Mezuzah

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

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The mezuzah should be put up as soon as possible after moving in, and not later than thirty days. A temporary residence, that is, a place we reside in for less than thirty days, doesn’t require a mezuzah; nor does an office or place of business. A dormitory room, which a student considers a home away from home, should have a mezuzah.

When a family moves it should not remove its mezuzot from the doorpost if its knows that another Jewish family will be moving in subsequently. (If the case is a valuable one, one can substitute another case, but the klaf should remain.) If one knows that a Gentile family is to follow in that place of abode, the mezuzot should be removed, lest they be considered useless and thrown away.

In the Land of Israel, the thirty-day rule for affixing a mezuzah does not apply. There, one should affix a mezuzah to the door when moving in.

How

The mezuzah is affixed to the right side of the door as one enters a room. In other words, if your door swings open from hallway into bedroom, the mezuzah would be nailed to the right-hand doorpost as your face the bedroom from the hall. This is so no matter whether the doorknob is on the right- or left-hand side. It should be placed at the lower part of the top third of the doorpost, which is generally about eyeball height for a six-foot-tall person. It is affixed at a slant, with the lower part of the container toward you as you face the right doorpost.

A mezuzah contains God’s name and therefore great pains are taken to see that it doesn’t fall. The case must be securely attached at top and bottom rather than hanging by a nail from the top of the mezuzah. If the doorpost is too narrow to affix the mezuzah on a slant, it can be attached vertically, but still must be nailed or glued at top and bottom.

The ritual for affixing a mezuzah is very brief and very simple, especially so considering its enduring nature. Mezuzah in one hand, one recites this blessing:

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kiddeshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivvanu likboa mezuzah.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

All those standing about answer “Amen.”

Immediately the mezuzah is nailed or glued to the right doorpost.

That’s it--a thirty-second ritual that lasts the lifetime of tenure in that place….

Is it an Amulet?

One final word about the symbolic status of a mezuzah. The parchment is inscribed on only one side. On its reverse side, only one word appears: Shaddai, one of the names used for God. When the scroll is rolled properly, the “Shaddai” is facing the eye. The letters of “Shaddai,” shin, dalet, yod are also the initials of the phrase shomer daltot yisrael, the Guardian of the doors of Israel.

Partly as a result of this lettering, partly because some people naturally tend toward superstition, the mezuzah sometimes has been accorded the status of amulet, a magical charm. Not only in medieval cultures but even in our day, some would attribute or explain misfortune as linked to the lack of kosher mezuzot.

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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.