For the week ending 13 March 2010 / 26 Adar I 5770

Mezuza as Amulet

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Guy

Hi. I am a university student researching the mezuza. Can you please send me information on its history, and its potential use as an amulet. Thanks.

Dear Guy,

When you ask about the history of the mezuza, you are probably asking about its origin. If so, the answer is that the mezuza has the same origin as all the commandments in the Torah: It was revealed by G-d to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai.

Interestingly, though, the mezuza was soon singled out for criticism by a group of people rebelling against Moshe. “If a room is filled with holy books,” they asked, “does it stillneed a mezuza [with passages from the Torah] on its door?” They were basically trying to ridicule Moshe, but their point was this: Does the ‘House of Israel’ (the holy Jewish People) need a ‘mezuza’ — i.e., a leader or priest who adds to their holiness? Since the entire nation is holy, they challenged, surely there is no need for Moshe and Aaron at their head.

The answer to them was simple: Everything Moshe did, whether appointing priests or affixing mezuzot, was commanded by G-d. This also answers the question of the origin of the commandment – from G-d.

The mitzvah of mezuza is to write two paragraphs from the Torah — “Shema” and “V’haya” — on a piece of parchment and affix it to the doorpost of all gates, houses and rooms. Among other things, these two paragraphs state that G-d is One, and that we should take the Torah’s words to heart and teach them to our children.

Mezuza literally means doorpost, although as far as the commandment is concerned, the term has come to refer to the actual parchment that is affixed to the doorpost. Since the parchment is usually placed in some protective/decorative container which is then affixed to the doorpost, the container itself has erroneously come to be referred to by some as the mezuza.

Wearing an actual mezuza parchment as an amulet should not be done. This could lead to desecration of the Torah verses and G-d’s Name therein. Fortunately, what is often worn around the neck and called a mezuza doesn’t contain a real mezuza, but is simply a replica of the decorative case used to cover the real mezuza parchment.

However, placing a valid mezuzaon your doorpost in fulfillment of the mitzvah earns special protection from G-d for you and for your children. This idea is related by the Talmud in the following moving episode:

Onkelos, the brilliant nephew of the Roman Emperor Titus, converted to Judaism and became a disciple of the Sages. Hearing this, Titus sent a brigade of soldiers to bring him back to Rome. But when Onkelos engaged the soldiers in discussion and showed them the beauty of Torah, they converted to Judaism.

Titus then sent another brigade, instructing them not to speak to Onkelos. But after listening without even speaking, they too converted to Judaism. Finally Titus sent a third brigade and instructed them not even to listen to Onkelos. When they were leading him away, Onkelos placed his hand on the mezuza and inquisitively inquired, “What is that?”

“You tell us,” the soldiers said. He replied, “Normally, a human king sits inside and his servants stand outside and guard him. But, for the Holy One Blessed be He, His servants are inside and He guards them from outside.” They too converted. Titus sent no more soldiers.

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-8; 11:13-21
  • Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 284
  • Tractate Avodah Zarah 11

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