What Is A Mezuzah And Why Do We Hang A Mezuzah?

"And thou shall write them upon the doorposts of thy house and on thy gates." That is the commandment found in the Book of Deuteronomy, Verse 6, line 9. That is the reason for the mezuzah; the item affixed at an angle to the doorpost of a Jewish home. The Hebrew word mezuzah actually means doorpost, but over time it has evolved to mean the item and what it contains. Very little about this important object has been left to chance. Including how it is hung. You might ask, just what is it that makes a mezuzah so important, and why is it hung on the doorpost, and if it is so important, why isn't it hung vertically?

What makes it important is the concept that the doorpost is the dividing line between the swirl of the outside world and the sanctity and safe haven of the home. Contained in the mezuzah is a tightly rolled piece of parchment made from the skin of a ritually clean animal on which are hand-written, traditionally in twenty-two lines, words from Deuteronomy, the fifth of the Five Books of Moses. Specifically, they are chapter 6, verses 4 through 9 and chapter 11, verses 13-21, and begin "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One." The parchment, or klaf, is rolled from end to beginning, so that the first word, Shema is on top. On the back of the parchment is the Hebrew word Shaddai, one of the mystical names for the Almighty. Shaddai is also an acronym in Hebrew for Shomer Daltot Yistael, Guardian of the Gates of Israel. The mezuzah case should have an opening through which the word Shaddai is visible. If the casing is made without a window then some feel the word Shaddai or the Hebrew letter Shin must appear on the face of the mezuzah. The parchment must be checked twice every seven years. A mezuzah must be attached on the upper third of the right-hand side of the doorway as one enters, no less than one hand-breath from the top. A blessing precedes the hanging. A building not used as a permanent residence, such as a sukkah, does not need a mezuzah.

With all that, the mezuzah is more than an item. Maimonides, a great sage who lived during the twelfth century, wrote, "Whenever one enters or leaves a home with the mezuzah on the doorpost, he will be confronted with the declaration of G-d's unity....and will be aroused from.....his foolish absorption in temporal vanities. He will realize that nothing endures to all eternity save knowledge of the Ruler of the Universe."

So that explains why the mezuzah is important and why it is hung on the doorpost. Yet Mezuzot are not restricted to the exterior doorways. Observant Jews affix them to every doorway of every room in the house except the bathroom. Which brings us back to the question: why aren't Mezuzot hung vertically?

One of the most famous French rabbis of the twelfth century was Rabbi Solomon Ben Isaac, who is also known as Rashi. His grandson, Rabenu Tam, felt that Mezuzot should be affixed horizontally for the sake of tradition, because the scrolls in their cases were originally pushed horizontally into crevices between the stones around doorways of homes. Rashi argued the Mezuzot should be affixed vertically, in such a way that the top pointed toward the Almighty. They eventually compromised, and agreed that the mezuzah should be hung on the diagonal with its top inclined toward the inside. The decision, allowing peace to rein in a Jewish home in the twelfth century France, is part of the message of the mezuzah.

Where To Hang The Mezuzah

The Mezuzah Is Hung On The Right Doorpost As One Enters The Room. The Mezuzah Is Positioned At The Bottom Of The Upper Third Of The Doorpost. The Mezuzah Should Be Hung Slightly In A Slanted Position So That The Top Points Toward The Inside Of The Room.

Blessing Said When Hanging The Mezuzah

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.

English Translation Of The Mezuzah Prayer

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources. Let these matters that I command you today be upon your heart; teach them thoroughly to your children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tifillin between your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. And it will come to pass that if you continually hearken to my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-then I will provide rain for your land in its proper time, the early and late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them; and the lord's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, and there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit, and ye perish quickly from off the good land which the lord giveth you. Place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul; bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be tiffillin between your eyes. Teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou risest up. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. In order to prolong your days and the days of your children upon the ground that the Lord has sworn unto your fathers to give them, and the days of the heavens upon the earth.


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