Kashrus Kurrents, Spring 2022
Many people install alarm systems in their homes to provide a sense of security. These systems, which may be wireless or hard-wired, are dependent on a number of factors to operate properly: all contacts need to be intact and connected to one another; all batteries in wireless systems must be fully charged; the codes need to be properly set; and the entire unit must be in good working order. All it takes is one faulty connection to negate the whole system.
While installing man-made security systems on our property is a reasonable act of hishtadlus, our true feeling of security comes from the recognition that we have a Protector in heaven. The Torah provides us with a spiritual security system: the mezuzah attached to our doorpost. The Ribono Shel Olam watches over our homes if we do His will, and our mezuzah is a direct link to the ultimate ‘Central Station.’
Our homes are protected, however, only if the mezuzah ‘system’ is sound – that is, it was prepared (and installed) following the exact specifications set by the Manufacturer. A slight crack in even a single letter may invalidate the entire protection system, in which case one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. A bracha recited when affixing such a mezuzah is recited in vain.
Kosher Mezuzah Requirements
There are many requirements for a kosher mezuzah. If any of these are not properly fulfilled, the mezuzah is invalid. Here is a brief summary of mezuzah requirements:
- 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 scored with an engraving instrument that 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.
- The parchment should be 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 is best to avoid a tight-fitting mezuzah case where the mezuzah scroll would need to be forced into the tube.
there is a deviation from the above specifications, the mezuzah may not be 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.
Guidelines for properly affixing the mezuzah to a doorpost are listed below:
- 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 within the first tefach of the width of the doorway.
- 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 to ensuring a valid mezuzah. However, even if it was initially kosher, a mezuzah may become non-kosher over time. Some reasons for this include:
- The 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.
For this reason, mezuzah scrolls must be halachically checked every three or four years (twice in seven years) to make sure they are still kosher.
Non-kosher mezuzos are prevalent due to general unfamiliarity with some of the basic halachos surrounding this great mitzvah. It is impossible to sell a new car that is missing a wheel because everyone knows that a car cannot run without wheels. But it is rather easy to sell a non-kosher mezuzah with deformed letters because most people have no idea how the letters should be formed and will never find out if the mezuzah ‘works’ or not.
Even though mezuzos are made primarily to serve the needs of those who desire to fulfill the mitzvah, the truth is that many mezuzos are not and never were kosher. Printed mezuzos are intrinsically unkosher but fairly ubiquitous. Other defects include parchment without properly engraved lines, mezuzos missing letters and words, cleverly printed mezuzos that look hand-written, and mezuzos with incomplete and deformed letters. Small mezuzos (i.e., approximately three inches or less) are rarely kosher.
some mezuzos are invalidated by their kosher certification. It is common
to find scrolls with the word checked (nivdak? in Hebrew) stamped
in ink or embossed onto the mezuzah. This action actually invalidates the mezuzah
by adding more than the prescribed amount of letters. The mezuzah might actually
have been kosher without the kosher stamp. If the extra letters are removed, the
problem would be resolved, but how does an unsuspecting buyer know that these
letters must be erased? Similar problems occur with tefillin.
Educating the Public
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 to discontinue the sale of the small posul mezuzos. One should purchase mezuzos directly from a reliable yorei 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.
By obtaining our mezuzos from a reliable source, affixing them according to Halacha, and checking them periodically as required, we can rest assured that we have fulfilled the will of our heavenly Protector and that we have acquired the best possible security system to ensure the welfare of our family and home.
For More Information
Comprehensive information and educational videos about this important mitzvah are available at mezuzahmaven.org. All halachic questions submitted to that site are answered by Rabbi Mordechai Frankel, Director of STAR-K’s Institute of Halacha.