Hoarding my mazuzah

SAM SMITH – According to the Washington Jewish Week, “That signature piece of Judaica is a fixture (literally and figuratively) on doorposts almost anywhere there are Jews. But in some isolated communities where the Jewish population is shrinking and scribes are becoming an endangered species, the supply of mezuzot is dwindling as well, and that’s where [Aviva] Gottlieb comes in. The 27-year-old member of Kesher Israel Congregation in the District hopes to counter that trend by hunting for surplus mezuzot to ship overseas to communities that no longer take them for granted. . . The Mumbai area has long had the largest concentration of Jews in India, but “they are only about 4,000 in number a mere fraction of the vitality they once generated in the city,” according to the Web site the-south-asian.com.

So now what the hell am I meant to do?

We bought our house from the estate of a recently departed Jew and have left the mezuzah on the door frame for the same reason Alfred Einstein had a horseshoe over his door. Asked a friend, “You don’t believe in that, do you?” Replied Einstein, “Of course not, but they tell me it works.”

I first became aware of the problem when the air conditioner guy started using all sorts of Yiddish expressions. I had to apologize for not understanding his references. He also apologized, saying he had just assumed I was Jewish because of the mezuzah. We immediately dropped consideration of BTUs and turned to the far more interesting matter of whether the devices provided protection for goyim as well as Jews. We eventually agreed it was best to hold on to it.

We’ve had an exceptional happy time in the house since then and the air conditioning has worked just fine; and so, despite the problems of the good people of the Mumbai area, I’m going to hold on to it.

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2 thoughts on “Hoarding my mazuzah

  1. Sorry to give a serious response to a light-hearted item, but the mezuzah derives from an attitude that is quite different from that which looks to magic charms for protection. The source is Deuteronomy ch.6, which exhorts us to love God by doing "right and good" things, and by keeping His commandments in mind. Verse 6 says that they should be "in your heart" (Hebrew idiom for mind). Verse 7 says that they should be contemplated throughout the day and at bedtime, and taught to children. Verse 8 says that they should be "upon your hand" and "between your eyes", while verse 9 says to write them on your house and gates. Unfortunately some strands of tradition fell into literal, and ultimately superstitious interpretations of verses 8-9, resulting in the practice of actually wrapping one's head and arm in leather strips to which Biblical writings are attached (tefillin), as well as the mezuzah. Perhaps if they had been more adept at open-heart surgery they could have done the same for verse 6. On the other hand, verses like Exodus 13:9, which also includes the hand-and-eyes language, tells us to keep the words "in your mouth"; and no Jews, so far as I know, walk around with a jaw full of Biblical pages. By the way the Karaites and Samaritans, two Jewish sects that reject the Talmudic interpretations of the Bible, make a point of ridiculing the tefillin. They say that the hand-and-eyes language is just telling us: read the book, dummy! (And by the way, read the whole thing, not just some scraps that fit in a tiny box.) What I'm saying is that if you read the text without being completely metaphor-blind, there's a pretty simple message: to think about and discuss moral issues, making them your top priority in life. Help the poor, love your neighbor, blah blah blah. It isn't rocket science, and neither is it magic.

  2. Thanks to Gabe Einstein for providing some enlightenment about the mezzuzot and the teffilin.I am a goy living in a Jewish neighborhood, and I was particularly interested in learning that their use has became supersitious (I have mezzuzot on my door, too). I often thought of taking one down and removing the script to look at it, but it would mess up the paint on my door, as the prior owner, who was Jewish, but obviously not observant, painted over them.

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