Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 7 February 2015 / 18 Shevat 5775

Mezuza Meaning

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Helen

Dear Rabbi,

I am Jewish but not religious. I have seen mezuzas as pendants on necklaces and in Jewish homes, but don’t really know much about what a mezuza is. A few questions come to mind, but any knowledge you could share would be appreciated: What is a mezuza, is there anything inside, where does one put it, can non-observant Jews wear one if they’re not religious or have one in their house if the house is not kosher?

Dear Helen,

I admire your interest in such an important and meaningful mitzvah.

In order to properly answer your question, it’s important to clarify a common misconception about what a mezuza is. Many people mistakenly think that the elongated protective container for the mezuza is the mezuza itself. This is incorrect.

Rather, a mezuza is a parchment upon which are written two particular paragraphs from the Torah which refer to affixing these verses that declare our belief in G-d and our commitment to performing His commandments on the doorposts of our homes and gates.

Thus, a “mezuza-pendant” is in no way a mezuza but rather a small replica of a container for the mezuzah, which some wear as a Jewish symbol akin to wearing a Star of David. Similarly, affixing a mezuza container to the doorpost with no kosher mezuza inside is also merely symbolic.

Therefore, as far as the mitzvah of mezuza is concerned, much more importance must be given to the parchment than the package. Since in order to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuza many requirements must be met, a mezuza should be acquired only through a reliable, G-d-fearing and observant Jew.

Unfortunately, many people who think they are performing the mitzvah have only printed slips of paper in the box, making the “mezuza” nothing more than a pendant hanging on the doorpost. This would be like putting a picture of the circuitry of a stereo in the stereo encasement and expecting the stereo to work!

In Jewish texts, the mezuza is viewed as being a source of spiritual and physical protection for the home as well as associated with prolonging life. The Talmud states that G-d is unlike an earthly king. An earthly king dwells within while his servants stand guard outside. However with G-d it’s different: His servants dwell within while it is He who guards them from without.

People customarily place their right hand on the mezuza case (in deference for the mezuza scroll inside) while going through the doorway. Some actually kiss their hand as they do so. Often, these gestures are done only when traversing a passage between indoors and outdoors. When doing so, a person is encouraged to recite special verses expressing Divine protection; but at the very least, one should make a mental note of the mitzvah of mezuza and its meaning.

A non-observant Jew may fulfill the mitzvah of mezuza, which would be a very good thing, as long as it’s done properly. This would involve not only acquiring kosher mezuzas as mentioned above, but also affixing them in the right places in the right way. Also, mezuzas are affixed not only in internal doorways but in external ones as well, which requires making special provision to protect the mezuza from the elements.

For all of these reasons, anyone who is considering putting mezuzas in his home or office should consult a competent Orthodox rabbi for guidance. Similarly, since mezuzas must be periodically checked to ascertain they have not been damaged and are still kosher, even people who already have them would benefit by checking with a rabbi that all is in order.

Often, either scenario may be incorporated into a celebration with friends and family in honor of the fulfillment of the mitzvah. This is a very meaningful way to infuse the newly “mezuzah-ed” home with a joyous Jewish spirit.

Sources:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21
  • Menachot 33b, Avoda Zara 11a
  • Shabbat 32b
  • Shulchan Aruch, Y.D. 285:1,2

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