• Touching the Mezuzah upon entering. | Photo: Canva

Mezuzah – Signs of the Faith

Rev. Kees de Vreugd - 21 July 2022

In this new series, ‘Signs of Faith’, objects that express Jewish faith will be explained and discussed.

How do you recognise a Jewish house? The tour guide asked the question on a walk through the Old City of Jerusalem. A fellow traveller with a sharp eye soon noticed it: the mezuzah on the doorpost.

The word mezuzah means doorpost. But it is also the word for the small box that is nailed on the doorpost. This box contains a small parchment scroll on which the text of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 is written. This passage opens with the famous words “Hear, o Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” But the commandment the mezuzah is derived from also appears there: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” The backside has the letters shin – dalet – yod: Shaddai – the Almighty One. But it is also read as an acronym of Shomer Daltot Yisrael: ‘Keeper of the Doors of Israel’. The parchment is rolled up and put in the holder in such a way, that the letter Shin is visible. The holder, therefore, has a small window. Sometimes the Shin is on the outside of the mezuzah.

The backside has the letters shin – dalet – yod: Shaddai – the Almighty One.

The mezuzah reminds you that the commandments of the Torah sanctify the house. Pious Jews kiss or touch the mezuzah whenever they pass the door.

The holder can be made of all sorts of material. The scroll has to be parchment and handwritten. Otherwise, it is not kosher. It is the work of outstanding writers, soferim. They also have to check twice in seven years, if the mezuzah is not damaged and the text still readable.

Obviously, there are specific rules for fixing the mezuzah. In Israel, it is done immediately when one moves into the house, outside Israel, it has to be done within thirty days. The mezuzah is nailed on the right doorpost, with the top slightly bending inside. For the fixing, a special berachah (blessing) is said. The mezuzah is put not just on the front door, but on every room in the house, except for the bathroom and the storage room.

The commandment does not only apply to a house, but also the gates of a city. When Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, the first thing done was fixing mezuzahs to the old city gates.

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