Published Spring 2015
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 likeany 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 mezuzahscroll 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 withtefillin.
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.