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Why Is the Mezuzah Slanted?

Why Is the Mezuzah Slanted?

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Question:

I have noticed that people place the mezuzahs on their doorposts on an angle. Is there a reason for this?

Reply:

Yes, indeed. In Ashkenazic tradition, the top of the mezuzah is inclined towards the inside of the room, and the bottom towards the outside. How did this come about?

In his monumental compendium on Jewish law, Arbaah Turim, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher (13th–14th centuries) cites two conflicting opinions. He first quotes Rashi, who taught that the mezuzah should be placed vertically. He then cites the view of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, who opined that placing the mezuzah in a “standing” position is not respectful. Rather, he taught that it should be placed horizontally, similar to how the Tablets and the Torah scroll were arranged in the Holy Ark in the Temple.

Think of the situation in the synagogue when the sefer Torah is removed from its ark: As long as it is being held up vertically, all the people stand. As soon as it is placed down to rest, the people also may sit. Rabbeinu Tam seems to be saying the same about the mezuzah.

So what are we to do? Rabbi Jacob ben Asher concludes that those who are careful to do the mitzvahs in the best way possible fulfill both opinions (at least partially) by placing their mezuzahs on a slant.

In his glosses to the Code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Moshe Isserles writes that the position of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s “careful ones” has since become prevalent in Ashkenazic communities. In Sephardic communities, however, people follow Rashi’s opinion, affixing their mezuzahs vertically.

To find out everything else you’d like to know about mezuzahs, see our mezuzah mini-site.


Sources:
Talmud, Menachot 33a, and commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot ad loc.; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 289. See also Pitchei She’arim (a contemporary book on the laws of mezuzah) 289:6.
Malkie Janowski is an accomplished educator who lives in Coral Springs, Florida. Mrs. Janowski is also a responder on Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
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Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org March 21, 2016

Re: R'Tam Mezuzah Yes, both opinions have the mezuzah written the same way, and they differ only on the placement. Reply

Anonymous March 21, 2016

R'Tam Mezuzah May I assume, that R'Tam intended to write Mezuzah vertically? Reply

R. Robinson Philadelphia March 10, 2013

The minority opinion Our tradition values the minority opinion. One need not agree with a master in order to show him respect. The Talmud documents the discussion, the argument, not just the final ruling. Why is this so? because we are meant to LEARN something from the discussion itself. Rabbeinu Tam is not disrespecting his grandfather by disagreeing. On the contrary, he is honoring his grandfather's legacy by think seriously about Jewish ritual and law. Reply

Phil Atlanta October 30, 2012

Mac is right Mac is right. The Talmud doesn't say how the mezuzah should be oriented; it says how it should /not/ be oriented (It should not be oriented "like a nogah"). Thus, the slant follows both opinions. Reply

Avrohom los angeles, CA October 24, 2012

mezuza article mac, a beautiful idea.

i'm having trouble, however, seeing the connection of " the situation in the synagogue when the sefer Torah is removed from its ark: As long as it is being held up vertically, all the people stand. As soon as it is placed down to rest, the people also may sit." to the "direction" of the mezuzah. Can somebody enlighten me on that? Thanks! Reply

Dovid Bressman LOS ANGELES, California October 24, 2012

Answer to Hi Jonathan,

An Ashkenaz should follow Ashkenazic custom to angle a mezuzah on a diagonal slant regardless of where one lives. Reply

Mac Ottawa, Canada October 24, 2012

Slanting doesn't fulfill either opinion! Excellent article!

One might ask, however, why Isn't slanting the Mezuzah going against both opinions, thereby not satisfying either one? A possible reason is that Rashi may have held that it is Kosher as long as it is not horizontal and Rabeinu Tam might have maintained it was fine as long as it was not entirely vertical. Therefore slanting it satisfies both opinions. Reply

Joel Battle Mountain, NV October 23, 2012

This Sephardic Jew mounts his Mezuzah slanted To save the many Ashkenazim from asking why it is mounted wrong. I believe the most important aspect of the Mezuzah is the scriptures within it as Mezuzah only means "door post" or door frame. I could just as well place it vertical and still recite the Shema knowing that it is in place. Either way I feel comfortable. Reply

Debby Weltman Los Angeles, Ca October 23, 2012

Why is the Mezuzah Slanted Malkie Janowski is amazing.
All of her answers are well researched and perfectly clear.
What a pleasure to read! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 23, 2012

it seems the answer has to do with however you're "inclined" to respond, and whatever slant you give to this question, it appears, both are right.

maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe what matter is the significance itself of the the mezuzah. Reply

Elisheba Portland October 23, 2012

Sefardi customs Do Sefardim also angle the Mezuzah? Reply

alex thebalticstates October 21, 2012

thanks for the article! it's very interesting to know both two opinions how to fix the Mezuzah and explanation concerning Rabbenu Tam way. thank you chabad.org! Reply

danny london July 31, 2010

WOAH! all i am reading is that rashi's grandson was a bit of a rebel. they can't both be right. i understand trying to be careful and it actually shows a bit of humility to say "i don't know", bur rashi is rashi and his grandson should know his place and wash the dishes. This is not the unbroken, conclusive tradition that we speak so much about. This is us agreeing with the rebellious grandson of rashi who is saying that rashi is wrong. that grandson should have been put in his place. also, if rashi's statement was so definitive, how could anyone even disagree? surely the hebrew for vertical is not the same as horizontal? just seems like a bit of nonsense to me Reply

stewart perlman fremont, ca/usa via jewishtrivalley.com June 14, 2010

angled mezuzah thank you for the explanation... Reply

Jonathan Nagy Cadiz, Spain June 13, 2010

Ashkenazi Jew in Spain I was raised Ashkenazi but now live in Spain.
Should I angle the mezuzah or place it vertically? Reply

Daniel Pinner Kfar Tapuach, Israel May 28, 2010

Beautiful idea I learnt from Rav Shlomo Price The Mezuza is unique halachically: in ALL other cases, we follow either one opinion or the other (Hillel, not Shammai; Rabbi Yehuda, not Rabbi Shimon etc). With the Mezuza, we compromise between Rashi & Rabbeinu Tam. The lesson is that when building a Jewish home, the first thing the husband & wife must learn is to compromise, to accept each others' differences. Reply

Stewart Perlman Fremont, CA via jewishtrivalley.com May 22, 2010

angled mezuzah thank you for the commentary. Now that you explained the reason for angling the top of the mezuzah toward the house, Sephardic Jews do not angle the mezuzah and always keep the Torah in the vertical position in prayer. I am curious if you know the reasons that are expressed by Jews who follow the customs and traditions of Sephardic Jewry.

Thanks, Reply

izzy ny April 21, 2010

very very interesting!! ... learn things every day .... Reply

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