Contact Us

The 'Case' of the Scandalous Mezuzah

The 'Case' of the Scandalous Mezuzah

 Email

In my youth, I was an avid reader of comic books. My favorite hero was a strangely garbed crime-fighter who was hated by the under-world and misunderstood by the press and public. Recently, whenever my misrepresented hero comes to mind, subconsciously I superimpose another image on his masked face, the countenance of a young Chassid.

A few months ago, after having gained my freedom for the day with my last lecture, I was suddenly confronted by a mobile home bellowing Jewish music. Scurrying around in the immediate area, was a menagerie of Chassidic youth, conservatively attired and sporting black hats. I was more curious to see the inside of the trailer than drawn by their speech on dispelling the darkness of assimilation. As this inquisitiveness pushed me through the door, phylacteries were wound around my arm and placed upon my head. (Incredibly enough, this action awakened dusty memories from the attic of my youth). On the way out, my hands were filled with brochures and a candlestick for my five-year-old daughter.

The beautiful box merely contained a piece of paper with machine-printed wordsA few weeks later, while in the process of my bimonthly "clean-out-my-desk-of-all-accumulated-junk" project, my attention focused on the brochures, now covered with phone numbers and memos. Their message contained a pep-talk on lighting Sabbath candles, learning Torah, putting on Tefillin, giving charity, and having Jewish books in one's home. A separate pamphlet spoke of the importance of affixing a Mezuzah to ones doorposts. Salient phrases caught my eye: "The letters must be hand-written on parchment... they can become damaged or cracked with age, and should be checked at least every three and a half years. "I had bought a beautiful blue Mezuzah while touring Israel six years previously. I knew that it was good, a $5 price tag and an honest-faced proprietor had assured me of this, but still, perhaps after six years…

Shlomie and Yosie from the Lubavitch Mitzvah Campaign unceremoniously entered my home a half hour later than expected. Within ten minutes, the contents of my Mezuzah were strewn across the kitchen table, and they informed me that it was absolutely not Kosher. The beautiful box merely contained a piece of paper with machine-printed words.

I felt my temper rising. What right did these kids have to tell me how to run my home? "This is preposterous! It's from Israel! And it cost me five bucks!!"

Yosie tried to placate my indignation. "This is not unusual, sir. Our "Mezuzah Campaign" has uncovered many such problems. Quite often, Mezuzahs purchased at a synagogue gift shop or Hebrew bookstore are found to be unfit. In the Israeli Knesset, leftist Shulamit Aloni has found it necessary to introduce a bill designed to curb the sale of fraudulent Mezuzahs. The money you paid went for the case, but the scroll inside, which is the actual Mitzvah, was scandalously lacking."

I broke in on the young man's speech and succinctly informed them that I did not wish to change the Mezuzah, and that printed words would suffice for my home.

At the front door, Shlomie fingered the slanted patch of clean paint where the Mezuzah had once lain and attempted to calm the tempest. "Everyday, we come across machine-printed scrolls containing everything from the Ten Commandments to quotations from the King James Bible. And everyday we come across people like yourself, people who are angry and frustrated because they have been mislead. Please, though, don't let your anger stand in the way of the performance of a Mitzvah." (No, I suppose that it wasn't their fault that I had been duped.)

"The Mezuzah is a covenant between G‑d and the Jewish people," he continued. "By attaching this hand-written scroll to your doorposts G‑d protects those within. (I even began to admire their absolute faith in an Omnipotent presence.) "People buy expensive homes and invest in costly interior decorations, but they tend to forget that the real beauty of a Jewish home is expressed through something relatively inexpensive; the Mezuzah on each doorpost."

A sign of aging is when one's broad mind and thin waist exchange places. Eventually I returned, from playing the role of a cantankerous old man, to my thirty-some odd years. With some persuasion from the two Chassidim, I came to the conclusion that since only vestigial signs of religious ritual have remained with me, whichever commandments I observed, should be kept in the proper manner. Particularly if it was as simple as putting a seven and a half dollar Mezuzah on the doorpost. By the end of our encounter, I had them affix kosher Mezuzahs to all the doorposts of my home.

As they left, I pictured my crime-fighting hero of years gone by, thwarting the evil designs of the true criminals, those fast-buck merchants who desecrate our religion. Envisioned his campaign to enact protective legislation that we shouldn't be swindled out of this important commandment which we all want to keep. He urges us to have the Mezuzahs on our homes checked by a qualified scribe to make sure that they are kosher. To this day, the echo of his words remains with me: "Those little scrolls of parchment are a covenant with G‑d which protects our homes and loved ones. Please, please don't overlook such a priceless treasure."

