When moving into a new home, it is not uncommon to find some mezuzot already affixed to a doorpost from an earlier occupant. Before discussing what to do with them, let’s first address why they were left there in the first place.

Why We Leave the Mezuzot Up When Moving

The general halachah is that when one moves out of his or her home and knows that the next occupant is Jewish, the mezuzot should not be removed, unless there is concern that if the mezuzot are left behind they would be discarded or defaced.1

  • In addition to being a mitzvah, the mezuzah provides spiritual protection for those who reside in the home. Removing it leaves the next occupants bereft of this divine protection. And, as explained in the Talmud,2 this causes danger both to the new occupants and departing occupants. Thus, the mezuzot are left up since one would be responsible for any damage or injury resulting from the removal of the mezuzot.3
  • To remove the holy mezuzah from the home is considered disrespectful toward the mitzvah, unless we are doing so to replace it with an even better mezuzah, in which case this act is not disrespectful at all.4
  • We leave the mezuzot to ensure that the next occupant (who may perhaps otherwise be lax) also fulfills this important mitzvah.5
  • The mezuzah invites the Divine Presence (Shechinah) into the home. We do not remove the mezuzah, lest it be an invitation for the Shechinah to depart.6

The Exceptions

Non-Jews are not commanded to have mezuzot on their doors. Thus, if the incoming occupants aren’t Jewish, one should remove the mezuzot,7 as (a) they aren’t being deprived of the mitzvah; (b) it will not cause a lack of divine protection; and (c) there is a concern that they may (unwittingly) treat it disrespectfully.

Even when the next occupant is a Jew, you may take down an expensive mezuzah and/or a beautiful mezuzah case, as long as you leave up a kosher scroll on each door. Additionally, you may ask the new occupant to reimburse you for the mezuzot that you leave in his home.8

Further exceptions include instances where it would be difficult to procure new mezuzot for your new home, or when the mezuzot have already been removed for reasons such as checking or renovations. Consult with a competent rabbi if this is applicable.9

What to Do With Mezuzot Found

In Judaism, sacred religious articles that are no longer usable are set aside and eventually buried. As such, if you aren’t Jewish but found mezuzot hanging on your doorposts, give them to a local rabbi who can ascertain whether they are still valid and/or bury them according to tradition.10

If you are Jewish, then you should ascertain whether the mezuzot were purposely left on the house for you, or if some previous unknown occupant simply forgot them there.

If they were simply left there (such as if they are very old and appear to have been forgotten), and you have better mezuzot you wish to use, have a rabbi or scribe inspect the old ones to determine if they should be buried or reused.

If the previous occupants were Jewish and you have reason to believe that they left the mezuzot up for you, contact them to ascertain whether or not they are expecting compensation (and perhaps also find out whether the mezuzot came from a reliable source).

No Two Mezuzot at the Same Time

If there is already a mezuzah on the doorpost and you wish to put up you own mezuzah, make sure to first remove the old one before replacing it with the new one. Having two mezuzot up in the same doorway at the same time would violate the prohibition of “not adding” to the mitzvahs.11

End Note

G‑d is called “The Guardian of Israel,” as we read, “Behold, He that guards Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”12 One of the reasons for the mitzvah of mezuzah is to ingrain within us the idea that G‑d watches us at all times, day and night.13 Indeed, by being scrupulous in this special mitzvah, making sure to properly put up kosher mezuzot as well as not disrespecting the mitzvah in any way, we provide the best security for ourselves and our family.