Jan 292017
 

Mezuzah scrolls come in standard sizes. It used to be that the most common size was 10 cm and some people who wanted a bigger mezuzah bought a 12-cm scroll. But in recent years sizes went up a notch: 12 cm is very common and those who want bigger move up to 15 cm.

Giant mezuzah scroll

World’s largest mezuza

The jumbo mezuzahs you sometimes see, especially at Chabad homes, are typically 20 cm, and the very small ones are 7 cm or even 6 cm. A 6-cm or 7-cm scroll is quite hard to write and compromises the sofer’s ability to ensure the writing is 100% kosher. So you’re often getting less for your money. Generally it’s recommended you stay away from these sizes.

Bigger may be better up to 12 cm or 15 cm, but beyond that size, it becomes harder for the sofer to do his job.

A 10-cm mezuzah is 3.9 inches, a 12-cm scroll measures 4.7 inches and a 15-cm scroll is 5.9 inches.

If I’m not mistaken, Carma Winery recently broke the record for the world’s largest mezuzah.

Jumbo mezuza

Jan 212016
 

I was kind of flabbergasted.

I know a Judaica dealer in downtown Jerusalem who’s not observant (yet). I asked him where he gets his 7 cm mezuzah scrolls. The 7 cm mezuzah is hard to procure; it’s quite small and most sofrim (scribes) are not trained to write that small. “Yehuda writes all of these parchments for me,” he explains. “A rabbi in Philadelphia told me to only buy from Yehuda.”

I took a look at the caliber of the writing. Not very impressive. Obviously he churns out a lot of mezuzahs at a low price. I asked the dealer how much he pays for them, and indeed it was quite a low price. I started to wonder whether these mezuzah parchments are reliably kosher.

Kosher mezuzah scroll“Do you run them through a computer check and a manual check?” I asked. The answer was no.

That’s bad news. I’d be willing to bet this dealer is selling a significant number of non-kosher mezuzah scrolls to people every year.

To ensure a mezuzah scroll is kosher, the checking process may be more important than the writing process.

There are different kinds of sofrim out there. Some take their time and write gorgeous mezuzahs. Others work fast and sell them to dealers at low prices, and the dealers — hopefully — then sell them to consumers at affordable prices. Although the high-end sofrim make much fewer mistakes that would render a mezuzah non-kosher, even they make mistakes.

I once saw a very conscientious sofer come back from asking his rav about a mezuzah he had spent a lot of time writing. Looking quite glum, he took out a pair of scissors and cut a big gash in the mezuzah. It was posul (non-kosher) and he didn’t want it to somehow wind up on someone’s doorpost. What was wrong with it? There was a reish that looked too close to a dalet.

How are mezuzah scrolls checked? Nowadays usually you run them through a computer scan using a program that can identify the letters. The software skims through the text to make sure there are no extra letters or missing letters. In other words, it’s looking for typos. This type of check is very common today, but is not mandated by halacha, obviously.

Then there is a manual check by a qualified mezuzah checker, known as a magihah. His job, for the most part, is to make sure all of the letters are properly formed (i.e. that the reishes don’t look like dalets, that the yuds aren’t so long that they start to look like a vav, etc.), to make sure the spacing is correct and to make sure none of the letters are touching. This is critical, because a very small mistake that can be easily overlooked could render the mezuzah non-kosher. Some dealers even check manually twice.

 

Nov 032015
 

Mezuzahs should be checked twice every seven years. In many instances mezuzah checkers find that the mezuzah scroll has been slowly baked to a crisp over a long period of time, following exposure to the elements.

The cause can be hard to determine. In one instance a mezuzah in a cheap, not waterproof case survives over the course of many years without suffering any damage, whereas another scroll in an ostensibly waterproof, solid metal mezuzah case is utterly destroyed.

One mezuzah checker got some insights into this enigma when he made house calls to two homes side-by-side. Both had an aluminum mezuzah case with a screw cap beneath the parchment on the bottom. Both had a lot of exposure to direct sunlight. And both mezuzah parchments, despite the protective case, were burnt to a crisp. His conclusion was that a lot of sunlight, even without moisture, with destroy a parchment in an aluminum mezuzah case.

