The parchment of the mezuzah
Halakhic texts relating to this article: Torah: Deuteronomy 6:9 and Deuteronomy 11:20 Mishnah: Menachot 3:7 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, customs or Torah based.
A mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה "doorpost"; plural: מְזוּזוֹת mezuzot) is usually a metal or wooden rectangular object that is fastened to a doorpost of a Jewish house. Inside it 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 LORD our God, the LORD 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 Jewish mezuzah
According to halakha, the mezuzah should be placed on the right side of the door, 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.
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 God and the Torah (which the mezuzah symbolizes) are entering the room. Most Mizrahim, Spanish and Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) and other non-Ashkenazi Jews affix the mezuzah vertically.
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 kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboa‘ mezuzah.
- Blessed are You, Lord 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.
When affixing several mezuzot, it is sufficient to recite the blessing once, before affixing the first one.
Checking the parchment
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. Mezuzot 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 valid mezuzah, which must be handwritten onto a piece of parchment by a qualified scribe.
It is customary to write two inscriptions on the back of the parchment:
- the Hebrew word שדי (Shaddai)
- the phrase "כוזו במוכסז כוזו"
Shaddai, one of the biblical names of God, 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 Lord, our God, the Lord"; 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.
- ^ Dovid Zaklikowski. "Which Rooms Require a Mezuzah?". http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=225406.
- ^ Beit Yosef YD 289; and see Nekudot Hakesef ad loc
- ^ "Mezuzah - Which Way is UP??". http://ohr.edu/ask/ask059.htm.
- ^ Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 11a
- ^ Shulchan Aruch (291:1)
- ^ Alexander Poltorak The Mysterious Name
- Alexander Poltorak. A Light unto My Path: A Mezuzah Anthology. http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=310306.
- Dovid Zaklikowski. Mezuzah Handbook. http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=224708.
- "Internet Encyclopaedia of Religion". http://www.religion-encyclopedia.com/M/mezuzah.htm.
Jewish life Birth and infancy
Coming of age Daily life Marriage Religious practice Religious items Death
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.