Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator
In these turbulent times, many people have installed alarm systems in their
homes which give them a sense of security.
There are various types of burglar alarms which may or may not connected to a central system, and it is clear that the system
will work only if all is intact, the component codes are set in the right
sequence, and the unit is in working order.
It is a good idea to test it every now and then to make sure the system
is in proper operating condition. All it
takes is one faulty connection to negate the whole system.
Our feeling of security should come from the recognition that we have a
protector in heaven, rather than relying entirely on some mechanical device
devised by man. The Ribbono
Shel Olam watches over our homes if we do His
will. The mezuzah attached to our doorpost is our protection. It is a direct link to the "Central
System". Certain letters are
inscribed on the outside of this mezuzah which say,
among other things, that through this mezuzah the house is protected. However, the house is protected only if the mezuzah
"system" is intact; it is made according to the specifications under
which it is intended to work. One slight
crack in a letter may invalidate the whole protection system. In which case, the mezuzah
is completely useless and one has not fulfilled the mitzvah, causing the
brocha that one said when affixing the mezuzah to have been
recited in vain.
There are many things which can invalidate a mezuzah, such as the ‘klaf’ (scroll) must be written on parchment which is
specifically prepared for mezuzos. This parchment must be produced from the hide
of a kosher animal. The parchment is
then scored with an engraving instrument which makes grooves. The grooves must be made on the side of the
parchment that was closest to the flesh of the animal. When the scribe writes the scroll, he must be
careful to shape every letter in a specific manner with adequate spacing
between the words. One letter may not
touch another, even slightly. If there
is a deviation from the above specifications, the mezuzah is not
kosher. It may be repairable depending
upon the nature of the problem, but if it is not repaired it will not fulfill
its role as a mezuzah. It would
be just like any other piece of paper on which words
of the Torah were written. These mezuzah
scrolls must halachically be checked every
three or four years (twice in seven years) to make sure they are still kosher.
Care should be taken that the parchment is rolled and not folded to avoid
cracking letters, which would render the mezuzah posul,
invalid. The mezuzah should be
rolled from left to right, and the rolled parchment should preferably be
wrapped in an initial protective plastic wrap covering to create a moisture
barrier. The mezuzah should then be enclosed in a protective case of
either plastic or metal. There is no
special requirement regarding the material of the case. However, it would be best to avoid a
tight-fitting mezuzah case where the mezuzah scroll would need to
be forced into the tube.
The mezuzah should be affixed to the right doorpost of the entrance of
the room in a slanted position, preferably at the bottom of the top third of
the doorpost. Typically, the mezuzah
is placed in the middle of the door's width. If the doorpost is high, the mezuzah
should be affixed at shoulder-height. If
the doorpost is wide, it should be affixed within a tefach,
handsbreadth, of the entrance. The mezuzah should slant towards the
room one is entering. Nails, screws or
permanent tape may be used to affix the mezuzah case to the doorpost.
A kosher mezuzah, written in accordance with all the pertinent laws, is
the first step in having a valid mezuzah. However, even after it was
initially kosher a mezuzah may, for various reasons, become non-kosher
i.e., ink may chip off the parchment. Sometimes
ink spreads after the mezuzah was written due to moisture in the air, causing
the letters to touch one another. The
engraved lines may disappear and cracks may form in the parchment and letters. Sometimes insects eat away at the parchment.
Even though mezuzos are made primarily to
serve the needs of those who desire to fulfill the mitzvah, the shocking
truth is that many mezuzos are not and were
never kosher. Printed mezuzos are intrinsically unkosher,
but are nonetheless easy to find. Parchment
without properly engraved lines, mezuzos
missing letters and words, cleverly printed mezuzos
that look hand-written, and mezuzos with
incomplete and deformed letters are also sold.
It is unusual to find a small mezuzah (approximately three inches
or less) which is kosher.
Non-kosher mezuzos are so prevalent due to
general unfamiliarity concerning some of the basic halachos surrounding
this great mitzvah. It is
impossible to sell a new car, which is missing wheels, to a prospective buyer because
everyone knows that a car cannot run without wheels. It is easy, however, to sell a non-kosher mezuzah
with deformed letters to a customer because most people have no idea how the
letters should be formed and will never find out if the mezuzah
"works" or not.
Ironically, some mezuzos are not kosher
because of their kosher certification. It
is common to find scrolls with the word "checked" (in Hebrew) stamped
in ink or embossed onto the mezuzah.
This only serves to invalidate the mezuzah by adding more than
the prescribed amount of letters.
The mezuzah may actually have been kosher without containing the
kosher stamp. If the extra letters are removed, this problem
would be resolved, but how does the unsuspecting buyer know that these letters
must be erased? Similar problems occur
What can be done to rectify the situation?
Over the years, organizations such as Vaad Mishmeres
Stam, and certain local communal organizations,
have been vigilant in their attempts to educate the public about the need to
purchase kosher mezuzos and discontinue the
sale of the small posul mezuzos. One should purchase mezuzos
directly from a reliable, yirei shomayim sofer who has
carefully checked and endorsed the mezuzos as
kosher. Since even an experienced sofer takes a few hours to write a mezuzah, one
should not be surprised by the cost for such skilled labor.
It is important that mezuzos be checked
periodically to ensure that they are still kosher. We may then rest assured, with a secure feeling,
that we are fulfilling our obligation and that our unique security system is in
top working order.