He therefore extolled the virtues of the plain white plastic mezuzah case with a plug on the bottom. They will turn yellow and look shoddy after a year or so, but the cost to replace this type of mezuzah case (it definitely should be replaced if it doesn’t look nice) is minimal and the mitzvah of mezuzah remains intact.

What makes a mezuzah case kosher?

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Feb 072015
 

What makes a mezuzah case kosher? The simple answer is nothing, it doesn’t have to be kosher. The whole issue is the mezuzah parchment. In theory, you don’t need a mezuzah case at all.

In certain times and places in Jewish history, the mezuzah parchment was inserted into a crevice made in the doorpost, and sometimes even sealed over. To this day this mezuzah placement technique is sometimes employed, e.g. if you have a very narrow doorpost where the door closes right where the mezuzah would go. Essentially there is no way to place the mezuzah on the doorpost, so you place it in the doorpost.

Now I know The New Yorker is not the place to go to learn about halacha, but their ad copy says, “The best writing anywhere, everywhere,” so I hoped that good writing would be accurate and that the writer and editor know how to do their homework. But when I came across this article about an upscale New York architect, a Christian, who started dabbling in mezuzah case production, I was a bit surprised that a reader comes away with the impression that the mezuzah case is the mezuzah, and the parchment is just something you add inside. The fact is the parchment is the mezuzah, while the mezuzah case is just a way to protect it.

The irony is that today sometimes the mezuzah case costs more than the parchment — and sometimes even a lot more. The mezuzah case is a mezuzah in one regard: we are commanded to fulfill mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner. This is why we should wear a nice tallit, put a nice cover (me’il) on a Sefer Torah, make a nice sukkah, blow a well polished shofar and make sure our tzitzit are in good condition.

 

The New Yorker

by Andrew Marantz

The architect Peter Pennoyer designs town houses, country houses, and beach houses for the rich and aesthetically conservative. His face is framed by a Tom Brokavian sweep of silver hair, and he favors loafers and spread-collar oxford shirts. Pennoyer’s friend Sigourney Weaver once wrote, “Like a summer’s day . . . his homes seem to have existed forever.” This is intentional. “As an architecture student at Columbia, I was quite taken with modernism,” Pennoyer said recently. “I did a loft once that was completely minimalist—no doors, white resin floor.” After a while, though, “those experiments came to seem arbitrary, and I returned to Greek and Roman forms, which is where I now draw much of my inspiration.” He is known for his scholarly attention to detail: knurled doorknobs, cabled fluting, pineapple finials.

In 2004, while designing a town house on East Seventy-ninth Street, Pennoyer encountered a novel challenge: “The clients requested a greater number of mezuzahs than I had ever heard of.” Pennoyer is Episcopalian. “I was familiar with mezuzahs, but I knew very little about them. I started doing research.”

In Deuteronomy, God instructs the Israelites to affix His holy words “upon the doorposts of thy house.” Eventually, rabbis specified which words, exactly, and how to affix them: the modern custom is to place a parchment scroll inside a small decorative case—a mezuzah—and screw it to the doorjamb at an angle. Some secular Jews go mezuzahless or make do with a single mezuzah on the front door; Orthodox Jews, or those with a liberal parchment budget, mark every room larger than sixteen square cubits. Pennoyer’s clients were quite observant. “They wanted one on every door except bathrooms and closets,” Pennoyer said. “Fifty-two in all.”
Cartoon“I’m hoping an internship will lead to full-time copying.”Buy the print »

The Talmud is silent on the question of mezuzah design, and, to Pennoyer’s dismay, contemporary venders seemed inclined toward kitsch. “We wanted it to look exactly right,” he said. “We tried Manhattan Judaica shops, online auction sites, MezuzahStore.com. We could not find anything that wasn’t terribly, unacceptably ugly.” Pennoyer made a few drawings, and the clients chose a design that was formal but not ornate—a stripped-down four-inch Doric column made of brass, to be mortised into the doorframes. A metal shop in Brooklyn made the mezuzahs and shipped them uptown, and a rabbi said a blessing over each one as it was installed.

