Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 26 August 2017 / 4 Elul 5777

Mezuzah Maven

by Rabbi Ze'ev Kraines
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Parchment panic button? Cleverly concealed spycam? Star Trek communicators?

What’s the real meaning of that funny looking capsule stuck on the doorposts of Jewish homes?

Answer: A mezuzah — which is all of the above. Well, almost. Read on!

The Torah states: “You shall write them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of your house and upon your gates.” The word mezuzah means literally “a doorpost”. But in common speech when we speak of a mezuzah we are referring to that which we put on the doorpost: the parchment scroll containing the first two paragraphs of the “Shema”. We are told to affix these verses on our doorways, which declare our belief in G-d and our commitment to performing His commandments

Although the Torah’s short instruction does not spell out the who, what, when, where, how, and why of mezuzah, all of those vital details are part of the Oral Torah, recorded in the Talmud and defined in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).

As we will explore week-by-week in this column, there are many factors that must be taken into account in order to perform this mitzvah correctly. When I started my career doing outreach with Ohr Somayach’s Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) way back in the last century, since I was a Rabbi people assumed that I was a thorough expert in the laws of mezuzah. I soon found myself doing “house calls” to help them put up their mezuzot correctly. However, though I had learned through the laws of mezuzah, I very quickly discovered that I was totally unprepared to handle the practical application of these principles arising from the weird and wonderful world of modern architecture.

From that time onwards I have been perplexed by open-plan living areas, staircases without walls, sliding-glass patio doors and many more “ponderous portals” and “doorway dilemmas.” Thankfully, through research and consultation I have been able to find solutions to quite a few of these conundrums and I am excited to have the opportunity to share the most interesting cases in this column.

Moreover, I also have “data-mined” the Torah literature for insights into the philosophical and spiritual symbolism of mezuzah and will weave some fascinating ideas into the column as we go along.

This brings us back to how the mezuzah can be imagined as a parchment panic button (security feature), a concealed spycam (watching every move we make and every breath we take), and a Star Trek communication device (syncing with the “Cloud”).

Got any mezuzah questions? Please email them to

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