Mezuzah affixed to a door frame on South Street in Philadelphia./Wikipedia photo by 00dahc

Ask A Jew: What is a mezuzah?

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By Hyphen Parent

What is the Jewish name for the house blessing by the front door?

SPO_Ask-a-Jew-ad_042114A mezuzah is mounted on the doorposts of Jewish homes. While you may notice one on the front door, they’re actually on the doorposts of all rooms other than bathrooms.

 

They’re the small parchment scrolls contained in decorative boxes. The boxes range from plain to very ornate. Many are quite beautiful.

 

The mezuzah contains not a house blessing, but a prayer. Written in it, you’ll find Deut 11: 13-21 and the first two paragraphs of the Shema in tiny handwritten lettering. The mitzvot to hang a mezuzah comes from this prayer.

 

“And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.  And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” (Deut 6:4-9).

 

A mezuzah is often hung on an angle on the right side of the doorpost. The story behind that is actually a very Jewish one. You often hear, “Two Jews three opinions.” Here you have two opinions one slanted mezuzah. Rashi believed the mezuzah should be hung  vertically. Rabbenu Tam, his grandson, however,  believed it should be  hung horizontally. Much later, Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher honored them both by compromising and hanging it on a slant.  However, as is common, tradition varies. While Ashkenazi Jews hang theirs on a slant, many Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews hang theirs vertically.

 

When Jews come or go, we touch the mezuzah and kiss our fingers. The mezuzah serves as a constant reminder of G-d’s presence both at home and away.

 

Hyphen Parent

About Hyphen Parent

Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized, and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve always wanted one. I love the symbolism and think they’re so beautiful!

  2. I love this! Thanks for the background.

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