Eventually, Pennoyer designed a line of artisanal mezuzahs, which he hopes to sell on the Internet. “I never set out to be a mezuzah salesman, but why not?” he said. Pennoyer’s firm now sends digital files to Lowe Hardware, a high-end metalworking company in Maine. “They have this machine that is essentially an automated lathe,” Jim Taylor, a partner at Pennoyer’s firm, said. “They feed in a cylinder of brass, and out comes the exact shape you’ve designed.”

Pennoyer recently purchased a 3-D printer for his own office, on Park Avenue South. He uses it to print scale models of upcoming projects as well as life-size prototypes of custom doorknobs and cornices and mezuzahs. Unlike the lathe in Maine, his machine is additive: it builds from the bottom up, using thin layers of hard plastic resin. “It’s a way of holding the thing in your hand, so you know what you’re going to get,” Pennoyer said. Once the client approves it, the files are forwarded to Lowe and the shape is reproduced in metal.

One recent day, Pennoyer agreed to show off his printer. The machine was in a back hallway, near the mailroom; it was labelled Objet Eden500V and looked like a miniature black coffin. Dan Berkman, the office’s 3-D-printing maven, brought a thumb drive from his desk and inserted it in the machine. “That walk is the only low-tech step in the process,” said Pennoyer, who had rolled up his sleeves for the demonstration. The printer began to spit out the specified shape: a life-size model of an anthemion, a floral ornament in the Greek Revival style, which would sit atop a cornice.

Earlier, to make sure his side business in Judaica was kosher, Pennoyer had asked Berkman, who is Jewish, whether he knew any rabbis. Berkman suggested his wife’s cousin Julian Cook, a Reform rabbi in Denver. Taylor sent Cook an e-mail with a few renderings attached and asked “whether our design meets the generally accepted standards for a mezuzah.” Cook responded, “I looked at your photos and drawing carefully (this is very nice, by the way) and it’s absolutely fine.” ♦

Mezuzah Case: Beauty skin deep?

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Nov 012014
 

This morning I went to speak with a neighborhood. While his son went to call him, I stood at the open door for a minute or two, where I noticed two things. First I saw that they had built an attractive six-foot high divider made of glass bricks. The apartments in the area are quite inexpensive, and this renovation is considered something of a luxury. Then I looked at the mezuzah — or really the mezuzah case. It was the cheapest type of plastic mezuzah case you can buy. It probably sells locally for under $3. And it was getting grimy. The grime is a sign that a lot of fingers had touched it, and then kissed their finger as a sign of affection for the holiness of the mezuzah scroll inside. And I know for a fact that the mezuzah scroll inside cost somewhere between $40 and $80.

So why the cheap, ageing mezuzah case? Because in very pious circles spending a lot of money on a very nice mezuzah scroll written by a highly reputable sofer is taken for granted. But a fancy mezuzah case is considered entirely superfluous. (In communities outside of Israel, I have a feeling the situation is a bit different.)

At the other extreme, sometimes you see Jews who are willing to pay an arm and a leg for a gorgeous mezuzah case, but resent having to spend even $30 for a kosher scroll.

I think most attitudes are a bit misguided. When fulfilling a mitzvah, we have a concept of noy mitzvah, or beautifying the mitzvah. When you do the mitzvah of tzitzit by wearing a tallit, buy a nice tallit. When you buy a set of tefillin, make sure the finishing work is well done and the paint is even. When you do the mitzvah of brit milah, prepare an attractive pillow for the baby.

So likewise, when you do the mitzvah of putting a mezuzah on your doorpost, use an attractive mezuzah case. Of course in most cases it doesn’t make sense to spend twice as much money on the case, whose purpose is essentially to protect the mezuzah scroll inside.

In some cases, an inexpensive mezuzah scroll is kosher only if you rely on certain halachic leniencies. Moving up to a $40 or $50 mezuzah scroll removes those uncertainties. Then if you opt to spend $60 or $70 you can expect to get very attractive writing as well.

The 2.4-inch Mezuzah Scroll: Be Warned!

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May 292012
 

Mezuzah ScrollMezuzah scrolls – sometimes referred to as mezuzah parchments – come in 6 cm, 7 cm and 10 cm, and in recent years 12 cm and 15 cm came into vogue in certain Orthodox communities. The 6 cm is 2.4 inches, but some sellers refer to it as 2.5.

