How to Hang a Mezuzah

PREPARATION 

1. If possible do this as a room or home dedication--Hanukkat HaBayit, Dedication of the House, by inviting friends to participate with their presence. The root of Hanukkat, like Hanukkah, is חָנַך ha-nakh, which also means education and consecration. It's nice to do this on a Saturday night, after offering a Havallah ceremony to end Shabbat.

2. Preparation. When I transitioned from the home I raised my children in, to a new home due to divorce, my friend Rabbi Gail Diamond suggest that I see this as my new sacred space. To take on that sacred space she suggested that I clean the full house myself symbolically, since it had been done by the prior owners. Now cleaning is "not really my field", as Jackie Mason might say, for this I will sacrifice other joys to hire people, so taking this on myself was no small decision.

3. Chessed, (pronounced khessed) - overflowing loving kindness, is symbolized by water in Judaism, and gevurah is boundaries and strength. These I wanted to have in balance in this new home. So, I collected some rain water and added it to the tap water. [Much like a mikveh, (ritual pool for healing immersions and conversions and monthly transformations), must have mayyim chayyim, living waters.] Then I sumoned the koach (pronounced koakh), strength to clean without resenting the task, and then damp mopped each room and ran a sponge around each of the floor boards.

In my spirit I called for the house to be filled with lots of hakhnassat orkhim, entertaining of guests, as I crossed each "threshold," which in Hebrew is ehden (more easily visualized as adan), the root word of Adonai, I kissed each mezuzah and entered with the intention to be a sacred servant preparing a Jewish home to be the container for many mitzvot for HaShem (God).

The experience was so valuable. I felt bonded to the house through this very physical ritual. In past years I'd attended smudgings, where folks carry a bit of burning sage to drive out the energy of prior inhabitants, a la Native American traditions. I too wanted something "more Jewish."

In any event, find some symbolic way to prepare that feels right for you. Include yourself in the preparation, water rituals are very prevalent in the Torah, there are at least seven mentioned in the Torah itself.

4. A kosher mezuzah scroll is handwritten by a scribe with special ink on special paper with focus and precision. This gets tucked into your mezuzah. Have these items ready and be shore to check your door post(s) to see if they are metal or wood. Double stick tape will be needed for the former and tiny screws for the latter. Learn more about what's in your scroll here.

4. Except for the bathroom where you presumably will be alone most of the time, every threshold requires a mezuzah so that your consciousness will be shifted to holiness in your relationships as you transition from one space to another.

THE RITUAL:

1. Choose a popular melody or verse from Torah to gather the energy of your community of friends and/or new neighbors. Or, this might be an expansion of your mezuzah practice, perhaps one for your study door, or exam room at your office or school, or a child's room, then gather the staff, or the family. You might simply chant: Adonai. (My Lord/My Threshold).

Hold the silence at the end of the chant, it contains holiness which is filling your room/home.

INVITE YOUR FRIENDS TO SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS ON:

1. In the Torah the reward the midwives receive for saving the lives of the Israelite boy babies are homes. What does home mean to you? You might invite your guests to share what the idea of "home" is for them. Is it possible to have everywhere you live with the qualities of what you desire to be in your "home." OR

2. Reflect on the intentions you have for the space you are decorating - how is this home, office or room one you are making into sacred space? What does see your home as sacred space mean to you?

3. Pass the mezuzah around and have your friends infuse it with some of the qualities of living and experiencing would be great for filling your home. This is not a cult, they can say them aloud, in a whisper, or pass.

4. Now, hold the mezuzah in place, about 1/3 down the right side of the doorway as you enter, set it comfortably at about shoulder height.

5. Let the intentions of your heart for your home pour into the doorpost while you are holding the mezuzah in the place you will affix it.

6. Attach the mezuah and recite the blessing:

Baruch atah Blessed are you

Ado-nai My God/Threshold (Adon, the root word of Adonai means threshold)

E-loheinu Our G-d, the

melech organizing principle of

ha-olam the universe (olam=world, eternity or universe)

asher through which

kiddishanu our holiness comes in the

b'mitzvosav doing of mitzvahs (sacred acts of consciousness)

v'tzeevanu such as the Your guidance

leekboah to affix

m'zuzah a mezuzah. 

If this is the first time you have ever put up a mezuzah, or the first time you'd have a place of your own, or the first time you've owned your own home, a shehekheyanu blessing is in order, as well.

6. Guests can call out Siman Tov and Mazel Tov, which are astrologically based Hebrew blessings.

Siman Tov - may this be happening under a good sign for you and Mazel Tov and a good star, may its blaze bring good fortune - mazel, for you in your new home.

And many blessings from my heart to yours, as well, Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Regarding the Shehecheyanu Prayer

The cycles of human life are also profoundly supported by Jewish prayer and ritual practice. Making it through to joyous times isn’t guaranteed. Do these and other memorable moments, regardless of your rational beliefs, ever yield a desire to say "Thank God!"? In Jewish rituals this impulse has become associated with a prayer called the shehekheyanu. So it is that this prayer gives form and depth to a voice quavering with emotion as at those special times you can bless the mysterious Process, as some do when hanging a mezuzah in a new home:

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melech ha olam

She-heh-kheh-ya-nu Which enlivens us

v’ki-mah-nu And sustains us

v’higee-ya-nu And brings us to

lazman ha zeh. This [special] time.

Why Do We Hang a Mezuzah at an Angle?

The correct way to set the mezuzah on your door post (or these days on your car post and computer screen) is to angle the upper part of the rolled-up scroll closer to the inside of the room, about one third way down at a reachable height for the adult residents. Why?

We are told twice in the Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:20 to "write on the doorposts of your house" but no directions for angle, casing or orientation are given. So where does the tradition come from to angle a mezuzah?

In the Talmud, a compendium of early Jewish laws, stories and customs, the sage Yehudah quotes a saying of a first generation Babylonian Jewish scholar, an amora, who lived approximately 225 C.E.: "If it is fixed in the manner of a bolt, it is invalid." Now, whatever did that mean? Around the year 1040 the medieval commentator Rashi declares the manner of a bolt to be horizontal. By the 12th Century Rabbenu Tam says this same phrase means vertically. Just think how much hardware has changed in our times, we'd have trouble agreeing on the meaning too!

The next important stop in our investigation is the Shulchan Arukh, the sixteenth century law code Yoreh De'ah (289:6) where R' Joseph Caro asserts that a mezuzah "must be vertical, its length must be parallel to the opening edge of the doorpost." So you could say that Rashi prevailed, at least in Sephardic communities where R'Caro was a formal authority for Jewish law.

An Ashkenazic leader, R'Isserles reviewed this code in its time and felt the Sephardic opinion to be so different to the norms in his region that he added his own note: "there are those who say a vertical mezuzah is invalid, that it must be oriented horizontally, with its length parallel to the top of the door." He continued on by saying that some fulfill both views by "putting the mezuzah on a slant, diagonal and so we do in these countries, with the Sh'ma angled inside and the bottom edge of the parchment toward the outside."

Jews from eastern Europe have followed the diagonal ever since. Sephardic Jews vary in practice, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, R'Ovadia Yosef taught to place the mezuzzah vertically as did R'Chaim David ha-Levi, the former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, although he also wrote permitting the slanting method.

What flavor will you choose when hanging your mezuzah? If there's not enough space to angle it, by the way, it will end up vertical no matter what! It's the ritual's intentionality with the mitzvah and both the traditional prayer and the prayers for your home that come from your heart that add spirituality.