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Why Kiss the Mezuzah?

Why Kiss the Mezuzah?

E-mail

Dear Rabbi,

I want to understand why some people touch the mezuzah on the doorpost of their home as they enter or leave.

Answer:

The mezuzah, which is placed on doorways in Jewish homes, holds a piece of parchment containing two selections of verses ( Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and Deuteronomy 11:13–21).This is the Shema prayer, which expresses the unity of G‑d. The verses start with “Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One,” and continue with the commandment to love G‑d with all of your heart. The parchment is placed in a small encasement and affixed on the doorposts of the home.1

The tradition in many Jewish homes is to place one’s hand on the mezuzah when passing by, and there are those who then kiss the hand that touched it. What is the source of this custom?

The first record of someone touching a mezuzah in this way is found in the Talmud in a story of the famous Roman convert to Judaism, Onkelos the son of Kalonymus.

The Talmud relates that the Roman emperor sent soldiers to bring Onkelos2 to him:

They went, and Onkelos told them verses from the Torah [Bible], and they were inspired and converted.

The emperor sent another group of soldiers, telling them not to tell him anything. Onkelos said, “Let me tell you something trivial . . .” Inspired by his words, they all converted.

The emperor sent another group of soldiers, and told them not to discuss anything with him.

As they were taking him out of the house, Onkelos saw a mezuzah on the doorway; he stretched out his arm and touched it. Onkelos asked them, “What is this that I am touching?” The soldiers responded, “You tell us.”

Onkelos explained to them, “It is the custom of the world that the king sits in the inside of the palace, and the guards protect him from the outside. However, with G‑d, His servants are inside their homes and He protects them from the outside, as the verse says (Psalms 121:8), “G‑d will protect your departure and your arrival from now and forever.”

The soldiers were inspired, and they converted. The emperor did not send any additional soldiers.3

Based on this passage, Rabbi Moses Isserles added in a gloss in the Code of Jewish Law:

Some have the custom to place their hand on the mezuzah when they leave their home, and say, “G‑d will protect your departure . . .” And the same when one enters the home—one should place one’s hand on the mezuzah.4

Why place a hand on the mezuzah? Commentaries explain that it reminds you to contemplate the unity of G‑d, as Maimonides writes in his code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah:

A person needs to be very careful in his or her observance of mezuzah, for it is incumbent on every individual and during the entire day.

Through the mezuzah, every time a person enters or leaves his home, he will encounter the unity of G‑d and remember his love for G‑d. Thus he will awaken from his “sleep,” and recognize his obsession with the vanity of the times. And he will know that there is nothing that lasts eternally, besides for the knowledge of the Creator of the world.

Through contemplating this, the person will regain awareness and follow the path of the upright.5

Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Arizal, adds that one should kiss the finger that touched the mezuzah, as if the holiness of the mezuzah transferred to the hand.6

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in a 1987 talk, praised the custom of children kissing the mezuzah prior to going to bed. The Rebbe explained how what a person sees and hears as a child influences him as an adult, and that for children, “kissing the mezuzah engraves in them the recognition that there is one G‑d that watches over them and all that is found in their room.”7

FOOTNOTES
1.

While it is widely accepted today to protect the parchment with an encasement, that is not required. However, if the mezuzah is not covered, one should not place one’s hand on it, out of respect (see commentary of Pitchei Teshuvah to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 285:4).

2.

Some identify him with the Onkelos who was the nephew of the emperor.

3.

Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a.

4.

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 285:2.

5.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mezuzah 6:13.

6.

Kitvei Arizal, vol. 12, Taamei Hamitzvot, Vaetchanan. See Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai (1724–1806), known as the Chida, in his commentary Birkei Yosef to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 285:4.

7.

Freely translated from the talk published in Torat Menachem—Hitvaaduyot 5747, vol. 2, p. 647.

Dovid Zaklikowski is the director of Lubavitch Archives, a freelance journalist and public speaker. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Discussion (8)
June 24, 2013
A friend's mezuzah...
Would it be appropriate for me, an atheist, when entering or leaving, to touch a good friend's mezuzah as a sign of friendship and respect? I would certainly not wish to offend my friend, the Jewish faith, or any adherent thereof by doing the wrong thing.
Anonymous
ohio, US
December 1, 2011
Kissing or Touching Mezuzah
Whatever you want to do either kiss or touch, do it from your heart. I think it is not necessary to touch the Mezuzah, we can just keep our hand away from it and take a kiss of Mezuzah.
Anonymous
Alibag - Raigad, India
November 27, 2011
The to the Mezuzah
Dear rabbi
To get to know and understand the meaning of the thouching and kissing of the MEZUZAH to me is a blessing ......if I felt protected before by faith ...
Now I can expresed with more Joy!!!!!!!!!!!!
Gloria
Saint Cloud , FL.
November 25, 2011
kissing and Hygiene!
Yes, you are suppose to kiss any Mezzuza where ever you see one. However as per today's hygiene’s standards, it is not very healthy to do so, as oppose to years ago when people were not aware of germs as we are today. If it's going to touch your lips, then do it with a tissue or just don't really touch it or your lips, don't worry about people seeing you, do it for yourself and G-d who, I'm sure would understand.
Feigele
Boca Raton, Florida
November 24, 2011
Kissing any mezuzah ... ?
What about mezuzot from other people's houses ... be it family or friends ?
Should one kiss them ? Or NOT touch them ?
Or just kiss the mezuzot in ones own home ?
I have seen people kiss mezuzot while entering shops ... or visiting others.
Mark Bebernig
NYC, NY
November 24, 2011
Unity
What is the "unity of G-d"?
Richard
San Diego, USA
November 17, 2011
great Q
That is a great question and I would say that it is fine not to if that is the worry. First of all that is a valid concern nowadays, in fact there is a comandment to guard ones' health. Aside from that, it is not compulsory to kiss the mezuza at all but to merely have it on the doorpost. My own suggesion is to kiss an inch away from your finger before touching the mezuza so to onlookers it looks as if you are and for yourself as to not get out of the habit of not doing it at all if it is important to you.
Anonymous
November 14, 2011
kissing vs touching mezuzah in dirty city
I know this may seem silly, but I have a health question. Living in NYC we take the trains, touch very dirty things on the way home. I always wash my hands as as soon as I get home, but before that I kiss my mezuzah on the way in. I am nervous these days about having dirty hands, kissing the mezuzah before washing the germs off of my hands. Is it OK not to kiss the mezuzah upon entering but to only touch it?
Sonya
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