Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Top 10 Mezuzah Facts

By Susan Esther Barnes
Photo by Kim Press

Someone came to my blog recently by using the search term, “Top 10 mezuzah facts.” It struck me as a reasonable list for a person to seek, but my response would be too long to include in one of my “Your Questions Answered” posts. As a result, I have dedicated this post to answering this reader’s question.

1. What is a mezuzah?
The word mezuzah means “doorpost” in Hebrew. Commonly, this word refers to an object that Jewish people put on the doorposts of our home, or other places where we sleep or eat. Some people put one on every doorpost of their home, except for restrooms and closets. Others just put one on the front door. Currently, I have one on my front door and on the door into my home from the garage (which is the entrance I use the most frequently).

In Israel, many hotels have a mezuzah on the doorpost of every hotel room, and there is a mezuzah on each gate into the Old City in Jerusalem, as shown in the photo above. Some people also wear a mezuzah on a necklace.

2. Is a mezuzah just a decorative box?
No, inside every mezuzah is a scroll. To be kosher, the scroll must be made of parchment, although some cheaper ones are sold with a paper scroll. There are specific words from the Torah written on the scroll.

3. What is written on the mezuzah scroll?
The scroll contains certain passages from the Torah. I won’t write it all out here, but the passages form a prayer called the “Sh’ma,” which is sometimes referred to as the “watchword of our faith.” First, the Sh’ma declares that God is one. This may not sound like a big deal these days, but it was a radical statement when Judaism was in its early days and the Greeks, Egyptians, and others worshipped multiple Gods. The prayer goes on to talk about loving God, and commands us to teach the words of the prayer to children and others, and to “inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

4. What is the purpose of the mezuzah?
First and foremost, the mezuzah is the fulfillment of one of the 613 commandments in the Torah. We are told to “inscribe these words on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Placing a mezuzah on one’s doorpost is a literal way to fulfill this commandment.

Some people say it is good luck, but I don’t believe in good luck charms, and mainstream Judaism generally frowns on this sort of thinking.

5. Where on the door should a mezuzah be placed?
Traditionally, the mezuzah is placed on the right-hand side of the door, about two-thirds of the way up. This makes it easy and convenient for able-bodied and average-sized adults to reach with their right hand. On some large buildings with oversized doors, where two-thirds of the way up would be hard for most people to reach, it is placed at the same height as it would be when two-thirds of the way up a normal-sized door.

In some places, the mezuzah is placed lower, to make it more accessible to children, shorter people, and people in wheelchairs.

Often, the mezuzah is placed so that the top is tilted toward the inside of the home. Like with many aspects of Judaism, there are many theories about why it is tilted that way.

6. What is the proper way to kiss a mezuzah?
Some people kiss their fingers, then touch them to the mezuzah. Others touch the mezuzah with their fingers, and then kiss them. Either way is fine.

7. Why do people kiss a mezuzah?
Some people use the kissing of the mezuzah on the way into their home as a way to remind themselves that, before we can make peace in the world, we must first make peace in our own home. I kiss my mezuzah on the way out of my home to remind myself of the kind of person I want to be when I go out into the world. Others use it as a reminder of God’s commandments.

8. When should a mezuzah be placed on a home, and when should it be taken down?
A person moving into a new home should put up their mezuzah as soon as possible after moving in. When a person moves out, the mezuzah is often the last thing to be removed.

9. What prayers are associated with a mezuzah?
There is no prayer for when we see and/or kiss a mezuzah, or for when we remove one from a doorpost. When we put up a mezuzah, we say a Hebrew prayer that means, “Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us with your commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.”

10. What do you do with a broken mezuzah, or one you don’t want to use any more?
Because the scroll inside the mezuzah contains God’s name, it should not be throw away. Rather, it should be buried, like all other items with God’s name on them.


  1. What an interesting blog post Susan - I enjoyed reading it!

  2. Can someone explain to me how I check if the Mezuzah invalid or valid