Good Fences Make Good Home Owners

by Dr. Tzvi White, reviewed by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator

Home ownership, the American dream. After moving in one hopes it doesn’t turn in to an American nightmare. So many things to take care of; so many things to consider. Utilities, the structure, the appliances – the list is seemingly endless. Dealing with normal home issues is hard enough, just think how many more issues have to be considered in a kosher compliant home. Kosher mezuzas on all entrances. Kosher appliances to make the kosher kitchen user friendly. No trees hanging over the backyard area where the sukkah is to be built. Moreover, does anyone realize that roofs, porches, balconies and landings have to be kosher as well? How do you make a porch kosher compliant? The answer – build a ma’akeh.

What is a ma’akeh?

The Torah states in Parshas Ki-Setze, “When you build a new house, then make a fence for your roof…”1 The object of this positive mitzvah is to prevent a person from accidentally falling, as the posuk continues, “…And you shall not put blood in your house, lest someone fall from there.”

A ma’akeh is required at the edge of any floor that people walk on, if the floor is more than ten t’fachim (40 inches)2 above the ground or above the next floor. The fence itself must be at least ten t’fachim (40 inches) tall. Typical situations requiring a fence include:

  • Balconies and many sun decks. 
  • Many front and back porches, whose floors are more than 40 inches from the ground. It has come to our attention that the porches on many homes in the Torah community are more than 40 inches from the ground, but the porch rails are almost never the required 40 inch height of a kosher ma’akeh.

Here are some pointers to observe this mitzvah d’oraysa (Torah law) properly:

1. You should erect any required ma’akeh as soon as one puts up a mezuzah after occupying premises. Certainly you should not wait more than 30 days.

2. The ma’akeh does not have to be a solid wall, but any spaces should be sufficiently narrow that a child cannot fall through. The ma’akeh should be sufficiently sturdy that it will hold back a person who falls against it.

3. For rented premises, it is the responsibility of the tenant, not the owner, to erect a kosher ma’akeh in all areas where one is required.

4. Just before securing the last piece to complete a ma’akeh, make the bracha: “Baruch…asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu la’asos ma’akeh.” However, no bracha is made if the space underneath the floor you are putting the ma’akeh around was not intended for living purposes (e.g., a front porch that just has a crawl space under it).

5. A ma’akeh is not required around a floor that is never used (for example, a back porch area that no one ever goes on).

6. A ma’akeh is not required if there are bushes or other objects below the edge of the floor that will prevent a person from falling more than ten t’fachim. Hence, if you have a sturdy hedge around your porch, a ma’akeh is not required along those sections where the porch floor is less than 40 inches above the hedge.

7. A ma’akeh of 40 inches is not required for stairs, even for those steps more than 40 inches above the ground. (And if you have a stair rail, the conventional height of 30 inches is fine.)


The Medrash Rabba comments on the posuk in Mishlei “It is a gracious accompaniment to your head…” that the mitzvos that one performs throughout his lifetime will accompany and surround him on his life journey. Which mitzvah heads the list? The ma’akeh, the fence that one made on his roof. Indeed it can be said, “Good fences make good mitzvah insurance policies.” We hope that this overview will give the reader a greater appreciation of this fundamental mitzvah. 


The front porch of this
house is more than
40 inches from the ground.
Therefore, it requires a
ma’akeh of at least
40 inches high.
Although this porch is more than
40 inches from the ground, there is
a sturdy hedge that would prevent
someone from falling more than 40 inches.
Therefore, no ma’akeh is required.
This deck is less than
40 inches from the ground,
and needs no ma’akeh.
Each tenant in these
apartments must make sure
that his balcony is protected
by a kosher ma’akeh.
Even if a drop-off greater than 40 inches
occurs inside a home or building, it must
be protected by a ma’akeh. In this illustration,
the stairs do not require a ma’akeh of
40 inches, nor does the edge of the mid-floor
landing require one because people just walk
through this area and do not live there.
A flat roof which is used
by the owners or tenants
requires a ma’akeh.

1 Devarim 22:8

2 According to some opinions, ten t’fachim equals 36 inches.