#1
Old 07-20-2003, 06:11 PM
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Mezuzot on a Christian home

I have asked this question of several close friends, both Jewish and Christian--including my best friend Miriam, who is Jewish and whose husband is a Talmudic scholar. I have gotten differing initial reactions, but Miriam and most other friends that I have consulted are thinking the issue over. So while they are thinking about it, I am raising it here in the hope of further illumination.

Next month, I am buying my first home. I am inviting some friends over for an Opening--the opposite of a closing, I guess, just a short ceremony blessing the new home with friends and hosting my first guests there--and have been giving some thought to the accompanying ritual. The only tradition that I have followed in moving from one home to another is moving the can of black bean soup which, for the past 17 years, has been the last thing that I move after emptying out an old dwelling and before taking up residence in a new one. Now that I am finally moving into a permanent dwelling that I will own rather than a temporary one that I rent, I will be retiring the can of black bean soup, and have been looking for a more appropriate rite of passage into my new home. I am therefore planning a short celebration for the day when I surrender the keys to my current apartment and enter my new house for the first time as its owner after changing the locks.

I have begun designing a ritual around that opening, which will include some ceremony at the threshold, some further ceremony around the hearth that will include a blessing and dedication, and finally a meal with my first guests. But even before the blessing and dedication, the ceremony at the threshold--before I and my guests enter the house--will begin by affixing a religious symbol as a blessing at each door into the house. While I was searching for an appropriate ritual, I learned about the Jewish ritual for opening a new home, the Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (whose root is the same as the Festival of Lights celebrated near the winter solstice), which involves nailing to the doorpost a case enclosing a scroll called a mezuzah (pl. mezuzot), on which are written two excerpts from Deuteronomy. The custom derives from the excerpted scripture's command to "write them on the doorposts of your house":
Quote:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deut. 6.4-9.
Quote:
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Deut. 11.18-21.

I am thinking about affixing a mezuzah at each door into my house. I am a Christian.

Meanwhile, I will definitely be affixing a cross at each door. I had a hard time finding a good dignified Christian door ornament: I was thinking of a plaque or cross with the usual excerpt from Joshua 24.15 ("as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord") but, while I found several items for sale online, they were all much cheesier than what I have in mind. With some help from my father, I found a cross of the kind that I was looking for. I also found, at the same shop, a cross with the blessing, "God Bless This House and All Who Enter It". I am planning on affixing the blessing cross at the front door, through which my guests will come and go; and the Joshua cross at the back door, through which I will usually enter from the detached garage.

My request for advice concerns the mezuzot. The mezuzah is a beautiful custom that exactly answers the purpose that I have in mind for a religious symbol at the door, both as a blessing to my guests and as a reminder to me. I have not found any comparable Christian custom, let alone one more suitable--and, of course, Deuteronomy is Christian scripture too, so its commands apply to a Christian as well as to a Jew. And the exhortation that "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" is what Jesus called the "first commandment":
Quote:
The first [commandment] is, ". . . you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than these."
Mark 12.29-31; see also Matt. 22.37.

But I do have some concern about whether a mezuzah is an appropriate symbol on a Christian home. I have studied some Jewish writers on the subject. One writer sets the mezuzah in a multicultural context:
Quote:
Some scholars say that the mezuzah carries on the Egyptian practice of writing "lucky" sentences over the entrances to their houses. Muslims inscribe "Allah," and verses from the Koran, over their doors and windows.
Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish (New York: Pocket Books, 1968), p. 239. A Christian adopting the mezuzah therefore seems not inappropriate.

