Mezuzah on a Rental

Question #1: Tenancy

“We rented a new apartment but did not put up mezuzos immediately, assuming that we had thirty days to do so. Someone told me that Rav Moshe held that we should put up mezuzos immediately. Is that true?”

Question #2: Temporary Dwelling

“When we went to visit our children in Ramat Beit Shemesh for two weeks, they had borrowed for us a brand-new apartment that the owners themselves had as yet not used. I was surprised to see mezuzos on the doors already. My son-in-law explained that he put up mezuzos in the entire apartment so that we could use it. Was he required to do so? I thought that one is not required to have mezuzos unless one lives somewhere for at least a month.”

Question #3: Mezuzah in a Rehab

“My mother unfortunately fell and broke her femur and will be staying for an extensive period of time in a rehabilitation hospital. Are we required to make sure that there is a kosher mezuzah on the door of her room?”

Basic information:

The Torah requires that a mezuzah be placed on the doorposts of “your” house, beisecha. What is the definition of beisecha? Does the mitzvah apply even when I live in a house that I do not own? Does it apply to a property I own, even if I do not live there? These questions are addressed by the Gemara and its major early commentaries.

The Gemara (Pesachim 4a; Bava Metzia 101b; Avodah Zarah 21a) teaches that the obligation to put up a mezuzah devolves upon the person living in a house and not upon a non-resident owner. Thus, a Jew who rents his home from a gentile is obligated to have mezuzos on the doors (Rambam, Hilchos Mezuzah 5:11; Beis Yosef, end of Yoreh Deah 286; however, cf. Hagahos Maimonis 5:7 who quotes a disputing opinion), whereas a Jewish landlord who owns residential properties that he rents out is not obligated to place mezuzos on them.

When one Jew rents his house or apartment to a second Jew, the requirement to place a mezuzah rests with the tenant.

The Gemara’s statement

There is another Talmudic passage that expands upon the previously-quoted rulings:

“One who lives in an inn in Eretz Yisrael, or one who rents a house in chutz la’aretz is exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah for thirty days. [If he rents] for longer, he is required to put up a mezuzah. However, one who rents a house in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately, because this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael” (Menachos 44a).

This passage of Gemara mentions three halachos:

1. Someone who lives in an inn, hotel, or other temporary residence is, in general, not obligated to put up a mezuzah. The Gemara states that someone who dwells in an inn in Eretz Yisrael for thirty days becomes obligated in mezuzah.

2. Someone who rents a house or apartment for thirty days or more must put up a mezuzah.

3. However, someone who rents or borrows a house or apartment in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately.

More details

In order to answer our opening questions, we will need to clarify each of these halachos in more detail. I am first going to explain the rules governing a tenant in chutz la’aretz, who is required to put up a mezuzah when he lives thirty days in a rented or borrowed residence.

I mentioned above that the Torah requires placing a mezuzah on beisecha, your house. One may ask: If a rented residence qualifies as “your” house, then a tenant should be obligated to place a mezuzah there immediately, and if a rented residence does not qualify as “your” house, then the tenant should not be obligated in the mitzvah, even if he lives there longer.

What difference does thirty days make?

As we can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. Tosafos (Menachos 44a s.v. Talis) does and, to answer it, presents two very different approaches:

I. The person dwelling in a residence is the one who requires the shemirah that the mezuzah provides. For this reason, the mezuzah is the tenant’s responsibility. However, someone living in a dwelling for less than thirty days is not yet considered to be a resident.

This answer contends that installing a mezuzah on a rented dwelling in which one lives for thirty days is min haTorah.

II. The second approach understands that min haTorah a tenant is never required to have a mezuzah on his door, since the word beisecha, your house, implies that the owner of a residence (who also dwells there) is required to install a mezuzah. A tenant is required to have a mezuzah as a takkanas chachamim instituted by the Sages, because the house appears to be his.

Several later authorities conclude that the second approach, that a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is only miderabbanan, is the approach that we follow in practical halachah (Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, 1:66; Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah, #380).

What if I borrow?

The halachic authorities rule that just as someone who rents a residence for thirty days is obligated to have a mezuzah, so, too, someone who borrows a residence for thirty days or more, without paying any rent, is obligated to have a mezuzah (Rabbeinu Manoach, quoted by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah, end of 286).

Is the requirement for a mezuzah immediate?

At this point, I want to address our opening question:

“We rented a new apartment but did not put up mezuzos immediately, figuring that we had thirty days to do so. Someone told me that Rav Moshe held that we should put up mezuzos immediately. Is that true?”

