MEZUZAH By : Cyrus Adler I. M. Casanowicz
Origin and Significance.
Name given to a rectangular piece of parchment inscribed with the passages Deut. vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21, written in twenty-two lines according to the same rules as those for the Torah and tefillin. The parchment is rolled up and inserted in a wooden or metal case or tube. This is affixed, in a slanting position, to the upper part of the right-hand door-post, so that the upper part is inward and the lower part outward, and about a handbreadth from the outer edge of the door-post. On the outer side of the top of the parchment is inscribed the name of God, ; and an opening is left in the case opposite this word, which opening is protected by a piece of glass. The material on which the mezuzah may be written is as carefully prescribed as is that for a scroll of the Law (Massek. Soferim i. 1; Asheri to Alfasi, "Sefer Torah"; Shulhan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 271; Yer. Megillah i. 9; Shab. 108a; MS. Mezuzah, ed. Kirchheim, i. 1); but while a scroll must always be written from a copy, the mezuzah may be written from memory (Men. 32b). Both selections mentioned above must be contained therein; and if even one letter is missing the mezuzah may not be used (Men. 28a). Generally the text is written in twenty-two lines equally spaced. The pious touch and kiss this part of the mezuzah as they pass through the door. The mezuzah is obligatory for every building used as a residence; and its fastening to the doorpost is accompanied by the usual formula of benediction: "Blessed art Thou our God, King of the world, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and hast commanded us to fasten the mezuzah." On entering and leaving the house the pious touch the mezuzah (at "Shaddai") with the hand, and recite the prayer: "May God keep my going out and my coming in from now on and ever more."
(see image) Mezuzah Scroll.
The mezuzah brings blessings to him that touches it; but it must not be touched with unclean hands. It is inspected from time to time to make sure of itscorrectness. It may not be given to a non-Jew, lest it be not treated with due respect (see Men. iii. 7, 33b; Maimonides, "Yad," Tefillin, i., v., vi.; Yoreh De'ah, 285-291).
Origin and Significance.
The obligation of the mezuzah is derived from the words: "And thou shalt write them on the doorposts of thy house and within thy gates." The Rabbis considered the mezuzah of equal importance with the tefillin and ZiZit (Men. 43b; Pes. 113b; comp. Shab. 23b, 32b). The antiquity of the mezuzah is attested by Josephus (c. 37-100 C.E.), who speaks of its employment ("Ant." iv. 8, § 13) as an old and well-established custom. Inscribed with passages of the Torah which emphasize the unity of God, His providence, and the resulting duty of man toward Him, the mezuzah is an emblematic representation of Israel's belief and practise. Thus Josephus says in speaking of the mezuzah (l.c.): "The greatest benefits of God are to be written on the doors . . . in order that His benevolent providence may be made known everywhere"; and Maimonides adds ("Yad," Tefillin, vi. 13): "By the commandment of the mezuzah man is reminded, when coming or going, of the unity of God, and is aroused to the love of Him. He is awakened from his slumber and his vain worldly thoughts to the knowledge that nothing endures in eternity like the knowledge of the Rock of the World. This contemplation brings him back to himself and leads him on the right path."
(see image) Wooden Case for Mezuzah.(In the possession of F. David, Cassel.)
In Talmudic times a protective power, especially in warding off evil spirits, was attributed to the mezuzah. This appears in such anecdotes as those of Artaban and Abba Arika (see Artaban V.; comp. Yer. Peah i. 1, 15d; Gen. R. xxxv. 3) and of Onkelos ('Ab. Zarah 11a; comp. also Targ. to Cant. viii. 3; Men. 32b, 33b). In the Middle Ages, under the influence of the Cabala, not only passages from the Bible treating of God's watchfulness over His people (Ps. cxxi. 7 et seq.), but also various names of angels were added to the original contents of the mezuzah. was explained to represent the initials of ( , after a cabalistic interpretation of Job xxii. 17, 25 (comp. "Kol Bo," 101, 4). At the bottom of the blank side the words are written, which, according to , i.e., every letter standing for the next preceding, reads: . Some, when leaving home on business bent, invoke God by the mysterious words "Kozo bemuksaz Kozo," declaring that in His name they are about to go forth, and petitioning for success. Against the additions to the mezuzah Maimonides raised his voice. He says ("Yad," Tefillin, v. 4): "There is no harm in writing on the outside; but those who write on the inside the names of angels, or holy names, or verses, or other formula, are of those who will have no share in the future world. For these fools not only defeat in this manner the fulfilment of a great commandment which has for its end the remembrance of the unity of God, and the love of Him and worship of Him, but turn it into an amulet for their selfish interest, believing in their foolish hearts that it can be made to serve the preservation of transitory worldly goods." Maimonides' view prevailed, and the additions were eliminated.
(see image) Glass Cylinder Containing Mezuzah.
The Mohammedans likewise place over the doors and windows of their dwellings as well as of their shops the name of God, or their profession of faith, or some maxim, or a verse of the Koran, or a short invocation (comp. Lane, "Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians," 3d ed., i. 7, 22, 320); and a similar custom seems to have prevailed among the ancient Egyptians (comp. Wilkinson, "Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians," 1878, i. 361; and Huetius, "Demonstratio Evangelica," p. 58).