Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What, Why, and How of Mezuzot

A reader asked the question "What is a Mezuzah?" so in my role as educator, I must answer that question... with help from Lisa Katz at www.about.com
These mezuzot are from Benny Dabbach and Caesarea Arts of Israel who works with annodized metals.

A mezuzah is a sacred parchment inscribed by hand with two portions of Torah. It is stored in a protective case and hung on the doorposts of Jewish homes.

The parchment (klaf) come from a kosher species of animal.

Inscribed by Hand
The person who writes on the parchment is called a sofer (scribe). Scribes are trained to inscribe the mezuzah in the same manner and script as the Torah. Any mistakes make the mezuzah invalid.
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The two portions of Torah written on the parchment are Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and Vehaya (Deuteronomy 11:13-21). Both of these Torah portions include the verse, "And you shall inscribe these words upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates."

Protective Case
Once the mezuzah is written, it is rolled from left to right and placed in a protective case.

Hung on Doorposts
Mezuzot are affixed to the doorpost of each room in the home and place of business, except for the bathrooms.
Why Hang a Mezuzah?

In the Torah, God commands the Jewish people to hang mezuzot on their doorposts. Two Torah portions, Shema and Vehaya, include the verse: "And you shall inscribe these words upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates."

The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) begins with "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." The Shema reminds us that God is always present in our lives, and that we should keep God's words constantly in our minds and in our hearts. The Shema tells us that one way to do this is by writing them on the doorposts of our house. Vehaya (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) assures us of God's compensation if we fulfill his commandments (mitzvot).

It is a Torah commandment to hang mezuzot on our doorposts. Mezuzot, in turn, remind of God's presence and of our duty to fulfill God's commandments.

How to Hang a Mezuzah

A mezuzah is affixed upon all the doorways of Jewish homes and businesses, except for bathrooms.

Blessing on Affixing a Mezuzah

Before affixing a mezuzah to a doorpost, the following blessing is recited:

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu likbo-a mezuzah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Who sanctifies us with holy commandments and commands us to fix a mezuzah.
The blessing is only recited once (usually on the front door) for all the mezuzot in the house . After reciting the blessing, no words are spoken until all mezozot are hung throughout the house.

Where to Affix a Mezuzah

The mezuzah is placed in the following way:

on the right doorpost as one enters the room.
at the bottom of the upper third of the doorpost (shoulder height).
in a slightly slanted position so that the top points toward the inside of the room.
How to Care for a Mezuzah

Mezuzot should be examined by a reliable scribe when purchased and at least twice every seven years. Age and weather can cause the ink to fade and crack, thereby invalidating the mezuzah.

Mezuzot Offer Divine Protection

According to the Talmud, keeping the commandment of mezuzah brings long life and protection for members of the home.

Furthermore, it is believed every mezuzah that is affixed adds to the divine protection of people everywhere. The name of God (letters Shin-Daled-Yud) is written on the back of mezuzot. It is said that these letters also stand for Shomer Daltot Yisrael, which means Guardian of the Doors of Israel.

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