The question here is: When someone knows that he will be living in a house or apartment for more than thirty days, is he exempt from mezuzah until the thirtieth day, or since he will be living there for thirty days obligate him immediately?

This matter is disputed. Some authorities contend that the requirement to install a mezuzah is immediate when you intend to rent or borrow the residence for thirty days (Derech Hachayim; Shu”t Harei Besamim 2:219, quoted by Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 2:82). This approach is implied by Rashi (Menachos 44a), who writes that a tenant is not obligated in mezuzah for thirty days because he might back out of the rental, implying that, when he is committed to renting it for thirty days, he is required to put up a mezuzah immediately.

Some derive support for this position from the halachah that someone who moves into a community is not obligated in local taxes until he lives there for thirty days. However, should he demonstrate his intention to live in the community for thirty days or more, he becomes obligated to pay taxes immediately. Thus, someone’s intention to live somewhere for thirty days may determine permanent dwelling status.

However, other authorities contend that a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is because it looks as if he is living there permanently, and this does not happen until he is actually there for thirty days. They maintain that even someone who signed a multi-year lease is not obligated to put up a mezuzah until he lives in the rental home for thirty days (Nachalas Zvi to Yoreh Deah 286:22; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 286:18).

Although some later authorities prefer that a long-term tenant put up the mezuzah immediately, in deference to the Derech Hachayim’s position (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:179), common practice is to follow the second approach, that of the Nachalas Zvi, that one is not obligated to put up the mezuzah immediately.

When should I actually put it up?

Assuming that a tenant is not required to put up a mezuzah until thirty days have passed, may one put up the mezuzah earlier and already recite a brocha, or should one wait until the thirtieth day? The question is: since the Nachalas Zvi rules that a tenant is not obligated to put up a mezuzah until he is living there for thirty days, perhaps one cannot recite a brocha upon installing the mezuzah until one is obligated to do so?

We find a dispute in this matter. The Nachalas Zvi and the Halachos Ketanos (quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:7) conclude that although it may be a bigger mitzvah to wait until the thirtieth day, so that one performs the mitzvah at a time that one is required to do so, one may put up the mezuzah any time during the thirty-day period with a brocha. Others rule that one should not recite a brocha until the thirtieth day (Toras Chesed, quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:7; and others quoted by Chovas Hadar, page 29, ftn. 8).

Thus, we have three approaches as to what to do:

1. Put up the mezuzah immediately.

2. Put up the mezuzah any time during the thirty days.

3. Put up the mezuzah specifically on the thirtieth day.

I advise each individual to ask his own posek which approach to follow.

Temporary dwelling in Eretz Yisrael

At this point, let us discuss the third point made by the Gemara I quoted above – that someone who rents or borrows a house or apartment in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately.

How does putting up a mezuzah assist the settling of Eretz Yisrael?

To explain this idea, we need to cite a different law. The halachah is that, when vacating a residence, one is usually required to leave the mezuzos in place. To quote the Gemara, “when a Jew rents a house to a fellow Jew, the tenant is responsible to affix the mezuzos. However, when the tenant vacates, he may not remove them. On the other hand, a Jew who rents a residence from a gentile removes the mezuzos when he leaves” (Bava Metzia 102a).

Based on this halachah, Rashi (Menachos 44a) explains why Chazal required someone renting in Eretz Yisrael to put up a mezuzah immediately. Since the tenant may not take the mezuzos with him, he will be reticent to move. And even if he does move, since the mezuzos are left behind, a different Jew will be eager to rent it, since he spares himself the expense of purchasing mezuzos. Either way, the dwelling will remain with a Jewish resident, which accomplishes that “this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael.”

Borrowing in Eretz Yisrael

At this point, we will the second of our opening questions:

“When we went to visit our children in Ramat Beit Shemesh for two weeks, they had borrowed for us a brand-new apartment that the owners themselves had not as yet used. I was surprised to see mezuzos on the doors already. My son-in-law explained that he put up mezuzos in the entire apartment so that we could use it. Was he required to do so? I thought that one is not required to have mezuzos unless one lives somewhere for at least a month.”

As I mentioned above, the Gemara rules that someone who rents a house in Eretz Yisrael must put up a mezuzah immediately, because this assists in the settling of Eretz Yisrael. And, since borrowing a house is the same as renting it (Rema, Yoreh Deah 286:22), someone who borrows someone’s house even for just one night is required to install mezuzos on the entire house.