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
30 Comments
1000 characters remaining
G. Williams Columbus, Ohio/USA August 10, 2011

I am a Christain Zionist and have had the same Mezuzah on my doorpost for 17yrs. I was just made aware a few years ago that they needed to be checked. Upon doing so to my surprise "I thought" it was in good shape just because the letters were still clear, only because it was a printed version also. I bought mine on line and wasn't aware of the strict requirements. but I found a Judica Store in town that sells True Kosher Items. The Rabbi and I have become quite friendly and he has no problem in answering all my questions & instructing me on the right and the wrong way of doing things of which I am very very appreciative ! Reply

Gavriel Eliezer ben Ze'ev Gershon Largo, FL December 19, 2010

Rona's comment "...where does one find what should be written on parchment and placed inside."
Rona, all Mezuzot have the same contents. This is from the Shema and consists of the sections from the Torah dealing with the mitzvah of doorposts. We recite this twice daily. You may not choose from among prayers.
As an artist you definitely may not use what you have been experimenting with by writing on parchment using sumi ink. Also you cannot consider this a D.I.Y. project. Only a trained sofer (scribe) who is Torah observant can fulfill this mitzvah properly. I have been writing wedding Ketubot for 40 years and would never consider crossing the line and writing a mezuzah or any other biblical passage for ritual use. This would definitely not be kosher. Reply

Ilene Stackel Naples, FL December 15, 2010

Questionable Mezuzah I love this. It made me smile. I couldn't help but think of all the iconic American super heroes that were created by members of the Tribe, and imagined one of them barging through doors to keep us safe from fraudulent Mezuzahs. Thank you :-) Reply

Mark Schwartz Tel Aviv, Israel December 15, 2010

Mezuzah thefts in Israel It is my sad duty to inform you that mezuzot are stolen right off the door posts for their clafim (scrolls), especially in urban centers such as Tel Aviv, when the door to the building does not have key or electronic intercom access.

A claf typically goes for about 120 shekels (about $35 or so, maybe less). You should only buy a claf from a reputable store or directly from the scribe.

While I am on the subject, the Chabadniks checked the scrolls in my original tefillin six years ago (now almost 44 years old) and replaced them at a very fair nominal price.

I also appreciated their checking out my mezuzot when I came to Israel. This is just one of the many, many services which Chabad provides. I must say that I know of no other organization which gives us so much and helps people return to Judaism. Consider giving to Chabad whenever you can! Reply

Katie Sydney, Australia December 15, 2010

Mezuzahs Stunning, beautifully written with such honesty. Thank you, Katie Reply

Rona Wagner Conti Belmont, MA December 14, 2010

Requirements for a Kosher Mezuzah Very well written article, amusingly so, but in a most informative manner. Thus, my question is, where does one find what should be written on parchment and placed inside. May I choose from among prayers? As an artist who recently began experimenting with writing on parchment using sumi ink, and as someone who has no mezuzah at present, I thought that I could make this a D.I.Y. project. I have been writing the Shehechiyanu blessing with a brush. Would this be kosher? Reply

Yitzchok New York, NY December 14, 2010

Only get mezuzah scrolls from a reliable source Stories like this are unfortunately very common. Sometimes if it looks too good to be true it is just that (like a Kosher Mezuzah for $5). But even if it's selling for full price you still need to make sure it's from a reliable place or a seller that you know personally. Reply

Garet Benson Modiin Illit, Israel September 7, 2010

Honest dealers in Israel I hope no readers conclude that Israel is full of shady mezuza dealers. There's a website called JDoorpost.com that has reviews of Israel-based websites, including a page on online mezuza sellers. They also make an argument for buying from the Land of Israel specifically. Reply

Richard S'Chevalier Queen Creek, Arizona USA December 20, 2008

Complications "Life should not be so complicated." Yes Yosef Freedland, I did write those words, but it was simply more an expression, and not my actual outlook on life. per se.

Blessings and Shalom Reply

Eliezer Posner, Chabad.org Brooklyn, NY December 19, 2008

re:$$$$ A bunch of comments back, an anonymous poster asked where to get cheap mezuzot in the UK. I'm in the US, so I don't know about UK prices, but I know that you can get mezuzot for free, from "the Mezuzah Bank." (mezuzahbank.com) In order to get mezuzot from them, you need to place the request through your local Chabad rabbi. So if you aren't already in touch with your local Chabad, go to chabad.org/centers and make the connection! Reply

Zusel ben Shlomo NY, USA December 19, 2008

RE: skepticism Dear Yisroel B. Yes I am skeptical, but I would ask you not to judge my skepticism too harshly until you "are qualified to judge". (Judging from facebook, you are much younger than my children.) Yes, there are stories of the power of mezuzot, tefillin, hamsas, and even petitions to the Rebbe. There are also stories, not as often told and retold of non-beneficial results of the observance of mitzvot. Some, such as the massacre at Ma'alot, which was probably before you were born, was blamed by some religious Jews on the non-kosher mezuzot in the school.

They may have been correct, but then again, they may have only been expressing their disdain for anything that they disagreed with.

