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What Is a Mezuzah?

What Is a Mezuzah?

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Mezuzah: (Lit. “doorpost”): A small parchment scroll upon which the Hebrew words of the Shema are handwritten by a scribe. Mezuzah scrolls are rolled up and affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes, designating the home as Jewish and reminding those who live there of their connection to G‑d and their heritage.

Mezuzahs in cases for sale
Mezuzahs in cases for sale

What Constitutes a Kosher Mezuzah?

The decorative case containing the mezuzah scroll is just that: a mere container. What’s important is the scroll, upon which the first two sections of the Shema are handwritten, beginning with the eternal words “Hear o Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.”1 These selections both contain G‑d’s instruction to affix the mezuzah: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

These words are handwritten by an expert scribe who is trained in the many laws involved in writing a mezuzah, including the requirement that it be written with special intention and that the words be written in order.

Every single letter in the mezuzah must be properly formed. A single crack in the parchment or any omission can invalidate the entire scroll. A printed mezuzah is invalid. For this reason it is vital that it be purchased from a reputable scribe or retailer.

On the reverse side of the scroll, the scribe writes one of G‑d’s names: Sha-dai. The three letters of this name form an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Guardian of the doorways of Israel.” Since this name of G‑d begins with the letter shin, mezuzah cases are often decorated with that letter.

More on how a mezuzah is written here.

The parchment mezuzah scroll.
The parchment mezuzah scroll.

Where Do Mezuzahs Hang?

You should hang a mezuzah on just about every doorway that belongs to you. Notable exceptions are doors leading to bathrooms and small closets.

The mezuzah should be hung on the right side of the door, on the top third of the doorway. The mezuzah should be right-side up, and slanted so that the top of the mezuzah faces inwards towards the room.

Read our one-page guide on mezuzah placement here.

Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Houston, in the background, helps Brian Levinson affix his new mezuzah. (Photo Jillian Levinson)
Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Houston, in the background, helps Brian Levinson affix his new mezuzah. (Photo Jillian Levinson)

What Does the Mezuzah Mean?

Judaism is not confined to synagogues. We strive for spirituality even within the comfort and familiarity of our own homes. The mezuzah on the doorpost reminds those who walk through that G‑dly life and Torah accompany them wherever they go.

Our sages teach that a mezuzah has the unique property of protecting the inhabitants of the home where it is hung—whether the inhabitants are inside or outside that home. The mezuzah can be compared to a “helmet,” a veneer that protects us against the dangers that surround us in our lives.

The Talmud teaches that while most kings sit on the inside while their guards protect them from without, G‑d stations His protection (as manifested in the mezuzah) on the outside, protecting His beloved people.

G‑d promises that anyone who carefully observes the mitzvah of mezuzah will lead a longer, richer life, as will their descendants, as Deuteronomy states, “So that you will prolong your days and the days of your children.”2

Read more about the protective power of mezuzah here.

When passing through a doorway where a mezuzah has been affixed, we glance at it and touch it. Some people then kiss their fingertips. This serves as a reminder throughout the day that G‑d is always with us, inside or outside our homes.

Read about why we kiss the mezuzah here.

Check the Mezuzah!

It is customary to have mezuzahs checked twice every seven years, or even every year, prior to the High Holidays. Even if the mezuzah was purchased from a reputable source and previously found to be perfectly kosher, there is always room for human error, and new cracks and other problems can appear with time. Of course, this checking must be done by an expert scribe.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would often urge people who encountered health challenges or other difficulties to have their mezuzahs (and tefillin) checked to make sure that every scroll was in good shape and properly placed on the doorpost.

If you need help getting a new mezuzah or having your existing ones checked, closest Chabad rabbi will be happy to assist you.

Footnotes
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Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org September 5, 2016

While kissing the mezuzah is an appropriate gesture whenever passing it, the location of the mezuzah remains the same even if someone cannot reach it. Reply

Anonymous inverness uk September 4, 2016

If you have a wheelchair user who lives in the house are you allowed to place the Mezuzah lower down so that they can reach it Reply

Chabad.org Staff August 11, 2016

Sure, you can find the text of the blessing at this link: Reply

Anonymous USA August 8, 2016

What is the english translation to the Muzuzah prayer? Reply

Chabad.org Staff November 26, 2014

Yes, it was. Reply

R.R.McKenzie USA November 26, 2014

Was the Passover-blood on the doorposts and lintel the origin of the Mezuzah? Reply

Craig Goodwin March 28, 2017
in response to R.R.McKenzie:

Hi I was thinking about the same question. Or phrasing it another way. What is the deeper relationship between the Mezuzah and the Pascal lamb and the story of Passover. Do you have an idea for a discussion on this topic during Seder. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org June 11, 2014

It is the tenant's responsibility to affix the mezuzot. Reply

Anonymous March 28, 2017
in response to Eliezer Zalmanov:

If you live in a Condominium in the United States or if there is a Homeowners Association it would depend if your Governing Documents address this issue. If your documents do not address this issue. I do not believe that you can require a Property Owner to affix a Mezuzot. Anyway, most people prefer that a Rabbi affix their Mezuzot Reply

Anonymous Israel June 11, 2014

When an apartment is rented, whose responsibility is it to affix the mezuzot? The tenant or the landlord? Reply

Anonymous New York, USA July 8, 2009

I am a writer and although not Jewish, I grew with the books of Leon Uris, about the horror of the Holocaust and about having the need to live together as a community. I feel happy learning about someone's faith. Rav todot! Reply

Robert Goldberg Porto Seguro, Brazil June 5, 2009

Just got a mezuzah for our new home. I always put my mezuzahs on wrong but I didn´t know. The ilustrations shoed me the proper side of the door and the correct inclination. Your site is a great mitzva because it helps idiots like me whenever I´m in doubt. Thank an Shalom to you all! Reply

Charlotte Surry, UK May 21, 2007

This web site is soooooooooooooooooooo good!!!! Reply

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