Writing and Affixing a Mezuza

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAETCHANAN

 

Writing and Affixing a Mezuza

 

By Rav Binyamin Tabory

 

 

            The first parasha of keriat shema, which appears in Parashat Vaetchanan, contains the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuza.  The Torah does not mention explicitly that we must write tefillin, but rather states that we must tie "these words" (of shema) on our arms and have them on our heads (literally: "between our eyes").  Thereafter, the Torah requires that we write a mezuza on our doorposts.  As opposed to tefillin, regarding which the Torah never specifies the obligation of writing, when it comes to mezuza the Torah says, "u-khtavtam" – "You shall write them."  The gemara (Menachot 34a) raised the possibility that the mitzva requires actually writing the mezuza on the stones (of the house).  The gemara proceeds to present two proofs to the fact that a mezuza should be written on parchment.  Firstly, writing a mezuza parallels the mitzva to write a Sefer Torah, which obviously requires parchment.  Secondly, the fine art of writing a mezuza practically cannot be done on wood or stone. 

 

Now that we have ascertained that a mezuza should be written on parchment, let us examine why the Torah specified that we write a mezuza, while in the context of tefillin it speaks only of tying and placing.  One approach might be to deny this assumption altogether. The gemara (Gittin 45b) indicates that the laws of writing tefillin correspond to the halakhot concerning writing mezuzot.  If so, then it would seem that the clause, "and you shall write them" (Devarim 6:9) refers to both tefillin and mezuzot.  There is thus no distinction between the Torah's formulation of the mitzva of tefillin and that of mezuza.

 

            Alternatively, however, one might suggest that the specific mention of "writing" in the context of mezuza bears particular halakhic significance.  In describing the mitzva of sukka, the She'iltot of Rav Achai Gaon (169) writes, "Benei Yisrael must make a sukka and dwell in it for seven days."  The Netziv (Ha'amek She'ela ad loc.) pointed out that these two verbs ("make" and "dwell") imply a dual aspect to this mitzva – a requirement to build a sukka and to dwell in the sukka.  Indeed, the Torah writes, "You shall make chag ha-Sukkot for yourself" (Devarim 16:13) – which likely refers to an obligation to "make" (build) a sukka.  Although the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka is obviously the primary aspect of this mitzva, nevertheless, making the sukka also constitutes a mitzva.  The Netziv added that this principle applies anytime the Torah makes specific mention of the preparatory stages of a given mitzva.  The gemara (Menachot 42a) discusses the issue of reciting a berakha when making tzitzit.  The gemara says that just as there is no berakha on writing tefillin and mezuzot, so is there no berakha recited when making tzitzit.  The Netziv pointed out that nowhere does the gemara even raise the possibility of reciting a berakha when preparing a lulav or making a shofar.  The gemara discusses such a possibility, of reciting a berakha when preparing for a mitzva, only regarding mitzvot whose preparation also involves a biblical command.  The Torah writes, "they shall make tzitzit for themselves" (Bamidbar 15:38), but never does it say, "make a lulav."  The gemara therefore reasoned that where there is a specific commandment to "make" the mitzva, one recites a berakha on the preparation of the mitzva.  The gemara concludes, however, that the facct that tefillin and mezuza have no berakha over the preparation indicates that even when the Torah mentions the preparation, such as regarding tzitzit, no berakha is required over the preparatory stages.  Tosafot (ad loc.) note that the Talmud Yerushalmi disagrees with the Talmud Bavli and indeed requires a berakha on making tzitzit, building a sukka and writing tefillin.  However, no one entertained the notion of reciting a berakha on the preparation of a mitzva unless the Torah specifically mentions the preparation.

 

            This principle could explain why the Torah uses the verb "and you shall write them" in the context of mezuza – to indicate that there is a mitzva – albeit not the main mitzva - to write a mezuza.  Although clearly the primary obligation is to place the mezuza on the doorposts, the preparatory stage of writing a mezuza perhaps also constitutes a mitzva act.