If your mezuzah case is around 2.5 inches the 2.4 inch mezuzah scroll will work fine, but if you can fit in a 2.8 inch scroll (or buy a new case), you’ll be better off, because the writing is better. Even the 2.8 inch scroll is hard for a sofer (scribe) to write, and the 2.4 is even harder. When I speak to local sofrim they are often amazed to hear it’s possible to write a 6 cm or 7 cm mezuzah scroll.

But our mezuzah scrolls are supplied by a sofrus expert I trust implicitly. Rabbi Shmuel Rosenfeld has over 20 years experience supervising the writing of mezuzah scrolls, Torah scrolls and tefillin, and he has close ties with some of Jerusalem’s top rabbinical experts in the field.

Go to Mezuzah Scrolls page>>>

Mezuzah Scroll – Surrounded with mitzvahs

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Dec 242011
 

Why did I decide to sell mezuzah scrolls on a tallit and tefillin website? I was inspired by a shtikel Gemara (a passage in the Talmud) that reads as follows: “The Jewish people are cherished, for the Holy One has surrounded them with mitzvahs – tefillin on their heads and tefillin on their arms and tzitzits on their clothes and a mezuzah on their doorways and gates” (Menachos 43b).

Mezuza Scroll

Mezuza Parchment

Beware of the $25 mezuzah scroll

The sofrim who write our mezuzah scrolls typically go to the mikveh before they start writing and strive to imbue their thoughts with holiness, whereas some unscrupulous sofrim are more likely to chat on the phone or listen to the radio while they work. (If you find a $25 mezuzah, beware!)

Bigger is better

If you want to get the best quality mezuzah for your money, at whatever level of hiddur you choose – kosher, kosher lechatchilah or mehudar – bigger is better. Once you go below a Size 10 mezuzah scroll (which measures 10 cm, or 4 inches, high) you have entered the realm of mini mezuzahs, which are harder for the sofer to write properly. Some people have an old mezuzah case they don’t want to part with, although it takes a Size 7 or a Size 6 mezuzah scroll. If they insist on keeping that mezuzah case, they are going to have to pay more money for a lower quality mezuzah scroll. That’s why we recommend our customers choose a Size 10 mezuzah or a Size 12.

A sofer recently explained to me that in Eretz Yisrael, within the charedi community, in recent years the Size 12 mezuzah was gradually abandoned and the Size 15 came into vogue.

Mezuzah scroll prices

If you’re buying a sculpture for your living room, it probably does not matter much what the sculptor was thinking while plying his trade, but when a mezuzah scroll (or tefillin) is written, it makes a world of difference. And that difference is worth paying a bit more money for since the mezuzah scroll is meant to bring sanctity into your home.

Hiddur (adjective form: mehudar) means beauty. The Torah enjoins us to enhance our mitzvah observance by seeing to their aesthetic beauty (“zeh Keli ve’anveihu“) as well as your inner intention and devotion.

Buy Kosher Mezuzah/Mezuzah Scroll>>



Mezuza Q&A

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Nov 152010
 

Does a mezuza have to contain a parchment handwritten by a scribe, or is a printed scroll also acceptable?
A printed scroll, in this case, is hardly worth the paper it’s written on! A mezuza definitely must be written on specially prepared parchment by a trained scribe. For a fuller answer, see “The Inside Story.”

Is a mezuza effective as an amulet, e.g. in a car or pocket?
No. The mitzva is to place a mezuza on the doorposts of your home. However, the Talmudic Sages noted that a mezuza is distinctive from other mitzvas in its power to protect: Normally a mitzva provides protection while a person is actively engaged in it, whereas the mezuza is a one-time mitzva that provides lasting protection.

What should you do when you pass a mezuza?
According to one opinion, when setting out on an out-of-town journey one should place a hand on the mezuza and say, “Adonoi yishmor tzeisi uvoi” (“May God guard [me upon] my departure and return”). Others have a custom of placing a hand over the mezuza and touching it with their middle finger.
The prevalent custom is to place your fingers on the mezuza and kiss them. Others merely look at it contemplate the words written inside.

