Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mezuzahs on the Doorposts of Gentiles

By Susan Esther Barnes

Because of the name of my blog, I just had to comment on this.

The New York Times recently published an article about Gentiles (non-Jews) in New York who have mezuzahs on their doors. Apparently, this is a result of Jews who put up the mezuzah(s), then subsequently died or moved out, leaving their mezuzah(s) behind.

For various reasons, the new occupants of many homes have left them up. Based on the article, it appears some like their decorative qualities, while others are concerned about the mark that would be left if the mezuzah were removed, particularly in places where the doorway has been painted over, leaving another color underneath.

At first, I didn’t see this as a big issue, but then I realized how irresponsible it is of the previous owners, or in the case of those who died, whoever was supposed to take care of their personal effects after their death.

After all, a mezuzah is an important ritual object. Technically, although we call the container we see on the doorpost the mezuzah, my understanding is that the actual mezuzah is the scroll inside which has certain specific passages from the Torah written on it.

The mezuzah therefore has the name of God written on it, and nothing with the name of God is supposed to be thrown in the trash. If it is damaged or needs to be discarded for some reason, it is supposed to be buried.

It seems highly unlikely that a Gentile, no matter how well intended, will know the proper way to dispose of a mezuzah once it is no longer wanted. So, no matter whether the new occupant wants to keep it for a while, or gets rid of it right away, the chances are good the mezuzah will not receive the proper burial it deserves.

If someone puts a mezuzah up, then unless they know the home will subsequently be occupied by other Jews, they should take it down when they leave. When a Jewish person dies, if they are the only Jewish person in that home, their mezuzah(s) should be removed by their family members or whoever is taking care of their affairs.

And even if you don’t think it’s a big deal whether or not a mezuzah is buried once it’s no longer going to be used, read how the NYT article ends:

Connie Peirce… said she often wished she had inherited a mezuza like many of her non-Jewish neighbors did... To her delight, one of her Jewish neighbors recently hung a mezuza on her doorway. “Every time I come home and remember, I kiss it and touch it and then I bless myself, saying, ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.’ ”

So, the mezuzah, the holy scroll which begins with the words, “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu, Adonai Echad – Hear Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one,” the central Jewish expression of God’s unity, is being caressed by someone while they are asserting that God is a trinity.

Now that’s just wrong.


  1. susan, this is such an interesting post. i'm not sure i would have seen things from this perspective if you hadn't written about it. and i suppose that's why we blog, isn't it?! :)

  2. I, too am not sure I would have seen things from this perspective if I hadn't written about it. And yes, that's one of the reasons we blog. Self-discovery "R" us!

  3. I just read your post and I think your right about mezuzah.Nice post Susan.

  4. yikes to that last part! I would never think people would be careless enough to justleave them there when they move. odd.

  5. Amen!! The Lord, our God is ONE!!!!!

  6. Hi, Susan. I had a non-Jewish neighbor asking me about my mezzuzah. She wanted to know if it was OK for her to have one on her doorpost, because she 'really got good energy from it'. I was a bit circumspect, but I knew that the halacha is that Jews who are vacating a home can leave the mezzuzah case in place, but must remove the scroll. So when my neighbor was adamant about purchasing a mezzuzah case, I simply pointed out that she should refrain from purchasing a scroll. She agreed. So crisis averted. It is possible that a lot of the mezzuzot that you are writing about, have had their scrolls removed.

  7. If a Gentile wishes, he can write or print out the words of the "Shema Yisroel" verse(s) on regular paper, in English or Hebrew or any other language, and affix it to his door post. Since it is not written on parchment, there is no danger that he will be, or appearing to be, attempting to fulfill the Jewish mitzvah. (But it should not be done with an intention that he is doing it as a performance of a religious precept.)

  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PORSjRjGQwM

    It is addressed more at B'nai Noach, but interesting.

  9. mezzuzot remind me of loaded guns, without the parchment inside, they're inert.

  10. I'm a gentile, and would like to know if it is "out of line" to touch a Mezuzah and kiss my hand, as the Jewish people do....
    I do it, and have done it in the past out of respect for the people, and the religion itself.
    Am I wrong or respectful?