Mezuzah

A mezuzah declares: the people who dwell here live Jewish lives.

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Reprinted with permission from How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, published by Simon & Schuster.

A Jewish household is created by the people who live in it--by the way they act, the things they do and don’t do, the beliefs they hold. To a great extent, a Jewish way of life is a portable faith: you can take it with you anywhere you go. This is true for Shabbat, kashrut, Taharat Hamishpachah [family purity laws], daily prayer, and study of Torah. 

It is generally accepted that Judaism as a religion is more oriented to holiness of time than holiness of place. There are many occasions we sanctify, but very few places we call holy.

Is that the whole truth? Not at all, for the very place in which we live, our permanent residence, is sanctified. This is achieved through a very concrete ritual, through the mitzvah of mezuzah.

Origins

Mezuzah is of Biblical origin and therefore carries great weight. “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of our house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:20). What is to be inscribed? Divine instruction is very clear: “The words that I shall tell you this day”: that you shall love your God, believe only in Him, keep His commandments, and pass all of this on to your children.

Thus, a mezuzah has come to refer also to the parchment, or klaf, on which the verses of the Torah are inscribed (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21). Mezuzah refers as well to the case or container in which the parchment is enclosed. A mezuzah serves two functions: every time you enter or leave, the mezuzah reminds you that you have a covenant with God; second, the mezuzah serves as a symbol to everyone else that this particular dwelling is constituted as a Jewish household, operating by a special set of rules, rituals, and beliefs.

Before describing the act of affixing a mezuzah, let us examine some of its attendant laws:

The klaf must be hand-lettered by a kosher scribe--one who is observant of halakhah (Jewish law) and who qualifies for the task. The case or container, on the other hand, has not special requirements. It can be purchased or homemade; it can be of any size or shape or material. The scroll is rolled up from left to right so that when it is unrolled the first words appear first. The scroll is inserted into the container but should not be permanently sealed because twice in seven years the parchment should be opened and inspected to see if any of the letters have faded or become damaged.

Where and When

A mezuzah should be fixed to the doorpost of ever living space in the house, not just the entrance door. Any room that has two doorposts and an overhead lintel requires a mezuzah, so one should check with a rabbi. Bathrooms, closets, laundry room, boiler room, and so forth, however, do not require a mezuzah.

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Blu Greenberg

Blu Greenberg is the founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. She was also the Conference Chair of both the first and second International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy. She is the author of Black Bread: Poems After the Holocaust, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, and On Women and Judaism: A View From Tradition.