But another writer, a rabbi, is unequivocal that "it is forbidden to give or sell a Mezuzah to a gentile." He cites four arguments from authority on this point:
Quote:
  • One reason for this Halachah [Jewish law and jurisprudence] is that it is assumed that they will utilize the Mezuzah as a charm.
  • Another reason is that the Mezuzah affirms the absolute unity of Hashem, and a gentile does not believe in Hashem’s absolute unity.
  • A third reason is that the Mezuzah might be mistreated.
  • A fourth reason is that someone may mistakenly assume that the gentile is Jewish.
Rabbi Yair Hoffman, Mezuzah: A Comprehensive Guide (Lakewood, N.J.: Israel Bookshop, 2002), pp. 167-68. I can easily argue that these arguments do not apply here: I would not use the mezuzah as a charm; the scripture about "the absolute unity of Hashem" is my scripture too, and (at least arguably) not inconsistent with the Christian doctrine of trinity; I would not mistreat the mezuzah, indeed quite the opposite; and the cross on the door will prevent any mistake that I am Jewish and not Christian. But I would also prefer not giving unnecessary offense to my guests who practice the Jewish faith.

I have therefore been seeking advice on the following issues:

(1) whether and, if so, how I ought to observe the scriptural command that I "write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (mindful that I do not observe literally that same scripture’s related commands);

(2) whether a mezuzah will falsely imply--
(A) that I observe the Jewish faith, or
(B) that I do not observe the Christian faith,
(mindful that I will also affix a cross proclaiming the Christian faith in conjunction with any mezuzah);

(3) whether a mezuzah may offend a Jewish visitor to my home; and

(4) if I do affix a mezuzah, how I ought to do so with as much faith and respect for the Jewish custom as possible.

I welcome any thoughtful opinions from fellow Dopers.
#2
Old 07-20-2003, 07:10 PM
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Well, you certainly have done a lot of thinking on this.

I have very little to add. I will say, though, that mrs. snac and I:

--are Christians;

--bought a house which had a mezuzah in place;

--saw no good reason to take it down, so quite happily left it there;

--were asked if we were Jewish probably three times;

--didn't notice anyone being offended, one way or the other.

We moved out of the house last year and left it there for the next people to decide what, if anything, they wanted to do with it. Our current house doesn't have one.

Good luck, whatever you decide.
#3
Old 07-20-2003, 07:36 PM
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While you have given this a lot of thought, there is something that is holding you back. I think this slightly uncomfortable feeling you have is reason enough not to do it. (More folks should respect these "uncomfortable feelings" for what they may be -- that still, silent voice saying"no" to a situation that isn't right.)

But I understand what you are trying to demonstrate. I think you should make an object of your own using the bible verses stated, or something significant from them, to mark/decorate your doorway. Perhaps a wooden plaque, or something of that nature; be creative! A mezuzah would not be appropriate.
#4
Old 07-20-2003, 09:37 PM
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I personally don't think a mezuzah for your home is a bad idea and I don't think it would falsly imply that you're Jewish. I'm sure you're not the only Christian who has one/wants one on their home. Deuteronomy is our book too. Go for it.
#5
Old 07-20-2003, 10:27 PM
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Non-practicing secular Jew here.

I've noticed more and more that gentiles are starting to incorporate some Jewish customs into their lives. For example, many Christians like the idea of being married under a chuppah (wedding canopy), so they incorporate that into their wedding. I think that this trend is very nice.

Since you like mezuzahs, and the message incorporated within is meaningful to you, I think you should put them up! I don't think that it will imply that you're Jewish. Like snac said, many people move into houses with them already in place.

Of course, I don't really know anything about why it might be seen as inappropriate (other than what you included in your OP). But I know that I would have no problem with it.
#6
Old 07-21-2003, 12:32 AM
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And since you seem to be a bit of a traditionalist about house warming, I hope someone brings you the traditional gift of bread and salt.

Congratulations on your new home!
#7
Old 07-21-2003, 09:00 AM
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Re: Mezuzot on a Christian home

Quote:
Originally posted by brianmelendez
While I was searching for an appropriate ritual, I learned about the Jewish ritual for opening a new home, the Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (whose root is the same as the Festival of Lights celebrated near the winter solstice), which involves nailing to the doorpost a case enclosing a scroll called a mezuzah (pl. mezuzot), on which are written two excerpts from Deuteronomy. The custom derives from the excerpted scripture's command to "write them on the doorposts of your house"eut. 6.4-9.
Deut. 11.18-21.
To the best of my knowledge there is no such "custom" as a "Chanukkat Ha-Bayit". Some guys might make one (no one that I know ever did, but it sounds vaguely familiar) but it has no religious significance. (Some institutions like to make one as a fundraiser).

