12 Cheshvan 5782 / Monday, October 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Laws of the Mezuzah - Overview  
HomeMezuzotLaws of the Mezuzah - Overview


Laws of the Mezuzah

1. One of the 613
The Rabbis tell us that there are 613 commandments in the Torah. The commandment of putting up a Mezuzah is one of these 613. Therefore, when you put up a Mezuzah in your home, you have fulfilled one of the taryag (613) mitzvot.

2. A Positive Commandment
The 613 commandments are divided into positive commandments, where a certain act must be performed, such as eating Matzah on Pesach, and negative commandments, where a certain act, such as stealing, is prohibited. The mitzvah of putting up a Mezuzah is one of the 248 positive commandments.

3. Scope
Certain commandments have limited scope, in terms of:

Time. Some mitzvot apply only during the times when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is standing, or only at certain times of the year.

Place. Some mitzvot apply only in the land of Israel.
Person. Some mitzvot apply only to males.

None of these restrictions apply to the mitzvah of Mezuzah. Thus, the mitzvah of Mezuzah applies at all times, in all places, to both men and women. Children too should be encouraged to take part.

4. Definition
Clearly, two distinct acts are involved in Mezuzah: 1. writing the Mezuzah; and 2. putting the Mezuzah up on your door. The Rabbis teach us that it is the second act, putting up the Mezuzah, through which one fulfills the mitzvah of Mezuzah.

The Parchment

1. What type of parchment can be used for Mezuzot?
Stam. There are three mitzvot which involve writing Torah text on parchment: 1. Sefer Torah; 2. Tefillin; and 3. Mezuzah. Together, they are known by the acronym “Stam”. The laws of preparing parchment apply to all three.

The Mezuzah must be written on parchment coming from the skin of a kosher animal, although the animal does not need to be ritually slaughtered. Typically, the skin of a calf or lamb is used. Often, the hide of the unborn calf found in the mother after slaughtering is used. (Although the skin of a kosher bird may also be used, this is rarely done in practice.)
No other substance, such as paper, may be used.

2. How is parchment produced?
Each stage in the preparation must be done with the intent of producing a Mezuzah parchment. It is encouraged to utter a statement expressing this at the outset.

Sometimes, before starting the following process, the hide is salted to preserve it.

* The hide is soaked in water, to clean it.

* The hide is put in a barrel of lime for several days, so that the hair comes off. Afterwards, the remaining hairs are removed, and the lime is removed.

* The skin is now stretched taut and set out to dry. It is at this stage that the parchment takes on its distinctive texture.

* Next, certain layers of the skin are scraped away, so that the surface most suitable for writing remains.

* A powder made of pumice and chalk is carefully applied to the parchment to leave a non-oily, smooth surface.

Writing the Mezuzah
1. General
The general laws for the writing of a Mezuzah are similar to those that apply to the writing of a Sefer Torah, or Tefillin.

Sirtut. Before beginning to write the text of the Mezuzah, straight horizontal lines are etched into the parchment. Each line runs from the left side of the parchment to the right side. The function of these lines is to guide the Sofer (scribe), to ensure that the text of the Mezuzah comes out straight. These etched lines are known as Sirtut.

The Ink. The Mezuzah must be written in black ink.

The Script. The Mezuzah must be written in Hebrew. The script of the Mezuzah is similar to the script of a Sefer Torah or Tefillin. This square script is known as "Ktav Ashuri."

No two letters may touch one another.

Tagin. Throughout the Mezuzah text, the seven letters: gimmel, zayin, tet, nun, ayin, tsadi, shin (often referred to by their mnemonic “Shaatnez Gatz”) are written in a distinct way: three decorative vertical lines, known as tagin” (serifs, or crowns), come out of the top of the letter. If a Mezuzah lacks these tagin, it is still kosher.


By Hand. A Mezuzah must be written by hand.
A printed Mezuzah is not kosher.

From Memory. A Mezuzah may be written from memory (in contrast to a Sefer Torah, which must be copied from another Sefer Torah).

2. The Main Text of the Mezuzah
The two Torah portions that discuss the mitzvah of Mezuzah (these are also the first two portions of the daily prayer known as the Shema) are written on the front of the Mezuzah. They are:

a. Devarim 6:4-9, known as the Shema, and
b. Devarim 11:13-21, known as the Vehaya Im Shamoa.

The two portions are written in such a way that they take up exactly twenty-two lines; the final line contains the two final words of the second portion: al ha'aretz (“upon the earth”).

The text of these two portions must be exactly as it appears in the traditional Torah text. There must be no missing or extra letters.

Two letters are written larger than the rest: the ayin of the word Shema, and the dalet of the word echad.

