By Mottel Baleston

"May God find us with His words written on the doorways of our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33)!"

New York City is where I was born and where I grew up. More specifically, it was the borough of Brooklyn, which in the 1960s was a center of worldwide Judaism rivaled only by Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Even more specifically, it seemed to me as a young boy with 4 Grandparents who would speak to one another in Yiddish in our home, that the world I experienced was almost entirely Jewish.

An example would be the housing project where I grew up, my “neighborhood” in Brooklyn. We lived in a large building which had nine apartments on each floor. There were eight floors and, thus, 72 families in the building. As a child, I would walk up and down those hallways and notice that the vast majority of entrances had two signs which indicated that a Jewish family lived inside. On the thick, brown metal doors would usually be a sticker noting that the family inside had donated to one or more of the popular Jewish charities of the day: Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem or the Jewish National Fund, which planted trees in Israel.

The second sign that a Jewish family lived there would be a small, rectangular box made of metal or wood that had been glued to the right hand doorpost at eye level. That box is called a mezuzah. It is fastened there in obedience to a passage given by God through Moses which commands: You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:9). The pronoun them refers to the following words which immediately precede the mezuzah command: Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:4,5). When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment in the Torah, it is this very verse that He cited in Matthew 22:37. If one transliterates the original Hebrew text, the verses read:

Shema Yisrael: Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!
V’ahavta Adonai Elohecha, b’chol l’vavcha uv’chol nafsh’cha uv’chol m’odecha.

This most famous passage in the entire Jewish Bible along with several other verses is written in Hebrew letters on a small, thin leather parchment, rolled into a tiny scroll, and placed into the open back of the mezuzah box. The box is then sealed, and in accordance with the Deuteronomy 6:9 passage above, fastened to the right doorpost. Most Jewish families have a mezuzah only on their front doorway, while Orthodox Jews put one on the doorpost of nearly every room in the home or business.

The average kosher mezuzah scroll is approximately four inches square (10 cm) and is made of cattle or goat skin that has been cleaned, stretched, and sanded smooth, the same process used in biblical times and today to make a full-size Torah scroll. The 22 lines that make up the mezuzah are written with a quill pen dipped in thick ink made from an old formula of oak nut resin, acacia tree sap, oils, and charcoal soot. The scroll is called a sopher, which in Hebrew means “scribe.”

The mezuzah case can be inexpensive or costly. It can be large or small. It can be made of fine metal, pewter, ceramic pottery, or even plastic. Toward the top of the case, printed on the outside, will be the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter of the word Shaddai, meaning “Almighty.” Ornamentation and artwork are permitted on the mezuzah case, and so, one sometimes sees motifs of clowns or even superheroes at the entrance to a child’s bedroom.

As the case is a basic rectangular box, it is generally placed in a vertical position by Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews from the Middle East. Ashkenazi Jews like myself, whose ancestors spent a thousand years in Europe, hold to the tradition of tilting the top of the case in toward the door. The reason for the tilt will sound funny, but it is an example of how many Jewish traditions that are revered today actually evolved and are the product of compromise. In the 11th century, Rashi, a famous French rabbi and an authority on Jewish law, issued an opinion that when a mezuzah is fastened, it should be hung vertically. Years later Rashi’s grandson Rabbi Tam wrote that a mezuzah should be affixed horizontally because, in his understanding, the Ten Commandments and the Torah scrolls were kept horizontally in the ark in the Temple. About a hundred years later, the community decided that the way to honor both traditions was to compromise and affix the mezuzah at a slant, pointing into the room.

As for the inscription inside, traditional Orthodox practice is to insist on a “kosher” scroll, one that is made from properly prepared parchment and hand written with a quill pen in the traditional manner by an Orthodox Jewish scribe. Those Jewish families who are not Orthodox often simply use the sample printed paper scrolls that come in some mezuzah cases.

While the above is the basic explanation of what a mezuzah is, as believers in Messiah Yeshua and as Bible students, we want to go a little deeper. The Deuteronomy passage is found in the context of Moses’ farewell message to the people of Israel, in which he encouraged them to follow the one true God as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses knew that they might be tempted by the people occupying the country to worship idols in addition to the God of Israel, and so he admonished them, “Hear and obey, people of Israel: Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone.”

It is likely that in the earliest years after the command was given, individuals actually took an instrument to write out the words on their bare doorposts. As they sat in their houses and walked along the way (Deut. 6:7), the words were a constant reminder that Jehovah was the only true God and the only God they worshiped. During the time I lived and studied in Jerusalem, I saw several homes with entrances made of stone where someone had taken an awl and deeply engraved into the stone the beginning of the phrase Shema Yisrael.

As is the case with so many biblical laws, the command to affix a mezuzah was given to remind people of their relationship with God. However, for some it has simply become a tradition that is adhered to out of a sense of obligation and identity. The practice of lightly touching the mezuzah upon entering a room and then bringing those fingers to the mouth for a symbolic kiss is likewise intended to remind one of the reverence we have for the words of Torah; but again, this can be either a reflexive move or something done with heartfelt intention.

As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we need to be careful not to be overly swayed by outward shows of religious tradition to the point where we hide our faith. On one hand, we see Jesus and the apostles fully participating in biblical Jewish traditions in the Gospels and the twelve continuing that practice in the book of Acts. Romans 14 reminds us that we have freedom in these areas of Jewish practice and cultural traditions. First Corinthians 9:20-21 further states:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the [Mosaic] law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Messiah’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

While it is my personal practice to have a mezuzah on the doorpost of my home, and the vast majority of Jewish believers do likewise, I am under no legal obligation to do so because we are no longer under Mosaic Law. An increasing number of Gentile believers are fixing Mezuzot to their doorways as a means of identifying with the Jewish community and providing opportunities for discussion about their faith in the Messiah of Israel. That can be a very positive thing if done for the right reasons. Most importantly, may God find us with His words written on the doorways of our hearts (Jer. 31:33)!

The Mezuzah
~ a messianic study ~
© Mottel Baleston

Mottel Baleston is the AMC Board Secretary, the director of Messengers Messianic Jewish Outreach of New Jersey, and a teacher at Ariel’s School of Messianic Jewish Studies. He served for 16 years as Messianic Rabbi or Associate Rabbi at Beth Messiah Congregation in Livingston, New Jersey. For much more about Mottel and his present activities, please go to

Links to other articles by Mottel may be found in our Library.

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