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What is a mezuzah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

A. "And you shall write them [the words of the Shema] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."1 A Mezuzah is not an ornate, gilded container — it’s the little parchment inside of it. An authentic mezuzah is a hand-written Hebrew text2 on a parchment scroll. It takes a lot of effort and expensive materials to make an authentic mezuzah; MSRP begins at about $35.003.

B. The word “mezuzah” actually means “door-post,” meaning that a mezuzah scroll goes on every discernible, regularly used door-frame (except “The Facilities"): the front door, the back door, and dining room, living room, bedroom and den doors. Even if it’s just a doorway with no door, like between the kitchen and dining room, it should have a mezuzah. Note: if you’re not ready to mezuzafy your whole house just yet, start with the front door.

C. The mezuzah is to the Jewish abode what a helmet is to a soldier — it provides spiritual and physical protection, fortification and reinforcement to the home and the souls of all who dwell therein. It’s the original home security system.

How do I put up a mezuzah?

The mezuzah is to the Jewish abode what a helmet is to a soldier ? it provides spiritual and physical protection to the home and the souls of all who dwell therein. It?s the original home security system
1. Home inspection

Before you go mezuzah, go Bob-Vila through your digs and count every door and doorway. Better yet, have the local Chabad Rabbi come down to perform his own house inspection — you’ll see how it’s done and you’ll meet one swell fellow, simultaneously. Oh, and the inspection is free of charge.

2. Go buy

Be sure you can trust the person selling you the mezuzah. Your local Chabad Center either has Mezuzahs available for purchase, or can direct you to a reliable source that does. A mezuzah usually comes with a basic case but you may want to purchase a nicer one according to your liking (and means). A nice case demonstrates the value of the Mitzvah and makes for fine interior decorating. An endless variety of mezuzah case designs, from simple to snooty, medieval to modern, is available at any quality Judaica store in your neighborhood or on-line. Traditionally, the front door mezuzah—and hence, its case—is larger than those throughout the house.

3. Get nailed

Once you’ve got your mezuzahs and their cases ready for their posts, get out your trusty hammer and two nails per case. Virtually all mezuzah cases have two nail holes in them, one at each end. (On a metal frame, or if you otherwise can't use nails, feel free to use strong double-sided tape.)  

General rules for mezuzah placement: put it on the right side of the frame from the entrance perspective4, at the bottom of the upper one-third of the frame height (shoulder height is usually fine), case top tilted slightly inward. (It is not always easy to determine the right side, or the right hight/position—always better to consult that rabbi person before actually installing.) Rev up that hammer, put the mezuzah against the frame at a good height, put one nail in place, recite the blessing (below), and pound away! Now clobber that second nail, and be sure the case isn’t at all loose—technically, the Mitzvah is to “set” the mezuzah on the frame, thus requiring a placement of permanence.

Here's the blessing: Bah-ROOKH ah-TAH ah-doh-NOY eh-loh-HAY-noo MEH-lekh hah-oh-LAHM, ah-SHEHR keed-SHAH-noo b'mitz-VOH-tahv, v'tzee-VAH-noo lee-k'BOH-ah meh-ZOO-zah. Or in English: Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 6:9; 11:20.
  • 2. The text of the Mezuzah is two portions from the Torah: Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.
  • 3. If you are paying less than that you should be suspicious.
  • 4. On outisde door that means the right side going in. On other doors that means the right side in the direction that door opens. (That is the Chabad custom. There are various customs for the determining the right side).

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