Question: Are there any Jewish traditions (besides hanging a mezuzah) when a person buys a new house?
–Tara, New York
Answer: Sometimes it seems like Jewish tradition has a suggested ritual for just about everything, from giving a child a haircut to ending the work week. 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 (plural of mezuzah) 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 (making it kosher). 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 Shulchan Aruch (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 mizrach 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.
If you’re moving into a new home, it’s a good idea to check out all of the various risks on your property, from an unsafe roof, to a swimming pool, to windows without guardrails. If you have children, consider taking them on a tour of the new house and pointing out ways to avoid danger.
On a related note, Joan emphasized the importance of smoke detectors. “It may not directly be a Jewish law, but working smoke detectors have repeatedly been proven to save lives. So before you sleep in the home for the first time, why not make this often overlooked act of pikuach nefesh [saving a life] part of a moving in ritual?” That’s an excellent point. The first night in the house is also a great time to find out about any back doors or fire escapes that might be helpful in an emergency.
There aren’t many prescribed traditions for the big moving day, but as you can see there are a lot of possibilities for you and your family to create rituals that will be meaningful and help your transition into your life in your new house. Enjoy!
Pronounced: muh-ZOO-zuh (oo as in book), Origin: Hebrew, a small box placed on the right doorpost of Jewish homes. It contains a parchment scroll with verses from the Torah inscribed on it, including the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21).
Pronounced: MITZ-vuh or meetz-VAH, Origin: Hebrew, commandment, also used to mean good deed.