The parchment of the mezuzah
|Halakhic texts relating to this article:|
|Torah:||Deuteronomy 6:9 and Deuteronomy 11:20|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Shabbat 32a, Yoma 11a, Menachot 33a,|
|Mishneh Torah:||Tefillin, Mezuzah, veSefer Torah ch 5-6|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Yoreh De'ah 285-291|
|* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, custom or Torah-based.|
A mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה "doorpost"; plural: מְזוּזוֹת mezuzot) is a piece of parchment (often contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). These verses comprise the Jewish prayer "Shema Yisrael", beginning with the phrase: "Hear, O Israel, the יהוה our God, the יהוה is One" A mezuzah is affixed to the doorframe in Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah on every doorway in the home apart from bathrooms and closets too small to qualify as rooms. The parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe (a "sofer stam") who has undergone many years of meticulous training, and the verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen. The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case.
Affixing the mezuzah
According to halakha, the mezuzah should be placed on the right side of the door or doorpost, in the upper third of the doorpost (i.e., approximately shoulder height), within approximately 3 inches (8 cm) of the doorway opening. Care should be taken to not tear or damage the parchment or the wording on it, as this will invalidate the mezuzah, which is considered Torah. Generally, halakha requires that mezuzot be affixed within 30 days of moving into a rented house or apartment. This applies to Jews living in the Diaspora (i.e., outside of the Land of Israel). For a purchased home or apartment in the Diaspora, or a residence in Israel (owned or rented), the mezuzah is affixed immediately upon moving in. The reason for this difference is that there is an assumption that when a Jew lives in Israel, Israel shall remain his/her permanent residence, whereas a home in the diaspora is temporary. Mezuzot are very special objects and must be taken care of carefully and according to Jewish laws and traditions.
Where the doorway is wide enough, Ashkenazi Jews tilt the mezuzah so that the top slants toward the room into which the door opens. This is done to accommodate the variant opinions of the medieval Rabbis Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam as to whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, and also to imply that יהוה and the Torah (which the mezuzah symbolizes) are entering the room. Most Sephardi, Mizrahi and other non-Ashkenazi Jews affix the mezuzah vertically, though Spanish and Portuguese Jews living in countries where the majority of Jews are Ashkenazim usually place it slanting.
The procedure is to hold the mezuzah against the spot upon which it will be affixed, then recite a blessing:
- בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשַׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לִקְבּוֹעַ מְזוּזָה
- Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‘olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboˈa mezuzah.
- Blessed are You, יהוה our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
Any Jew can recite the blessing provided he or she is old enough to understand the significance of the mitzvah. After the blessing, the mezuzah is attached. This blessing is also said at every service at any temple in the world every time there is a service in session. Many people also kiss their finger to the mezuzah as a way of showing respect to יהוה. Instead of saying the prayer every time they pass through the door it is simpler to kiss your finger to it and thus be closer to יהוה in that way.
When affixing several mezuzot, it is sufficient to recite the blessing once, before affixing the first one.
Checking the parchment
Many observant Jews from all Jewish denominations have a qualified scribe check the mezuzot parchments for defects (such as small tears or faded lettering) at least twice every seven years. These men are very important and are generally found among Orthodox Jews. They aren't as common as would be expected as it is not a job that pays extremely well and is often done on the side. These men are known as soferim (singular: sofer). A sofer is needed to make new mezuzot parchments which are in accordance with Jewish Law.
The commandment to affix a mezuzah is widely followed in the Jewish world, even by Jews who are not religiously observant. While the important part of the mezuzah is the klaf, or parchment, and not the case itself, designing and producing mezuzah cases has been elevated to an art form over the ages. Mezuzah cases are produced from a wide variety of materials, from silver and precious metals, to wood, stone, ceramics, pewter, and even polymer clay. Some dealers of mezuzah cases will provide or offer for sale a copy of the text that has been photocopied onto paper; this is not a Kosher (valid) mezuzah,[according to whom?] which must be handwritten onto a piece of parchment by a qualified scribe. People often use them as decorative pieces all over their houses on various doors to make their house look nicer and more appealing.
It is very customary to write two inscriptions on the back of the parchment:
- the Hebrew word שדי (Shaddai)
- the phrase "כוזו במוכסז כוזו"
Shaddai, ["Almighty"] one of the biblical names of יהוה, also serves here as an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael, "Guardian of Israel's doors". Many mezuzah cases are also marked with the Hebrew letter ש (Shin), for Shaddai.
