Sunday, February 1, 2009

FAQ: What's a Mezuzah?

Question: I noticed that my Jewish boyfriend's parents have a little metal thing attached on the diagonal at the entrance door to their apartment. What is that?
Toni from Chicago

Answer: Toni, that's a mezuzah. You'll see on attached to the right side (as you enter) doorpost of most Jewish homes. It is placed there in accordance with the commandment in Deuteronomy to inscribe the words of the Shema, the most important Jewish prayer, which begins "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one....," "on the doorposts of your houses."
The little case may be made of metal, wood, clay--any material, really. The important part is the parchment scroll on which the prayer has been handwritten by a specially trained scribe (sofer).
The Mezuzah is placed slantwise because one famous medieval rabbi wanted it placed vertically, while another preferred horizontally, so a compromise was decided upon! Another interpretation says that pointing the top towards the interior symbolizes that God and his commandments are entering the home.
Often you will see Jews touch the mezuzah and then kiss their fingers, just as they do when they touch the Torah scroll in synagogue. They do this to remind themselves of their love of God and His mitzvoh (commandments).
I think it's nifty that the Chabad Lubavitcher sect of Judaism calls the Mezuzah "the Jewish security system."

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