For information on how to properly install a mezuzah, click here.
The term mezuzah most correctly refers to the small scroll containing the words of the first two paragraphs of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). The parchment is rolled up and placed in a case, which is affixed to the doorpost, according to the commandment of Deuteronomy 6:9 ("You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates").
Some people use the term mezuzah to refer to the case and the scroll together. However, the case alone, is merely a case. To be most precise, the word mezuzah means "doorpost" for that is where the words referred to in Deuteronomy 6:9 are to be adherred. Long ago, an awl or other tool was used to gauge out a trough in the doorpost of the entryway to one's house. The scroll was inserted into the gauged-out space and plastered over. Today, when people move frequently, it is customary to encase the mezuzah scroll in a decorative case that can be removed when one moves to a new home. The letter "shin," the first letter of the name Shaddai (one of God's many names) is written on the reverse side of the scroll such that it is visible from the back of the case. Why the name Shaddai? The most common explanation is that it is an acronym for "shomer daltot Yisrael" (Guardian of the doors of Israel).
During the Middle Ages, some people viewed the mezuzah as a protective amulet and even added to it mystical names of God; however the sages inveighed against this belief and practice and eventually it faded away. Mezuzah cases are made of many different materials, including stone, ceramics, metal, and glass and there are many designs and decorative elements added; the most traditional, however, is the name "Shaddai" or the letter "shin" to represent that name. The mezuzah serves as a reminder of the commandments which obligate a Jew; these days it additionally serves to identify the house as a Jewish household.
The mezuzah should be affixed to the top third of the right side of the door tilted to face inward. Rashi ruled that the mezuzah should be affixed vertically; Rebbenu Tam ruled that it should be affixed horizontally. Therefore, as a compromise designed to express respect for both authorities, it is affixed diagonally, pointing inward to the house (Shulchan Arukh, YD 289:6); if the doorpost is insufficiently wide to accomodate the mezuzah diagonally, it is attached vertically. There is a custom to kiss the mezuzah upon entering the house by first kissing one's fingertips and then transferring the kiss to the mezuzah. Some recite the prayer "May God guard my going out and my coming in now and forever" as they kiss the mezuzah.
The mezuzah is affixed to every room of one's primary residence in which "living" takes places. This includes the kitchen, living room, bedrooms, home office, and playroom, but exempts the bathrooms.
What makes for the perfect Mezuzah scroll?
1) KETIVA TAMA (PERFECTION OF THE WRITING): The Halachot of Tsurat Ha'otiot (the proper formation of the letters) for a mezuzah scroll are extremely complicated. There are scores of various Possul (invalid) forms of letters likely to be found.
There is a distinction between a perfectly formed letter and one which, while not perfect, nevertheless is Kosher. A Mezuzah in which all the letters are perfect is the result of the painstaking labor of a master Sofer. Such a Mezuzah is prized by those who seek perfection in Mitzvos. The value of kosher Mezuzot varies according to the degree of perfection in the formation, the uniformity of the size of the letters and the neatness with which the letters were written.
Every letter must have its proper prescribed form. Deviations can occur by the omission or deformation of any part of a letter or by addition of a line or protrusion. Deviations render the Mezuzah Possul in most cases.
We classify deviations in three basic categories:
1) If a letter is illegible, it is incorrectable and the Mezuzah is
2) If a letter is legible but is missing an essential part or protrusion.
3) If a letter resembles another letter.
When a doubt arises about which letter it is, a child, who knows enough to recognize letters, but does not know enough to figure out the letter based on context, is asked to read the letter. If he reads the letter correctly, the Mezuzah is deemed kosher. If he reads it incorrectly, the Mezuzah is Possul, invalid. In some cases, a Rabbi who specializes in the field of STaM is consulted.
2) CHASEIROT V'YETEIROT (PROPER SPELLING): The Mezuzah must be spelled exactly as the words appear in the Torah. Even one additional or missing letter renders the Mezuzah Possul. Even a good Sofer can occasionally err and words can be misspelled, repeated, or missing.
3) MUKAF GVIL (SURROUNDED BY PARCHMENT):
Each letter must be completely surrounded by parchment when the letter is formed. A Mezuzah is therefore Possul in the following examples:
a) If a line connects two letters. (FIGURE C)
b) If one letter touches another. (FIGURE D)
c) If an opening in a letter is incorrectly closed. (FIGURE E)
d) If a letter extends to the end of a parchment. (In particular, check the bottom of the letter tzadi in the word "Haaretz" on the last line of the Mezuzah.)
e) If the letter was written so it is in contact with a hole in the parchment.
The occurrence of being Possul due to Mukaf Gvil is very common and occurs even in expensive Mezuzot. Mezuzot should be carefully inspected for Negios (touching letters and connecting lines) before purchase.
4) GOLEM ECHOD (ONE BODY): Each letter written in the Mezuzah must be a single connected body, with the exception of the letters Heh and Kuf. If even a minute Hefsek (seperation) in the ink, visible to the naked eye, splits a letter in two, the Mezuzah is Possul. Small splits can sometimes be corrected by a reliable Sofer. If a Mezuzah becomes torn and the tear seperates the Mezuzah, the Mezuzah is Possul because the torn letter is not Golem Echod.
5) PERUD HA'TEIVOT (PROPER SEPARATION OF WORDS): The letters of each word should be close together but not touching and the space between each word should be equal to the letter yud. Each word must be clearly separate from adjacent words. However, even if the space is less than this, the Mezuzah is still Kosher, as long as it is apparent that the words are separate. If the words run together the Mezuzah is Possul, invalid (SEE FIGURE F). In addition, if the space between two letters in a word is so large that it appears to be two separate words, the Mezuzah is Possul (SEE FIGURE G).
Even the most skilled and certified examiner can miss a mistake. In addition to careful examination by the scribe, scrolls can be computer scanned to verify textual accuracy.
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