Affixing a mezuzah to a door is a biblical commandment and has nothing to do with any "Chanukkat Ha-Bayit" ceremony, although it is possible that some people have decided to incorporate it into the ceremony.

As to your affixing one, perhaps I can make a suggestion. A mezuzah is specially written by hand with quill on parchment, with proscribed intentions, by a trained scribe, and following very set religious laws. The reason for these have to do with Jewish religious requirements. From your perspective, they add nothing except to the price.

Why not just type up your own mezuzah and install it exactly as one might a Jewish one? The meaning from your perspective will be exactly the same, but you will not be using a Jewish religious object.
#8
Old 07-21-2003, 10:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by SnoopyFan
I personally don't think a mezuzah for your home is a bad idea and I don't think it would falsly imply that you're Jewish. I'm sure you're not the only Christian who has one/wants one on their home. Deuteronomy is our book too. Go for it.
Speaking as an admittedly secular Jew, I am uncomfortable with that sentiment. Whether Deuteronomy is your book too is irrelevant. Mezuzot are Jewish religious objects with a special significance. To me, a Christian appropriating a mezuzah is akin to a Jew affixing a cross to their house because Jesus was Jewish.

Other than that, I have nothing to say on the more religious aspects of it. The thought just makes me uncomfortable.

Robin
#9
Old 07-21-2003, 10:06 AM
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On the one hand, I think it's a neat idea. I wouldn't be offended in the least if a gentile friend had a mezuzah on their door. Although I freely admit that I'd be rather confused until I had things explained to me.

If I was meeting you for the first time, I'd probably assume you were Jewish.

Might it offend a Jewish visitor to your home? Yeah, it might. It also might offend a Christian visitor.

But in my eyes, so long as you do nothing to belittle the tradition, you're not offending me at all.
#10
Old 07-21-2003, 02:47 PM
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A bit of a nitpick, IzzyR: the practice of making a chanukas habayis is venerable enough that R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) once delivered a chassidic discourse in which he explores the Kabbalistic rationale for the common custom of making a joyous celebration at such an occasion. (This discourse, entitled - appropriately enough - Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis - can be found in his Likkutei Torah, Vezos Haberachah 98d ff.) The origins of this practice may well go much further back, but I don't have any cites one way or the other. (And of course, it is perfectly true that chanukas habayis != putting up a mezuzah, though people do often combine the two occasions in order to make the celebration a mitzvah-related one.)

Re the OP's question (and brianmelendez, I applaud your sensitivity on this issue): The Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh De'ah 291:2) cites an explicit ruling (by the 14th-century authority Maharil) that corroborates what Rabbi Hoffman writes, that a Jew should not give a mezuzah to a non-Jew to affix to his doorpost. (No reasons are given there for this ruling. I don't have a printed Code of Jewish Law with commentaries at hand now, so I don't know which halachic authorities provide the reasons that Rabbi Hoffman gives.)

So it would seem to me that your best bet, from the point of view of Jewish law, would be to follow either [email protected]!'s or IzzyR's suggestions, and use something that contains (some or all of) the text of the mezuzah, but is not the actual sacred object itself.
#11
Old 07-21-2003, 04:48 PM
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My very deep opinion is that while I don't find if offensive (I'm a not-really-practicing Jew) I find it... weird.

Just... weird.
#12
Old 07-22-2003, 05:00 AM
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Thank you all for your advice. It covers about the same range as the feedback that I have been getting from the friends that I have consulted. I have been getting mixed feedback from my Jewish friends: The more liberal ones are very approving of the idea, even encouraging, and one even suggested it to me independently before I brought it up. The more conservative have advised me against affixing a mezuzah, not so much because they are personally offended as because of the halachic prohibition.

