What is a Mezuzah?
A hallmark of a Jewish home is the mezuzah, a small parchment scroll bearing the first two biblical verses of the Shema prayer. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, God commands us, "...And you shall inscribe these words upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates."
On the back of the mezuzah parchment is one word - Shaddai, which is one of the many names of the God of Israel. The first letter of the word, Shaddai, is Shin, which often appears on the outside of the mezuzah case.
Since the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai, Jews have been placing a mezuzah parchment, surrounded by a case, on their door posts.
Although it is common to refer to the decorative case that holds the parchment as the mezuzah, it is actually called a mezuzah case. It is the handwritten parchment paper that is the mezuzah.
What Makes A Mezuzah Kosher?
A Kosher scroll is handwritten by a specially trained scribe, known as a Sofer, on parchment paper prepared from the skin of a kosher animal. The words are very carefully written using special black ink and a quill pen. There may be no mistakes and no letters may touch each other, or the scroll is not considered Kosher. The scroll must be written in accordance to Jewish law. The mezuzah should be checked by a Sofer twice every seven years to check if it is still in good condition with all letters intact. For this reason, folding a mezuzah is not acceptable because it will damage the letters.
When rolling a mezuzah to fit inside a case, it should be rolled from left to right so that the word on the back, Shaddai, is facing outward.
What is the Blessing for Hanging a Mezuzah?
One should hold the mezuzah against the doorpost in its correct place and recite the blessing before permanently attaching it. The blessing in Hebrew is as follows:
Baruch ata Adonai, Elohanu, melech ha'olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu, lik'boa mezuzah.
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe, Who Sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
Hanging a Mezuzah
Jewish law states that mezuzahs must be placed on every door in a home or business owned by a Jew. The mezuzah parchment should be placed on the right side of the door when entering the room. The mezuzah should be affixed to the lower part of the upper third of the doorway at a 45 degree angle, tilted towards the inside of the room. If this is impossible due to the thinness of the doorframe, place the mezuzah at a 90 degree angle and continue rotating the mezuzah counter-clockwise as much as the door frame will allow.
Mezuzahs may be affixed to their respective doorways through any means, but one should ensure that it is firmly attached. The mezuzahs should be put up immediately upon moving in to a newly purchased home. However, if the home is rented, one is given a 30 day time frame to put up their mezuzah. It is for this reason that a Jew is not obligated to affix a mezuzah to the doorpost of a hotel room.
The Meaning of the Mezuzah
In a Jewish home, building, or school, a mezuzah should be hung from every doorway. It is meant for the passerby to be aware, as one passes from one room to the next, that God is omnipresent and that we must act in a way that sanctifies His name. The mezuzah is a daily reminder of Jewish identity and faith.
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