What is a mezuzah? Why and how do we use it?
What is a mezuzah?
The Hebrew word mezuzah means “doorpost.” According to tradition, the mezuzah is to be affixed to the doorpost at the entrance to a Jewish home as well as at the entrance to each of the interior rooms except for bathrooms. The mezuzah itself consists of a small scroll of parchment (k’laf ) on which are written two biblical passages. The first is Deuteronomy 6:4–9:
Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone. You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The second passage is Deuteronomy 11:13–21:
If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Eternal your God and serving [God] with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the Eternal’s anger will flare up against you, shutting up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Eternal is assigning to you. Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates—to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the Eternal swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.
The scroll is inserted into a wooden, plastic, or metal casing that is often quite beautiful and artistic in design. A mezuzah may be purchased at any store that handles Jewish religious articles.
Why do Jews affix a mezuzah to the doorpost of a home?
The custom of affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost fulfills the biblical commandment: “You shall write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9). The mezuzah distinguishes a Jewish home and is a visible sign and symbol to all those who enter that a sense of Jewish identity and commitment exists in that household. The mezuzah reminds us that our homes are holy places and that we should act accordingly—when we enter them and when we leave them to go out into the world.
Can we make our own mezuzah?
Tradition requires a certain form for the scroll (k’laf ) but not for the casing. The casing, then, may certainly be designed and created by those who live in the house.
How do we go about affixing the mezuzah to the doorpost?
A mezuzah-affixing ceremony should include all family members or residents of the household. The ceremony begins with a blessing:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu likboa m’zuzah.
“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.”
After the blessing is recited, the mezuzah is attached to the doorpost with nails, glue, or screws, on the right side of the door as one enters the room. Position the mezuzah about a third of the way down from the top of the doorpost. Sephardic Jews and most Ashkenazim usually angle the mezuzah with the top tilted inward toward the interior of the house or room, while some Ashkenazim place the mezuzah in an upright position.