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.

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