 

We should note, however, that this analogy between tefillin, mezuza and sukka, becomes somewhat questionable in light of the She'iltot's own description of the mitzva of mezuza. He writes (she'ilta 145), "The people of Israel are required to affix a mezuza to their doors."  He describes the obligation solely in terms of affixing mezuzot, not writing mezuzot, seemingly implying that there is not, in fact, any mitzva involved in writing a mezuza.  The Rambam (in his list of mitzvot printed in the introduction to Mishneh Torah) similarly writes that the mitzva is to "affix a mezuza on the doors of our gates."  He mentions nothing at all of an obligation to write the mezuza.  The Rambam also writes (Hilkhot Mezuza 5:7) that "one recites the berakha before affixing it to the door … one does not recite a berakha at the time of writing it, as the placing of the mezuza is the mitzva."  Thus, both the She'iltot and the Rambam do not speak at all of any mitzva involved in the writing of the mezuza.  It therefore seems difficult to explain why the Torah writes, "u-khtavtam" – seemingly requiring that we write a mezuza.

 

            Other Rishonim, however, clearly held that there is a mitzva to write the mezuza.  The Targum Onkeles and the Targum Yonatan ben Uziel both translate the verse as, "You should write the mezuza and affix it… "   The Tur and Shulchan Arukh both codified the halakha in accordance with the Targumim.  And although the Tur and Shulchan Arukh agree with the Rambam's view that no berakha is recited on writing the mezuza, they omit the Rambam's explanation that "the placing of the mezuza is the mitzva."  They seem to hold that although there is indeed a mitzva to write a mezuza, a berakha is recited only on the primary component of the mitzva, namely, affixing it to the doorpost.

 

            One practical difference between these two opinions would seem to be whether a person should write the mezuza himself or appoint a shaliach (agent) to write it for him.  If writing the mezuza constitutes its own mitzva, then it would be preferable to write the mezuza personally, rather than commission a sofer (scribe) to write one on his behalf.

 

            Rav Elimelech Vinter (Minchat Elimelech p.152) raised another intriguing, possible ramification of this issue.  A woman is exempt from tefillin (Kedushin 34a) and may therefore not write tefillin (Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillin 1:13; Tur and Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 39:1).  There is considerable controversy concerning the issue of a woman's obligation to write a Sefer Torah (see Minchat Chinukhmitzva 613: the 613th commandment – chapter 4 and the sources quoted there by the author, Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen).  The Rambam ruled that women may not write a Sefer Torah (ibid.), and the Shulchan Arukh rules accordingly (Y.D. 281:3).  The Tur, however, omitted this halakha, an omission interpreted by the Derisha as indicating that the Tur allows having a Sefer Torah written by a woman.  Clearly, then, according to the Tur, a woman would be allowed to write a Sefer Torah.  Now when it comes to mezuza, the gemara establishes that women are included in this obligation (Berakhot 20a).  Nevertheless, the Rambam (ibid.) disqualifies women from writing a mezuza.  In his view, a woman's obligation is simply to affix the mezuza; writing the mezuza, however, is not part of the mitzva.  But the Tur and Shulchan Arukh, as we saw, maintain that writing the mezuza also constitutes a mitzva.  It would follow, then, that according to the Tur and Shulchan Arukh, a woman may write a mezuza.  Indeed, neither the Tur nor the Shulchan Arukh make any mention of a woman's disqualification from writing mezuzot.

 

We should note, however, that nowhere in the standard halakhic works on mezuza (e.g. Chovat Ha-Dar by Y.Y. Blau) or in the books written specifically on women's role in halakha (e.g. Halikhot Beita by D. Orbach; Otzar Dinim by Y. Yosef) do we find any allusion to such a notion.  In fact, these works raise the issue of whether a woman may even affix a mezuza on her own house, and Rav D. Orbach ruled that it is preferable for a man to do so (Halikhot Beita p. 401 and footnote 32).  Others (cited there in Halikhot Beita; see also letter of approbation of Rav Vozner to Chovat Ha-Dar) disagreed, arguing that it is inconceivable that a woman is obligated in this mitzva (at least in the affixing of the mitzva) but may not perform it.  In any event, this entire discussion appears to negate the possibility of allowing a woman to write a mezuza, as the question focuses entirely on her affixing the mezuza.

 

            In conclusion, it is worth citing the comments of the Tur (Y.D. 285) concerning the particular importance of the mitzva of mezuza: "One should be very meticulous about this… as the mezuza contains the unity of God and whenever one enters or leaves he will remember that unity… Moreover, the house is protected by it… Nevertheless, one's intent should only be to fulfill the commandment of the Creator as we were commanded."