"כוזו במוכסז כוזו" is a Caesar cipher — a one letter shift — of the third, fourth, and fifth words of the Shema, "Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai", "The יהוה, our God, the יהוה"; it is written on the back of the case, opposite the corresponding words on the front. This inscription dates from the 11th century and is found amongst the Hasidei Ashkenaz (medieval German Jewish mystics).
According to the Sephardic custom (minhag), the phrase "כוזו במוכסז כוזו" is prohibited, and only the Hebrew word שדי (Shaddai) is to be written on the back of the mezuzah. This practice is supported by the Shulchan Aruch and the writings of the Rambam. The Ashkenazi custom of writing both phrases, however, was supported in the writings of the Remo.Template:Yoreh De'ah 288:15
Legal battles in the U.S.
The Jewish practice of affixing a mezuzah to the entranceway of a residential unit has been rarely challenged in the United States or Canada, and until recently there was no case law precedent on the subject.
In Chicago in 2001, the condominium association at the 378-unit Shoreline Towers adopted a rule banning “mats, boots, shoes, carts or objects of any sort… outside unit entrance doors”, which by board vote in 2004 was interpreted to be absolute. Relying on the Association rule, during 2004 Shoreline Towers management removed the hallway mezuzot of condominium tenants, resulting in letters from Jewish groups which unsuccessfully protested the rule. Complaints by Shoreline Towers tenants were subsequently filed with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Illinois Attorney General, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging housing discrimination on the basis of religion and seeking damages. Meanwhile, a newspaper report indicated that Shoreline Towers was not the sole condominium association in Chicago with such a restriction, although one of them soon agreed to modify its rule.
On reading a news report of the mezuzah dispute at Shoreline Towers, Chicago alderman Burton Natarus, like other Jewish observers of the development, was upset by the ban. He drafted an amendment to the city’s Municipal Code which made it illegal for a renter or owner of an apartment, house, or condo to be prohibited from "placing or affixing a religious sign, symbol or relic on the door, door post or entrance." Although there was opposition to such a move, it became law in Chicago that December. The first such legislation in North America, it included a maximum $500 fine for its violation.
Notwithstanding this legislation, court action continued concerning separate complaints against Shoreline Towers for its rule affecting mezuzot. In 2006, a federal court judge determined that the condominium association’s rule did not violate the Federal Fair Housing Act; the district court upheld the opinion on appeal in 2008; in 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago reversed the 2008 decision, and the case proceeded. Meanwhile during the dispute, records of the Chicago Jewish Star (which had been reporting on the case) were unsuccessfully subpoenaed, and for the first time Illinois’ anti-SLAPP legislation was applied. In 2011, a confidential settlement to the Shoreline Towers disputes was finally achieved.
In 2006, a woman in a 16-story condo building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was instructed to remove the mezuzah from her hallway unit and threatened with a fine. After a lengthy legal battle, the condo association was found guilty of discrimination. In 2008, House Bill 995, an amendment to the Florida Condominium Act modeled on the Illinois state legislation, became law.
In Texas in 2007, a couple living in the Madison Park area of Houston was instructed to “remove the item attached to your door frame” to avoid violating association rules. A legal battle ensued, during which a U.S. District Court judge ruled in 2008 on behalf of the condo association. Subsequently the couple turned to Texas House of Representatives member Garnet F. Coleman. His bill introduced in 2009 was not adopted, but in June 2011 a slightly revised version (HB1278) was signed into law by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
- Dovid Zaklikowski. "Which Rooms Require a Mezuzah?".
- Beit Yosef YD 289; and see Nekudot Hakesef ad loc
- "Mezuzah - Which Way is UP??".
- Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 11a
- Shulchan Aruch (291:1)
- Alexander Poltorak The Mysterious Name
- In 1993, 98 percent of Israelis placed a mezuzah on at least the front door to their dwelling, making it the “commandment most widely observed” (Jerusalem Post, December 20, 1993); a 1999 survey in Florida found that in Palm Beach County 89 percent of Jewish residents affix a mezuzah on a doorpost and 87 percent attend a seder (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 15, 1999).
- Toronto: League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, 2000 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents (Ontario Report); Connecticut: Doft v. Washington Mews Condominium Association (2003).
- “Condo revises mezuzah rule,” Chicago Jewish Star, September 16, 2005, p. 1.
- Douglas Wertheimer, “Not On Our Doorposts: Chicago condo bans mezuzahs,” Chicago Jewish Star, July 15, 2005, p. 2.
- “More mezuzah bans,” Chicago Jewish Star, August 5, 2005, p. 2.
- “Ordinance to stop ban on mezuzahs; one condo concedes,” Chicago Jewish Star, August 19, 2005, p. 1.
