Perhaps one of the most popular practices and symbols in Judaism is the Mezuzah. A mezuzah is a sure way to identify a house where an observant Jewish family lives and makes it stand out from the other houses in the neighborhood. The object is attached to the main entrance doorpost on the outside of the house and other doorposts inside the house.
A mezuzah (plural, mezuzot) is a small cylindrical or rectangular container that is hollowed in the center and contains a piece of kosher parchment with verses in Hebrew from the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. The first verses are the well known words of the Shema and v’Ahavta prayed by Jews at least twice a day everyday.
The mezuzah is thus, a reminder of our covenant with G-d, to love Him and praise Him, and to pass this sentiment to our children and future generations. It also states that these words are to be inscribed in our doorposts and gates. This is why an observant Jewish home will have mezuzot at the entrance of the house and inside the house on every door frame except those going into bathrooms and laundry rooms; offices and places of work are also exempt from displaying mezuzot but some people still place them there.
The parchement where the verses are inscribed is called a Klaf. This klaf is a parchment with Hebrew words written by a sofer, an expert in writing mezuzot, and perhaps even complete Torah scrolls. The klaf needs to be perfectly well written and without a single error for it to be considered valid and kosher.
The case in which the klaf is placed is the actual part we call the mezuzah. This case, or mezuzah, can be of any shape, color, form, or style. It can be mass-produced, or it can be hand-made by a member of the family. Many Jewish/Hebrew schools have kindergartners make them out of household materials, like Legos or Play-Doh, to put on their own bedroom posts or even the main entrance door. The important thing is to have a kosher klaf on every mezuzah in the house.
Whenever a mezuzah is to go up on a doorpost a blessing is recited and then the mezuzah is placed at a slant on the door. There is a reason for the placement at a slant, although some traditions hang it vertically. We read from Jewishgenerations.org,
One of the most famous French rabbis of the twelfth century was Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, also known as Rashi. His grandson, Rabbenu Tam, felt that mezuzot should be affixed horizontally for the sake of tradition, because the scrolls in their leather cases were originally pushed horizontally into the crevices between the stones around the doorways of homes.
Rashi argued that mezuzot should be affixed vertiBlessed are you, G‑d our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who has made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.cally, in such a way that the top pointed toward the Almighty. They eventually compromised, and agreed that a 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 twelfth century France, is part of the message of the mezuzah.
The blessing and instructions for affixing the mezuzah are as follows.
- The mezuzah needs to be affixed on the right post of the door, on the top third of the frame, eye level, as you walk into the room. Make sure the room qualifies for mezuzot (not a restroom, etc)
- Holding the mezuzah in your hand, before putting it in place, recite the blessing either in Hebrew or a language you are comfortable with:
- Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, asher kidishanu, bemitzvotav vitzivanu, likboa mezuzah.
- Blessed are you, Lord, our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who has made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
ברוך אתה ד’ א-לוקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לקבוע מזוזה.