What effect does a mezuza have on a person who has one on the doorpost?
As author Moshe Garson writes about wearing a kippa and tzitzit, “Be scientific: try it.” Post a kosher mezuza and contemplate it regularly.
The Sages said, “He who has tefillin on his head and arm, tzitzit on his garment and a mezuza on his doorway is certain not to sin,” because he has many reminders.

In a rented house or apartment, who has to buy and post mezuzas — the tenant or the landlord?
The obligation to post a mezuza falls on the tenant, regardless of whether the landlord is Jewish or not.

Within what time span must you post a mezuza?
If you rent a home outside the Land of Israel or a hotel room in the Land of Israel, you are exempt for 30 days.
If you rent a home in the Land of Israel you must post a mezuza right away.

How often should a mezuza be checked?
Twice every seven years, or whenever a concern arises that the parchment may have been stolen or sustained water damage.

Which doorways require a mezuza?
All doorways of the home. Synagogues are exempt from the mitzva of mezuza because they are not dwelling places. (According to some opinions, a shul where Torah scholars engage in study all day does require a mezuza, since it becomes like a home.)
A doorway to an unclean place (e.g. a bathroom) does not need a mezuza. Likewise a room measuring less than four cubits by four cubits (approx. 2 meters x 2 meters) does not require a mezuza because it is considered too small to be used as a dwelling space. However, a small room that leads to a large room does require a mezuza, and it should be posted on the right doorpost as you enter the larger room.

Does a temporary dwelling need a mezuza?
No. Therefore a succah is exempt from the mitzva of mezuza.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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The Blazing Mezuzah

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May 312010
 

by Brian Silvey

In the midst of a fraternity party, my Jewish spark was unexpectedly ignited.

The Hebrew school I attended taught me how to read Hebrew, to say Shema, and that a mezuzah is placed on the doorways of Jewish homes. I remember one Hebrew school project when I made a mezuzah by writing the Shema onto a rolled up piece of paper and placing it into a decorative case. But with no deeper explanation, that was the extent of my education regarding mezuzot.

Torn Mezuzah Scrolls

Many years later, I was a college student and joined a fraternity. None of the other members were Jewish, but they were aware that I was Jewish. At our school, members of a fraternity often lived together by renting a house near the campus. Religious Jews owned many of these houses, as evident by the mezuzot affixed on the doorposts. I recognized those little boxes, but paid them little attention.

One night at a fraternity party, I noticed two fraternity members intentionally pry a mezuzah off the doorpost. I followed them around the house and realized they were collecting the mezuzot as they moved from doorpost to doorpost. I followed them into a room and watched them remove the scrolls from the decorative casings. They opened the scrolls, tried to read the writing, and then crumpled the scrolls up in their hands, and tore some in half.

The small spark of Judaism inside me made me feel obligated to stop them. “Why did you take those off the doorposts?” I asked.

“I dunno,” one of them answered, “we just want to see what’s inside.”

“You should have left them where they were. You’re not supposed to take them down.”

“Well, what are they?”

“It’s called a mezuzah and they go on the doorposts of Jewish houses.”

“Why?” he asked. I was stunned into silence and then admitted, “I don’t know.” As these words slipped from my mouth, I could feel the strength of my position weakening.

“Well, what’s written inside them?” His tone of voice showed genuine interest, but it clearly put me on the defensive.

Again I responded, “I don’t know.”

They continued with a stronger tone of expectation, “Well, why are they on every door?”

“I don’t know.”

They looked at me with scorn, and finally one of them said, “Well, if you’re the Jew and you don’t know, then why should we care?!” This question was shocking and painful. Perhaps intensified by my intoxication, I continued arguing with them and demanded they give me the mezuzot.

Finally, one of them walked out of the room, and returned with a handful of mezuzah cases and scrolls. He looked at me, grinned maliciously and said, “You want them so badly? Come and get them!” – and he threw the handful of mezuzot into a burning fireplace. I was shocked. It took but a few seconds for the mezuzot to be consumed in the flames.

Inner Flame Sparked by Mezuzah

I walked out of the house, dejected and heartbroken. I sat down in the cold night and replayed the incident over and over in my mind, each time coming back to the same painful question: “If you’re the Jew and you don’t know, then why should we care?”

This incident ignited my curiosity and became the catalyst for my road back to Torah and Judaism.

Reprinted with permission from Aish.com.

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