- Howard Dakoff, “Why I Opposed the Mezuzah Ban,” Chicago Jewish Star, November 4, 2005, p. 4.
- Municipal Code of Chicago, Unfair Housing Practices (5-8-030/h); Mark Fitzgerald, “Mezuzah muckraking gains legal huzzahs,” Editor & Publisher, October 2005, p. 13; “Chicago Law Inspired by ‘Jewish Star’ Articles May Go State-wide,” Editor & Publisher, January 26, 2006.
- Editorial, “Give peacemaking a chance,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 2, 2005.
- Gary Washburn, “Ethics class eyed for city workers,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 2005.
- Ruth Eglash, “The case of the confiscated mezuzah,” Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2006; Editorial, “Judge: Jews Not Welcome,” Chicago Jewish Star, September 8, 2006, p. 4.
- Josh Gerstein, “Court: No Federal Right to Mezuzot at Condominiums,” New York Sun, July 11–13, 2008, p.4; Dan Slater, “Mezuzah Suit Sparks Ruckus, Impassioned 7th Cir. Dissent,” Wall Street Journal Law Blog (July 11, 2008); “Judges rule on Jewish lawsuits. The Hallway mezuzah: Unjustified accommodation or intentional discrimination?” Chicago Jewish Star, July 18, 2008, p. 1.
- “Supreme Court contender [ Diane P. Wood ] mulls mezuzah bias case against condo board,” Chicago Sun-Times, May 13, 2009; “Possible Court Pick is Used to Dueling on Bench,” Washington Post, May 16, 2009; Courthouse News Service, November 17, 2009; Kenneth E. Kraus, “Court takes a new view of FHA, mezuzah case,” Chicago Jewish Star, November 20, 2009, p. 4; J. Schwartz, “Fight Over Jewish Symbol Heads to Trial,” New York Times, November 21, 2009; Lynne Bloch, Helen Bloch and Nathan Bloch v. Edward Frischholz and Shoreline Towers Condominium Association, No. 06-3376, 7th Cir. U.S. Court of Appeals, argued May 13, 2009, decided Nov. 13, 2009.
- ”Jewish Star objects to subpoena,” Chicago Jewish Star, July 27, 2007, p. 1.
- Debbie L. Berman and Wade A. Thomson, “Illinois’ Anti-SLAPP Statute: A Potentially Powerful New Weapon for Media Defendants,” Communications Lawyer, vol. 26, March 2009; ”Fall-out from mezuzah case impacted by new law,” Chicago Jewish Star, April 4, 2008, p. 1; “$36k award in SLAPP-mezuzah case,” Chicago Jewish Star, August 7, 2009, p. 1.
- ”Families settle mezuzah dispute with Chicago condo,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 13, 2011.
- Mark Fitzgerald, “Illinois Gov. Signs Mezuzah Law Inspired by ‘Chicago Jewish Star’," Editor & Publisher, April 12, 2006; Illinois General Assembly, Amendment to the Condominium Property Act SB2165 (April 12, 2006); “Amplification & Update,” Chicago Jewish Star, April 28, 2006, p. 3.
- Joe Kollin, ”Lauderdale condo bans religious symbol on doorposts,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 3, 2007; “Florida condo bans mezuzahs,” Chicago Jewish Star, February 9, 2007; “Florida mezuzah ban ends,” Chicago Jewish Star, April 20, 2007; Steve Lipman, “Mezuzah Standoff in Ft. Lauderdale,” The Jewish Week, February 16, 2007, p. 25; D. Morris, “Richter Wins Fight to Keep Mezuzah,” Florida Jewish News, April 13, 2007; “Florida gets a mezuzah bill,” Chicago Jewish Star, May 23, 2008, p. 3; Florida House of Representatives, CS/HB 995.
- ”Illinois, then Florida – Is Texas next?”, Chicago Jewish Star, April 3, 2009, p. 1; Jewish Herald-Voice, April 9, 2009; Jewish Herald-Voice, April 30, 2009.
- ”Texas gets a mezuzah law,” Chicago Jewish Star, May 27, 2011, p. 1; Kate Shellnutt, “New Texas law defends residents’ religious displays,” Houston Chronicle, June 20, 2011; “Perry signs mezuzah bill,” Chicago Jewish Star, June 24, 2011, p. 1; Texas House of Representatives, HB 1278.
- New York Sun, September 19–21, 2008, p. 4; “Congress to trump court on mezuzah issue,” Chicago Jewish Star, September 26, 2008, p. 1; Chicago Jewish Star, April 3, 2009, p. 13; H.R. 6932: Freedom of Religious Expression in the Home Act of 2008.