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< Q11.9.3 TOC Q11.9.5 >

Question 11.9.4:
Symbols: What is a Mezuzah?

Answer:

In Deut. 6:4-9, a passage commonly known as the Shema, G-d commands us to keep His words constantly in our minds and in our hearts, by (among other things) writing them on the doorposts of our house. This is done using a mezuzah. Almost all Jews have a mezuzah on the main external door of their house. More traditional Jews have them on all external doors, as well as on internal doors (except bathrooms), especially bedroom doors. I have even seen mezuzah's for cars!

A mezuzah is a small case that is mounted on the doorposts of Jewish homes. It is not a good-luck charm. Rather, as noted above, it is a constant reminder of G-d's presence and G-d's commandments.

The mezuzah contains a tiny scroll of parchment, which has the words of Deut. 6:4-9 and the words of a companion passage, Deut. 11:13. On the back of the scroll, a name of G-d is written. The scroll is then rolled up placed in the case, so that the first letter of the Name (the letter Shin, which looks like a "W") is visible (more commonly, as the mezuzah is not transparent, the letter Shin is written on the outside of the case). The scroll must be handwritten by s sofer (scribe) in a special style and must be placed in the case to fulfill the commandment. It is commonplace for gift shops to sell cases without scrolls, or with mechanically printed scrolls, because a proper scroll generally costs more than the case. According to traditional authorities, mechanically printed scrolls do not fulfill the mitzvah of the mezuzah, nor does an empty case.

Once a mezuzah is ready to be affixed to a door (i.e., it has a proper scroll inside), it is nailed or otherwise affixed, at an angle, typically with the Shin angled towards the inside of the house or room. At this time, a brief ceremony called Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (dedication of the house) is performed.

Why angled? First, angling is an Ashkenazi custom, but as to why we angle, well, as with anything in Judaism, there are multiple explanations:

Speaking of doorframes. The norm in most areas until the 19th century or so was to place the mezuzah inside the doorframe. Our current practice of hanging a case on the doorframe is halachically equivalent to enlarging the frame and putting it inside. In fact, the original custom remains in the older parts of Jerusalem. If you go to the Old City, to the current Moslem Quarter, you will find patches in the doorframes where mezuzos were torn out of the Jewish homes in 1948.

When traditional Jews pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, they will touch the mezuzah and then kiss the fingers that touched it. This is done to express love and respect for G-d and G-d's commandments. It also serves to remind them of the commandments.

When you move, unless you know for sure that the new occupant is Jewish, it is proper to remove the mezuzot (plural for mezuzah). This is because if you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it with disrespect, or treat it as a superstitious object.

More information on Mezuzahs may be found at http://www.jewfaq.org/signs.htm#Mezuzah


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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