IzzyR, your suggestion to "type up your own mezuzah and install it exactly as one might a Jewish one" is essentially the same one that my friend Miriam came up with: she suggested that I use a mechanically printed scroll, rather than a kosher scroll written by a sofer. If I do affix a mezuzah, I will follow that suggestion. The suggestion from [email protected]! that I "make an object of your own using the bible verses stated, or something significant from them, to mark/decorate your doorway" also appeals to me. (And welcome to the SDMB, [email protected]!.)
#13
Old 07-22-2003, 05:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by RedNaxela
Re the OP's question (and brianmelendez, I applaud your sensitivity on this issue): The Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh De'ah 291:2) cites an explicit ruling (by the 14th-century authority Maharil) that corroborates what Rabbi Hoffman writes, that a Jew should not give a mezuzah to a non-Jew to affix to his doorpost. (No reasons are given there for this ruling. I don't have a printed Code of Jewish Law with commentaries at hand now, so I don't know which halachic authorities provide the reasons that Rabbi Hoffman gives.)
RedNaxela, thank you for your scholarly response. Here are Rabbi Hoffman's points with authorities:
Quote:
If the house is to be rented to gentiles or was rented from a gentile, he [a person moving out of his house or apartment] is obligated to remove the Mezuzos [sic]. It is forbidden to give or sell a Mezuzah to a gentile5. There are four reasons discussed by the halachic authorities for this prohibition:
  • One reason for this Halachah is that it is assumed that they will utilize the Mezuzah as a charm6.
  • Another reason is that the Mezuzah affirms the absolute unity of Hashem, and a gentile does not believe in Hashem’s absolute unity1.
  • A third reason is that the Mezuzah might be mistreated2.
  • A fourth reason is that someone may mistakenly assume that the gentile is Jewish3.
The halachah is in accordance with all four of these reasons. According to this last reason it is also forbidden to give or sell a Mezuzah case to a gentile. Authorities have ruled, however, that if there is a concern that not giving or selling a Mezuzah to a gentile will cause aviah, profound hate, or will cause him (the Jew) damage, he may give or sell him the mezuzah4. The rationale for this ruling is based on an interesting passage in the Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1):

The Parthian king, Artiban, once sent a priceless jewel to the great sage, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi. In return, Artiban expected something of equal value. Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi sent back a Mezuzah. Artiban responded, "I sent you something priceless and you sent me something that can be bought for a paltry sum!?" Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi answered: "You sent me something that I must hire a guard to watch over. I sent you something that will watch over you!"

Even though it seems that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi initiated the sending of the Mezuzah, the commentaries have explained that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi was attempting to dissipate a potential source of anti-semitism.
____________________
5Ramah 291:2
6Responsa Beer Sheva §36
1ibid
2See Beer Heitev 286:5
3Responsa Shaarei Teshuva § 157 and Eshkol cited in Pischei Shearim p. 252.
4Ramah YD 291:2. See Maharshal in Yam Shel Shlomo Bava Kamma chapter 4 for a dissenting view.
Rabbi Yair Hoffman, Mezuzah: A Comprehensive Guide (Lakewood, N.J.: Israel Bookshop, 2002), pp. 167-68.
#14
Old 07-22-2003, 08:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by RedNaxela
A bit of a nitpick, IzzyR: the practice of making a chanukas habayis is venerable enough that R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) once delivered a chassidic discourse in which he explores the Kabbalistic rationale for the common custom of making a joyous celebration at such an occasion. (This discourse, entitled - appropriately enough - Mizmor Shir Chanukas Habayis - can be found in his Likkutei Torah, Vezos Haberachah 98d ff.) The origins of this practice may well go much further back, but I don't have any cites one way or the other.
Thanks for pointing this out - I was unaware of this. But once you pointed it out, I looked around a bit last evening.

There's a lot of discussion of whether a "chanukas habayis" is considered a seudas mitzvah - most authorities say it is not (especially outside Israel) - see for example the Mogen Avrohom 568:5 and related sources.

I also saw the Avnei Neizer in YD 384:9 who refers to it as something that people do. See also Igros Moshe YD III 161 who mentions that not all do it.

In any event, as I mentioned previously, no one I know ever made one, although the concept sounds familiar. So it can't be too widespread of a custom, at least nowadays. (Perhaps Chabad Chassidim all make them?)