3. Text on the Back of the Mezuzah
Shaddai. Two items appear on the back of the Mezuzah scroll. First is written the name Shaddai (Almighty), one of God's names.

This name is comprised of the three letters: Shin, Dalet, Yod which is an abbreviation of the phrase “Shomer Daltot Yisrael” (The Guardian of the doors of Israel).
A Code. In addition, on the back of the Mezuzah, at the very top, are written three “words”. These words are not really words, but rather a code.

If you take each letter of these three “words”, and substitute it with the letter which precedes it in the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph for Beit, Yod for Kaph, etc.), you'll find God's name written three times. A Mezuzah without these three words is still valid.

What Rooms Need a Mezuzah?
It has become the accepted practice to place a Mezuzah on the doorpost of every single room of a Jewish home, office or institution, as long as it meets the following conditions:
Purpose: The dwelling is a permanent one and is meant for dignified, human habitation.
Structure. The room is enclosed by walls, and has a ceiling and a door.
Size. The room is at least 16 square cubits (approximately 36-64 square feet).
Doorway. The doorway is used as an entrance, has two doorposts and a ‘lintel’ (the horizontal, top part of the doorway), and is it least 10 handbreadths (about 3 feet 4 inches) tall and 4 handbreadths (about 1 foot 4 inches) wide.  
It should be noted that the clear majority of the rooms of your home will definitely meet these criteria. These laws apply if your home is a house, rented apartment or condominium.

No Mezuzah Here

The following rooms would not require a Mezuzah, since they do not satisfy the above criteria:

Bathrooms. They do not satisfy the criteria of “dignified” use. Similarly, locker rooms or change rooms and the like would not require a Mezuzah.

Small closets. They are generally too small to require a Mezuzah. However, large walk-in closets would require a Mezuzah.

Cars. Although “car mezuzahs” can be found in many Judaica stores, cars and most other vehicles definitely do not require a Mezuzah, since their purpose is transportation. However, a mobile home would require a Mezuzah.

Sukkah. Your Sukkah does not require a Mezuzah, since it is a temporary dwelling.

Synagogues. Only dwellings used for ‘mundane’, not holy, use require a Mezuzah. However, all other rooms in a Synagogue building, such as offices, classrooms, etc., would indeed require a Mezuzah.

How do we affix the Mezuzah?
1. Rolling
The parchment is rolled to protect the lettering. The mezuzah must be rolled in the following manner:
* With the writing facing inward. A mezuzah rolled the other way, with the writing exposed, is halachically unacceptable.
* Begin rolling at the left edge of the Mezuzah.
* Roll the parchment carefully, so that it will not be creased.
* After the parchment is rolled, it is advisable to protect the scroll by wrapping it in cellophane or wax paper.

2. Affixing
Container. Once rolled, the Mezuzah is placed inside a container, again for protection. The container may be made of all kinds of substances: wood, glass, plastic, porcelain, etc. Make sure the Mezuzah is placed right-side up inside the container!

Material. Affix the Mezuzah to the doorway with a permanent material, such as nails or glue. Regular tape would be invalid, since it would not be sufficiently strong to keep the Mezuzah up permanently.

Where. The Mezuzah is attached to the doorway in the following manner:
* On the right doorpost, as one enters the room.
* At the bottom of the top-third of the doorway.
* On a slant, with the top part leaning inward.
The following blessing is recited when putting up a Mezuzah:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot, and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.” (see more).
The blessing should be recited while holding the Mezuzah up next to the doorpost, immediately prior to affixing it.

If affixing more than one Mezuzah, the blessing is said only once, before affixing the first Mezuzah. One should try to minimize talking until all the Mezuzot have been put up.
Once Up
Mezuzahs are to be checked twice in seven years. This applies even if the Mezuzahs that you put up were 100% certified by a reliable source, since over time, the letters may be eroded, particularly on Mezuzahs which are attached on outdoor doorways, such as your front door.

There is no need to worry about the fact that your house will be without Mezuzahs while they are being checked, since the Halakhah does not require a house to have Mezuzahs up during this time. Some recommend to leave at least one Mezuzah up while the rest are being checked.
When moving, if a Jew is moving into the house you are leaving, then you are supposed to leave your Mezuzahs behind. If a non-Jew is moving in, or if nobody will be moving in, then you may take your Mezuzahs with you.

Keeping in Touch
It is customary to touch the Mezuzah with one’s hand and then to kiss the hand when one enters or leaves a room or building with a Mezuzah.

The hope is that this simple act of love and reverence will focus one’s attention upon the mitzvah of Mezuzah, so that one will reflect upon the reason we have put the Mezuzah scroll up: to affirm our belief that God's presence and protection rests upon and within our dwellings. So let’s take the time and feel the beauty and power of this mitzvah, through which we can feel a constant connection to God.  



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