The “inn” thing

As I mentioned above, someone who lives in an inn, hotel, or other temporary residence is, in general, not obligated to put up a mezuzah. Since it is generally assumed that an inn is not a place in which one lives permanently, it is not considered a “dwelling” (Shach, Yoreh Deah 286:28). Rashi (Menachos 32b s.v. Hayu) implies that someone living temporarily in a residence that is clearly not intended to be permanent is not required to have a mezuzah, even if he owns the “residence.”

Thus, someone staying in a hotel in Eretz Yisrael is not required to have a mezuzah, and one is certainly not required to ascertain if the mezuzos on one’s hotel room door are kosher.

Inn chutz la’aretz

However, the Gemara states that someone who dwells in an inn in Eretz Yisrael for thirty days becomes obligated in mezuzah. What about a chutz la’aretz resident who lives permanently in an inn – is he obligated to put up a mezuzah?

Most authorities explain that someone who lives permanently in an inn in chutz la’aretz is not obligated to put up a mezuzah, because this is not considered having a house (see Chovas Hadar, page 31, ftn. 16). Only in Eretz Yisrael did Chazal require putting up a mezuzah when living permanently in a place usually meant for temporary dwelling. (Perhaps this explains why so many people in Eretz Yisrael live permanently in temporary housing, such as caravans and caravillas.)

However, the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 286:48) implies that living in an inn in chutz la’aretz for thirty days requires installing a mezuzah, and I believe that this is the more common practice.

A hut?

Later authorities discuss whether someone who lives in a hut or similar accommodation for longer than thirty days must put up a mezuzah. The Sedei Chemed concludes that if someone moves into a hut, bungalow or similar accommodation for more than thirty days, he is obligated in mezuzah, whereas someone living in a hut as a refugee is not obligated to put up a mezuzah (Volume 4 page 245). Others rule that one should put up a mezuzah without a brocha, even if he is a refugee (Chazon Nachum, quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 286:9)

A mobile home?

The Minchas Yitzchak (2: 82) discusses whether someone who lives permanently in a mobile home is required to put up a mezuzah, concluding that he is required to do so, although the Minchas Yitzchak is uncertain whether he should recite a brocha.

A boarding house

The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 286:46) rules that, although someone staying temporarily in an inn is exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah, this is true only when the room or the inn is not a part of someone’s house. However, a Jewish person who takes in boarders into his house is required to have mezuzos on all the doors. This is not a requirement because of the tenants, but because of the owner – this is considered a residential use of his own property that requires him to have a mezuzah, just as all other rooms in his house must have one.

A similar situation would exist if someone has gentile help living in his house or if he rents out rooms in his house to gentiles. Even though a gentile has no obligation to put up a mezuzah, since this is a room in your house, you are required to put up a mezuzah.

A guest house

Chovas Hador (page 20, ftn. 1) explains that this obligation exists only when the guest rooms are in your house. However, if you have a separate structure that you use as a guesthouse, the owner has no responsibility to place mezuzos there.

Similarly, if hired help lives in a separate building that is on your property, and you do not use that property for your own domestic needs, you have no requirement to put a mezuzah on the help’s residence (Chovas Hador page 20, ftn. 1).

A rehab center

At this point, we should discuss the third of our opening questions:

“My mother unfortunately fell and broke her femur and will be staying for an extensive period of time in a rehabilitation hospital. Are we required to make sure that there is a kosher mezuzah on the door of her room?”

This question is discussed by one of the great nineteenth-century halachic authorities, the Avnei Nezer. He concludes that someone hospitalized for an extensive period of time is not required to place a mezuzah on a hospital room for two reasons:

Even according to those who contend that a long-term tenant is obligated min haTorah to put up a mezuzah, this is true only when he rents a specific room, apartment or house. A patient in a hospital or rehab program is entitled to a bed somewhere in the facility, and the hospital may move him to a different room without his agreement. Thus, he has no ownership that requires having a mezuzah on the door.

In addition, if a tenant’s obligation to put up a mezuzah is a rabbinic requirement, it is because use of the property is similar to that of an owner. Staying in a hospital is never viewed as ownership of your room. Therefore, the Avnei Nezer concludes that a patient in a hospital has no requirement to have a mezuzah on the door. (See also Shu”t Chayim Sha’al #22, who reaches the same conclusion.)

Mezuzah rewards

Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence, every time we enter and exit our houses. In addition, the Gemara teaches that someone who is meticulous in his observance of the laws of mezuzah will merit acquiring a nice home (Shabbos 23b). Thus, observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all merit being careful always in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reaping all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!