But thanks again for the "nitpick"!
Quote:
(And of course, it is perfectly true that chanukas habayis != putting up a mezuzah, though people do often combine the two occasions in order to make the celebration a mitzvah-related one.)
I don't know if that is such a good idea. A mezuzah should be put up immediately upon moving in.

And good luck with your new house, brian. ;j
#15
Old 07-22-2003, 08:12 AM
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Congratulations on homeownership!

Can we assume that nailing the can of black bean soup to the door frame is out?
#16
Old 07-22-2003, 08:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by IzzyR
And good luck with your new house, brian. ;j
Quote:
Originally posted by plnnr
Congratulations on homeownership!
Thanks!

Quote:
Originally posted by plnnr
Can we assume that nailing the can of black bean soup to the door frame is out?
Well, it expired in November '88 . . . I wonder what would happen?!
#17
Old 07-22-2003, 12:02 PM
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brian, first of all, let me also add my good wishes for you in your new house.

And thanks for posting that excerpt from Rabbi Hoffman's book, because it answers a question I myself had about this whole issue. I was familiar with the story he quotes about Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi and Artaban, and so I took it for granted that this would be permissible, until I looked it up - and then I wondered how this halachah would square with the story.

Izzy, as I'm sure you know, technically one is not obligated to put up a mezuzah on a house outside Israel until they've lived there for 30 days. (And indeed, it's my understanding - though I'd welcome corrections on this score, since you apparently have access to a lot more sefarim, and greater abilities in learning, than I do - that if you put it up within those 30 days, there's some doubt about whether you can recite the berachah.) I don't know how it's done in other communities, but the Lubavitcher custom is to put up all of the mezuzos immediately, and then to take at least one of them down after 30 days (to get it checked, or replace it with a better one, etc.) and recite the berachah when putting it up at that time. So that can easily be combined with a chanukas habayis (assuming, of course, that you've gotten enough of your boxes unpacked by that time! )
#18
Old 07-22-2003, 12:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by RedNaxela
Izzy, as I'm sure you know, technically one is not obligated to put up a mezuzah on a house outside Israel until they've lived there for 30 days.
This only applies to a rental, not to someone buying a house.

(Even for rentals, there is some question as to whether it applies to someone who has signed a lease for longer than 30 days).
#19
Old 07-22-2003, 04:47 PM
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You're right again. (I really should look up my sources, rather than posting from memory!)
#20
Old 07-22-2003, 11:06 PM
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My parents are Christian and put up a mezuzah, and none of the Jewish people who participated in the ceremony (which included Christian blessings as well) saw anything wrong with it. Of course, some people who visit will assume you're Jewish. So what?
#21
Old 07-23-2003, 12:21 AM
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A third reason is that the Mezuzah might be mistreated

Do not taunt Happy Fun Mezuzah.


Sorry couldn't resist ...
#22
Old 07-23-2003, 12:35 AM
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brianmelendez, I appreciate your thoughfulness and willingness to seek out opinions on a sensitive subject. It has been an educational thread for me. As a semi-practicing conservative Jew I would prefer you not to put a mezuzah on your doorway. Why? Simply because you are not Jewish. If I were visiting your home and you had one, I would probably take instant offense and consider not staying.
My opinion: unlike some Christians, Jews are not at all interested in non-Jews co-opting their religious and cultural practices. As a Jew I gladly answer questions about practice from gentile friends and associates, and welcome participation on communal rituals like sedars. Some practices, however, are more personal and intimate and to me require the commitment of eventual conversion.
I'm sure you will do the right thing, you seem like a mensch.
#23
Old 07-30-2003, 02:37 PM
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Thank you all for your advice. Especially IzzyR and [email protected]!, whose ideas are substantially the ones that I am adopting. (And [email protected]!, I hope that this thread won't be your last appearance at the SDMB!)

I have decided that I will use a symbol that honors the scriptural text without encroaching upon the peculiarly Jewish nature of the mezuzah. Rather than using a scroll with the text printed in Hebrew inside a mezuzah case, I am ordering a brass plaque, with the same text in English, which I will affix to the doorpost about where the mezuzah would go if I were affixing one.
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