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The parchment of the mezuzah

Halakhic sources*
Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:
Bible: Deuteronomy 6:9 and Deuteronomy 11:21
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: mezuzot (מְזוּזוֹת)) 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 of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house" (Deuteronomy 6:9). Jewish law requires a mezuzah on every doorway in the home apart from bathrooms, and closets too small to qualify as rooms; but many families only place one in the front doorway.[1] 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, in the upper third of the doorpost (i.e., approximately shoulder height),[2] within approximately 3 inches (8 cm) of the doorway opening.[citation needed] 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. The case can be affixed to the doorpost with nails, screws, glue, or double-sided tape. Wrapping the scroll in plastic wrap before placing it in the case will protect it from the elements. 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.

Mezuzah affixed to a door frame on South Street in Philadelphia.

Where the doorway is wide enough, Ashkenazi Jews and Spanish and Portuguese 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 Sephardim and other non-Ashkenazi Jews affix the mezuzah vertically.[3]

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 וְצִוָנוּ לִקְבּוֹעַ מְזוּזָה
Baruch atta Adonai Eloheinu melech ha‘olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboa‘ mezuza.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

Any Jewish person 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

Orthodox Jews have a qualified scribe check the mezuzot parchments for defects (such as small tears or faded lettering) at least twice every seven years.[4][5]

Mezuzah cases

A metal mezuzah case.
A marquetry mezuzah case.

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 "Klaff," 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 an endless 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.

Additional Inscriptions

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 mezuzah, opposite the corresponding words on the front.[6] This inscription, dates from the 11th century and is found amongst the Sages of Germany.

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.[citation needed]

See also

The Guinness Book of Records




Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Name given to a rectangular piece of parchment inscribed with the passages Deut. vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21, written in twenty-two lines according to the same rules as those for the Torah and tefillin. The parchment is rolled up and inserted in a wooden or metal case or tube. This is affixed, in a slanting position, to the upper part of the right-hand door-post, so that the upper part is inward and the lower part outward, and about a handbreadth from the outer edge of the door-post. On the outer side of the top of the parchment is inscribed the name of God, (image) ; and an opening is left in the case opposite this word, which opening is protected by a piece of glass. The material on which the mezuzah may be written is as carefully prescribed as is that for a scroll of the Law (Massek. Soferim i. 1; Asheri to Alfasi, "Sefer Torah"; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 271; Yer. Megillah i. 9; Shab. 108a; MS. Mezuzah, ed. Kirchheim, i. 1); but while a scroll must always be written from a copy, the mezuzah may be written from memory (Men. 32b). Both selections mentioned above must be contained therein; and if even one letter is missing the mezuzah may not be used (Men. 28a). Generally the text is written in twenty-two lines equally spaced. The pious touch and kiss this part of the mezuzah as they pass through the door. The mezuzah is obligatory for every building used as a residence; and its fastening to the doorpost is accompanied by the usual formula of benediction: "Blessed art Thou our God, King of the world, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and hast commanded us to fasten the mezuzah." On entering and leaving the house the pious touch the mezuzah (at "Shaddai") with the hand, and recite the prayer: "May God keep my going out and my coming in from now on and ever more."

The mezuzah brings blessings to him that touches it; but it must not be touched with unclean hands. It is inspected from time to time to make sure of itscorrectness. It may not be given to a non-Jew, lest it be not treated with due respect (see Men. iii. 7, 33b; Maimonides, "Yad," Tefillin, i., v., vi.; Yoreh De'ah, 285-291).

Origin and Significance.

The obligation of the mezuzah is derived from the words: "And thou shalt write them on the doorposts of thy house and within thy gates." The Rabbis considered the mezuzah of equal importance with the tefillin and ẓiẓit (Men. 43b; Pes. 113b; comp. Shab. 23b, 32b). The antiquity of the mezuzah is attested by Josephus (c. 37-100 C.E.), who speaks of its employment ("Ant." iv. 8, § 13) as an old and well-established custom. Inscribed with passages of the Torah which emphasize the unity of God, His providence, and the resulting duty of man toward Him, the mezuzah is an emblematic representation of Israel's belief and practise. Thus Josephus says in speaking of the mezuzah (l.c.): "The greatest benefits of God are to be written on the doors . . . in order that His benevolent providence may be made known everywhere"; and Maimonides adds ("Yad," Tefillin, vi. 13): "By the commandment of the mezuzah man is reminded, when coming or going, of the unity of God, and is aroused to the love of Him. He is awakened from his slumber and his vain worldly thoughts to the knowledge that nothing endures in eternity like the knowledge of the Rock of the World. This contemplation brings him back to himself and leads him on the right path."

Superstitious Conception.

In Talmudic times a protective power, especially in warding off evil spirits, was attributed to the mezuzah. This appears in such anecdotes as those of Artaban and Abba Arika (see Artaban V.; comp. Yer. Peah i. 1, 15d; Gen. R. xxxv. 3) and of Onḳelos ('Ab. Zarah 11a; comp. also Targ. to Cant. viii. 3; Men. 32b, 33b). In the Middle Ages, under the influence of the Cabala, not only passages from the Bible treating of God's watchfulness over His people (Ps. cxxi. 7 et seq.), but also various names of angels were added to the original contents of the mezuzah. (image) was explained to represent the initials of ( (image) (image) , after a cabalistic interpretation of Job xxii. 17, 25 (comp. "Kol Bo," 101, 4). At the bottom of the blank side the words (image) are written, which, according to (image) , i.e., every letter standing for the next preceding, reads: (image) . Some, when leaving home on business bent, invoke God by the mysterious words "Kozo bemuksaz Kozo," declaring that in His name they are about to go forth, and petitioning for success. Against the additions to the mezuzah Maimonides raised his voice. He says ("Yad," Tefillin, v. 4): "There is no harm in writing (image) on the outside; but those who write on the inside the names of angels, or holy names, or verses, or other formula, are of those who will have no share in the future world. For these fools not only defeat in this manner the fulfilment of a great commandment which has for its end the remembrance of the unity of God, and the love of Him and worship of Him, but turn it into an amulet for their selfish interest, believing in their foolish hearts that it can be made to serve the preservation of transitory worldly goods." Maimonides' view prevailed, and the additions were eliminated.

The Mohammedans likewise place over the doors and windows of their dwellings as well as of their shops the name of God, or their profession of faith, or some maxim, or a verse of the Koran, or a short invocation (comp. Lane, "Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians," 3d ed., i. 7, 22, 320); and a similar custom seems to have prevailed among the ancient Egyptians (comp. Wilkinson, "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," 1878, i. 361; and Huetius, "Demonstratio Evangelica," p. 58).

Bibliography: Dassorius, De Ritibus Mezuzœ, in Ugolino, Thesaurus, xxi.; Bodenschatz, Kirchliche Verfassung der Heutigen Juden, iv. 19-24; Leopold Löw, Gesammelte Werke, ii. 81-84.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.


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