anything from taking a blowtorch to every metal surface, to pouring boiling water on countertops, to simply cleaning the kitchen thoroughly and unpacking your dishes.

Still, I figured there had to be some more creative and interesting ways of incorporating Jewish ritual into a big move, so I consulted with Joan Katz, a Jewish real estate agent in Chicago. She has seen a variety of moving and new home rituals, including leaving a corner or small section of a home unpainted, in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. This tradition goes back as far as the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 560:1), and can be a poignant action, particularly if you’re moving in the summer, as Tisha B’Av approaches.

Another possibility is to hang a mizrah plaque, a piece of artwork that goes on the eastern wall of the home to indicate which direction to face when praying. You can buy these in most Judaica stores, online, or make one yourself.

Joan also reminded me of the famous verse in Deuteronomy (22:8) “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” This mitzvah is about ensuring the safety of our family and neighbors. Though it has often been interpreted metaphorically, leading people to build figurative fences around actions that might lead to sinning, it can also be taken literally, as a commandment to make sure that our homes are safe.

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