All Jews are friends, even if some of them fall prey to fraud.

Shabbat Shalom, Reply

Anonymous December 18, 2008

I have just started to learn safrus (scribal technique) I second Rabbi Gutnick, having seen some of these scrolls myself. A sofer once told me of a time he opened a pair of tefillin to check them and found the word pasul (invalid) on the back of each scroll. Sometimes the fraud is not so egregious as printing and the bogus scrolls are sometimes on real parchment. An easy way of telling a fake mezuza at a glance, is if the horizontal parts of the letters are slanted. Also, the tops of the letters of one kosher line are on the same level Reply

Alese Bradenton, FL December 18, 2008

Mezuzot It is a sad world ehen some of the Jewish people don't know the difference between the mezuzah and the case. And it it also sad that they are more concerned about the beauty of the case than the Kosherness of the parchment. Maybe for some, beauty is only skin deep after all. Reply

yisroel brusowankin aventura, florida December 18, 2008

to zusel ben shlomo instead of being cynical about such a beautiful mitzva why not appreciate the fact that G-D in his infinite kindness gave us a shield against the dangers that unfortunately exist in the world.Mumbai and Eastern europe are tradgedies that are incomprhensible.you use grand words to portray a ridiculous assertion. just because we can't explain certain things doesn't delegetimitize the countless stories where mezuzot have been proven to be a special source of divine protection. every mitzva creates a channel through which G-D flows his blessings. your question implies a general skepticsm about the power of mitzvot in general. learn. explore. but don't make judgements on things you are not qualified to judge. Reply

Rabbi Eli Gutnick, Certified Sofer (Scribe) Melbourne, Australia December 18, 2008

I see them all the time I'm a community sofer (scribe) and check mezuzah scrolls for a living. Unfotunately the rate of fraudulent mezuzot being sold is high, I encounter them daily. There is a concept in chassidic philosophy called "ze leumas zeh" the more holy something is the more likely negative elements will arise. I explain this to my customers, that while there are many pious, G-d fearing scribes and mezuzah merchants, there is also real fraud going on. Many of the retailers of fraudulent mezuos are ignorant themselves and are simply passing on non kosher mezuzah scrolls from unscrupulous suppliers. It is very important to buy a mezuzah from someone you know and trust, such as your local rabbi or community sofer (scribe). There are many good internet sites for those who do not have a local rabbi or scribe (Hasofer.com, mysofer.com. esofer.com ,etc, etc). Yes, it is disheartening and outrageous that this phenomenon occurs, but being aware of the problem is the the first step in combating this problem. Reply

Yosef Freedland Petah Tikvah, Israel December 17, 2008

BSD - A Word From the Author With respect to the reader response regarding mezuzah case prices:
I wrote the article about 30 years ago for (discontinued) 613 Magazine when $5 was about the going rate for a simple mezuzah case containing rolled-up paper.
With respect to the reader response that, “life should not be so complicated”:
I agree, but point out that certification is required even more today than 30 years ago at the time of writing, as Chinese silk-screen mezuzah parchments have recently made a debut in the US.
Additionally, purchasing a kosher certified Mezuzah from Israel should not “triple the cost” as they are generally competitively priced with other countries, unless:
- the mezuzah case contains the above-noted Chinese-printed parchment; and/or
- the mezuzah was received “free” at a Religious Institution dinner ceremony in gratitude for a large donation.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey D. Land,
(now known as Yosef Freedland) Reply

Anonymous December 17, 2008

The Exile of Judaism "If" you put on a kosher mezuzah "then" G-d will protect your house? That's like, 'If you're good, I won't punish you, and maybe you'll even get a candy.' Is that really who G-d is? Is that all a mezuzah is? Is that who the People of Israel are? This is the "scandal". G-d, take us out of this exile! Reply

Anonymous Escondido, CA/USA December 17, 2008

The Mezuzah I am grateful to read about the heart of the Mezuzah, a symbol of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. I also appreciate the ‘change in heart’ of Jeffrey D. Land – it appears to me G-d cherishes a broken and contrite heart - in his relationship with the amazing G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous efrat, israel December 17, 2008

mezuzaha most people, especially in america, buy mezuzahs and believe they are kosher--they nail them to their doorposts with complete faith. Reply

t.t. carmel, iN December 17, 2008

Is it really protection....... Are we trying to put logic on this mitzvah? Are we capable of really knowing the full depth of reasoning or meaning behind a mitzvah? In our state of exile are we capable of seeing the full scope of any act? I want to react to my own pain and the pain of all those involved but I also still want to feel trust in the ways we have been given by the Holy One. For me in these moments just as I can not fully comprehend the Depth of the Holy One in Torah or Mitzvah, nor can I comprehend the depth of what is happening around me or in Life.
Shalom to All! Reply



This page in other languages