A mezuzah is a public declaration of Jewish identity and faith – both inside and out.
In brief, a mezuzah consists of two brief passages from the Torah written by hand on a piece of parchment. The mezuzah parchment is then rolled into a scroll, wrapped in paper or plastic, inserted into a case and attached to the doorpost.
The first passage (Deut. 6:4-9) declares the oneness of God, while the second passage (Deut. 11:13-21) teaches that Jewish destiny, both individually and nationally, depends on fulfilling God’s will.
People often refer to the case as the “mezuzah,” but the mezuzah is really the written scroll. The case is just a box. Its primary purpose is to protect the mezuzah scroll inside.
A mezuzah scroll must be written by hand. If it is printed, copied, photographed, or produced by any means other than writing, then it is invalid and may not be used.
Unfortunately, many Jewish homes have lovely cases containing invalid mezuzah scrolls – or no scroll at all! As Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes, “The internal depth of Judaism has been stripped away, leaving nothing more than a posh exterior.”
Imagine if you discovered the Torah scroll in shul was just printed paper, rather than the Torah scroll we know, written painstakingly my hand on sturdy parchment, passed down through the generations for millenia! Likewise, why should the mezuzah on your doorpost be just an empty shell?
A mezuzah scroll must be written on special parchment made from a kosher animal, and the writing of the mezuzah itself must be done in accordance with a set of detailed laws.
The person who writes the mezuzah is called a sofer (scribe). A sofer must be fully trained in all the many laws pertaining to mezuzahs, tefillin, and Torah scrolls. He must also love and fear God, and fulfill the commandments punctiliously and with holiness.
If a sofer is unscrupulous and he finds an error, he might fix the mezuzah improperly, and the unsuspecting buyer then has an invalid mezuzah and is not fulfilling the commandment. Therefore consumers must be sure to purchase mezuzahs only from God-fearing Jews.
Writing the mezuzah scroll takes a lot of diligence. There can be no spelling errors and the writing must be clear enough for even a child to read easily. A misshapen letter invalidates the entire mezuzah scroll, as does an extra letter, a missing letter or even a stray inkblot. To ensure that the text is correctly written – all 713 words – the sofer recites the words of the text as he writes.
There are many laws governing the shapes of the letters. Calligraphy really makes a difference here! In general, the better the handwriting, the nicer the mezuzah. Jewish Law considers more attractive mezuzahs better, because they enhance the mitzva. Since they require more time and expertise to write, these mezuzahs usually cost more.
This is not to say God cares how much money you spend. He cares how you feel when you decide to buy a nicer mezuzah.
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Why does the Torah command us to place a mezuzah on the doorpost? According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, keeping a mezuzah on your door – the point of interface with the outside world – consecrates your home as a temple of God and your whole way of life as a service of God. The passages contained in the mezuzah are not just a proclamation, but also a constant reminder of God’s presence and our duty to recognize God as the Dispenser of all that happens to you and that whether you experience good fortune or misfortune, only the scene changes – your task remains the same!
For halachic questions related to mezuzahs, see our Mezuzah Q&A>>
To purchase a mezuzah or mezuzah scroll, go to Buy Mezuzah>>