When Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin unveiled the mezuzah at the entrance of their new Jewish Campus, it turned heads. Unlike a typical scroll of 5 to 6 inches, this square mezuzah measures more than 3 feet tall, with each letter more than an inch in height. The mezuzah is one of the world’s largest, says veteran Israeli scribe Rabbi Betzalel Yakunt, who spent more than 30 hours painstakingly writing each letter on one of the largest parchments he’s ever handled.

Chabad of Berlin called me one day and asked me to produce the biggest mezuzah possible,” Yakunt, a sofer (“scribe”) with 45 years experience, tells Chabad.org from his scribal studio in the central Israeli town of Kfar Chabad. In the niche world of traditional Jewish scribal artisans, Yakunt is among a handful of expert scribes who specialize in writing oversized mezuzahs.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would often emphasize the Divine protection that a mezuzah brings to the home, and Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal—rabbi of the Jewish community of Berlin—wanted to bring that message home with the biggest mezuzah possible, in a city of untold Jewish suffering. “This mezuzah will bring more light to a city that has known immense tragedy and darkness,” says Teichtal.

But creating a massive mezuzah was not so easy. “We waited a long time to find a cow large enough,” says Yakunt, explaining that the parchment for a mezuzah—cow hide—cannot be stitched together; it must be one complete piece. Additionally, he explains, the larger hides are usually very fatty, making them unsuitable.

Finally, when a suitable hide was located, Yakunt had another task almost unheard of in modern scribal practice. Rather than using the typical quill, made of the feather of a kosher bird—often a turkey—he needed something larger to fashion the huge letters with.

Yakunt used a hand-cut bamboo reed as his quill, taking approximately 1.5 hours to write each of the 21 lines of the mezuzah—the time it takes most scribes to write an entire regular mezuzah. “I used an entire bottle of ink on this mezuzah,” he says.

In 2010, another Kfar Chabad scribe, Rabbi Yitzchak Karichali, completed what was then believed to be the world’s largest public mezuzah, which remains affixed to an interior entranceway at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. While the Berlin mezuzah is larger than the one at Ben-Gurion, the scribe says he has written two that are of similar size for private clients.

Scribe Rabbi Betzalel Yakunt, right, finishes the last letters of a Torah scroll
Scribe Rabbi Betzalel Yakunt, right, finishes the last letters of a Torah scroll

A Renaissance in Kosher Mezuzahs

In 1974, the Rebbe began a campaign to increase awareness of the mitzvah of mezuzah. His students and emissaries immediately got to work, placing tens of thousands of them on Jewish homes around the world over the next few months. The Rebbe pushed them to their limits, not satisfied until every Jewish home would have a mezuzah. That summer, when students in the newly established Yeshivah Gedolah Rabbinical College in Miami, Fla., wrote to the Rebbe informing him that they’d been working on the Mezuzah Campaign and had helped 40 homes in Miami affix a mezuzah, the Rebbe thanked them, writing to “add even more.” Circling the number 40, the Rebbe added: “There are around 40,000 Jews in the area!”

In a market rife with fraud, Chabad centers have become a trusted source for purchasing genuine, kosher mezuzah scrolls, and around the world, Chabad’s emissaries work to affix them to doorposts and encourage people to regularly check the kosher status of their mezuzahs.

What does a mezuzah of this size cost? Yakunt says it’s around $3,000, depending on the exact size and script.

For this mezuzah, no effort was spared in creating the most beautiful scroll possible. Yakunt also wrote using the script of the Alter Rebbe, an ornate one that takes longer to write and that few scribes are skilled in.

But no matter the size, he says, the same level of care and concentration goes into making all genuine, kosher mezuzahs—and unlike many other fields, his is a craft that will never be replaced by technology.