I have never been invited into a Jewish home. It is not because I am not fun to be around, but it’s mostly because I grew up in the Christian Bible Belt of the Deep South and, to my knowledge, never met a person of Jewish faith until I moved to the east coast. Although I often wonder and study about the core beliefs of other religions, I really haven’t had the chance to experience the day-to-day lives of my brothers and sisters of other faiths. I’ve always been curious about the set up of a Jewish kitchen. I have often wondered if there is a Hebrew Bible on the coffee table or are they honored in a special place in the home. Do they have framed paintings of Moses in their homes or other special religious objects on display?
One thing I have learned about Jewish homes through study is that all living spaces are required to have a small container attached to every door jam except bathroom, laundry rooms, closets, etc. These enclosed, and sometimes decorative, cases are called Mezuzahs. The word mezuzah literally translates to “doorpost” but has come to mean, not only the case affixed to the doorframe, but also the scroll (klaf) that is enclosed inside.
The mezuzah scroll contains two verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) which is the central Hebrew prayer called the Shema. Specially trained religious scribes, known as sofers, must handwrite the scroll on parchment from kosher animal skin. It is only written on one side, however, “Shaddi”, one of the names of G-d, is the only word written on the back. The sofer uses black ink and quill pen. If any mistakes are made while writing the scroll, the scribe must start over. It is then rolled from left to right and inserted into the mezuzah case. 1
The mezuzah case can be made of any material and can be any size. Some are very decorative and some are homemade. On the case, the Hebrew letter shin ש is written representing the first letter of Shaddi. The case is affixed on right side of the upper 1/3 of the doorway and is positioned at an angle. It is a tradition to touch the mezuzah and then immediately kiss your fingers as you enter and exit through a doorway.
The scroll should be checked twice every seven years to make sure there are no faded letters and it is still in good condition. If not, it must be replace. If a family is to sell their home, and they know another Jewish family will be taking residence, they will leave the mezuzah for the next family.2
“And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house, and upon thy gates.” – Deuteronomy Chapter 6:9
The purpose of the mezuzah is not only to fulfill a commandment, but also to remind a person each time they enter or leave a room the love of G-d and their willingness to create a Jewish home. It also tells others that a Jewish family lives there. Although not exactly the same, many Muslims have the same custom of kissing their fingers and touching the Quran upon entering and exiting their homes. Now I’m curious if this tradition was learned from their Jewish neighbors?
I suppose I have more research to do!
1Zaklikowski, David. “The Mezuzah Scroll and Case.” Judaism, Torah and Jewish Info – Chabad Lubavitch. Last modified January 27, 2005. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/256923/jewish/The-Mezuzah-Scroll-and-Case.htm.
2Greenberg, Blu. “Why Jews Hang a Mezuzah on the Doorpost.” My Jewish Learning. Last modified June 30, 2005. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/mezuzah/.