You Can’t Take It with You — Moving and Removing Mezuzos

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!

Question #1: “We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

Question #2: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

Question #3: As I was preparing this article, someone called me with the following actual shaylah:

“We will be spending a few days with my ailing father who lives in Israel in an assisted living facility. We can stay in an apartment in his building, but there are no mezuzos on the doors. I know that in Israel one must place a mezuzah on one’s residence, even if one stays only overnight. I can borrow mezuzos for our stay; however, may I remove them when we depart?”

Answer: The obligation of placing mezuzos is incumbent on the person living in the house; nevertheless, when vacating the premises, one is usually required to leave the mezuzos in place. If one wants money for the mezuzos that are being left behind, the new resident is required to pay for them (Rama, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

In explaining these laws, the Gemara teaches:

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).

The Gemara subsequently describes a horrible calamity that befell someone who removed his mezuzos when he was prohibited from doing so. (If you are anxious to know what happened, I refer you to the Gemara.) Thus, removing mezuzos involves not only a halachic violation, but also a significant safety concern (Tzavaas Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid,addendum #7).

BUT WHY NOT?

It is difficult to understand why halachah requires one to leave the mezuzah behind: When a resident vacates a dwelling, he has no obligation to guarantee that mezuzos remain on its doorways. So why can’t he take his mezuzos with him?

There are actually two reasons, each requiring its own introduction, why one may not remove the mezuzos.

APPROACH #1: DISDAIN OF MITZVOS – BIZUY MITZVAH

The first approach derives from the concept of bizuy mitzvah, treating a mitzvah object inappropriately: Removing the mezuzah is considered improper abandonment of a mitzvah object.

But if this is so, shouldn’t it apply to other mitzvos as well? For example, may I remove tzitzis from a garment without due cause?

REMOVING TZITZIS FROM A GARMENT

The Gemara debates whether one may remove the tzitzis of one garment to tie them onto another four-cornered garment. The Amora Rav prohibits moving tzitzis from one garment to another, contending that this is bizuy mitzvah. His contemporary, Shmuel, permits moving the tzitzis from one garment to another, since they are still utilized for a mitzvah (Shabbos 22a). Both Rav and Shmuel prohibit removing the tzitzis when he will not use them on another garment as an act of bizuy mitzvah (She’iltos, Shlach; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 15:1). That is, removing tzitzis from a garment without placing them onto another garment is considered disrespectful. We follow Shmuel’s ruling, and therefore one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another. One may also replace tzitzis with more mehudar ones, even if he will not use the removed tzitzis, since upgrading to a higher standard demonstrates increased respect for the mitzvah, the exact opposite of bizuy mitzvah (Taz, Orach Chayim 15:2).

REMOVING THE MEZUZAH

Just as Shmuel ruled that one may remove tzitzis from one garment to place them on another, but one may not remove them if one is not planning to place them now onto another garment, we can now appreciate why one may not remove a mezuzah upon vacating a residence, since this demonstrates disrespect for the mezuzah that is being forcibly retired from its role (She’iltos, Parshas Shlach; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a, s.v. Rav; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a). (It would seem that one can derive from this that it is prohibited to forcibly retire someone from a position, or that one should strongly reconsider laying off employees, but we will leave this topic for a different time.) We will soon discuss whether the prohibition applies, even when one intends to use the mezuzah elsewhere.

By the way, the authorities dispute whether the new tenant, entering a house with mezuzos already on the door, recites a bracha, Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu ladur babayis sheyesh bo mezuzah (Magen Avraham 19:1; Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger, end of #9). The reason why this bracha sounds so unfamiliar is that it refers not to placement of a mezuzah on the doorpost, but to entering a new dwelling where the mezuzah is already present. In practice, most late authorities follow the ruling of the Chida that one does not recite a bracha on a mitzvah if one is not actively performing the mitzvah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 19:2).

MOVING THE MEZUZAH FROM ONE HOUSE TO ANOTHER

At this point, we should note an important factor. If the only reason that one may not remove the mezuzah is due to bizuy mitzvah, is one permitted to remove a mezuzah from the “old” building to install it in one’s new residence? Indeed, those authorities who prohibit removing the mezuzah only because of bizuy mitzvah explain that one may remove a mezuzah from one building to install it in a new place (She’iltos, Shlach; Ritva, Bava Metzia 102a).

APPROACH #2: DIVINE PROTECTION

Most authorities explain that there is an additional reason, unique to mezuzah, why one must leave the mezuzah behind even if one wants to use it elsewhere. Although the primary reason a Jew observes any mitzvah is to fulfill Hashem’scommandment, the mitzvah of mezuzah has an additional benefit because it protects our homes and our families from mishap. Removing the mezuzah eliminates this Divine shield, exposing one to tragedy and misfortune (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 101b s.v. lo; Shitah Mekubetzes, Menachos 41b, note 24; Tosafos, Shabbos 22a s.v. Rav in his second answer). Because of this, there is a widespread practice to check one’s mezuzos if, G-d forbid, one is experiencing difficulties in one’s home, since these problems might indicate that the mezuzos are not providing the adequate protection that they should.

This approach understands that even though someone vacating a house is no longer responsible for there being mezuzos on the doors, removing them reduces the Divine protection on the domicile for the next Jewish person moving in. We now comprehend why removing the mezuzah may expose someone to danger, as the Gemara records.

If the property belongs to a gentile, however, one may, and according to many authorities must, remove the mezuzah, since removing the mezuzah is not depriving it of fulfilling a mitzvah, and the protection provided is only for Jews. Similarly, one may remove tzitzis from a garment that will no longer be used to fulfill a mitzvah (Rama, Orach Chayim 15:1 and Magen Avraham ad loc.).

HOW DO WE RULE?

The accepted halachic practice recognizes both concerns, forbidding one from removing the mezuzah to a new location. However, in an extenuating circumstance where someone is moving to a new residence and has no access to a kosher mezuzah, one may rely on the first opinion and take the mezuzah with him (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 291:2).

YOU CAN TAKE IT WITH YOU

Despite our conclusion that one should generally not remove the mezuzos when vacating a house, there are instances when one is required to do so. As I mentioned above, the Gemara notes that one who rents from a gentile should remove the mezuzos upon leaving (Bava Metzia 102a). The authorities dispute whether this is simply permission to remove the mezuzah, or whether one is required to do so. Rav Yaakov Emden (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121) rules that one must remove the mezuzah, out of concern that the gentile will treat it inappropriately, whereas the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 291:3) implies that it is permitted, but not actually required, to remove the mezuzah under such circumstances.

CHANGING OWNERSHIP

What is the halachah if a Jew vacates a residence that he was renting from a gentile, but a different Jew is moving in? May/should the first Jew remove the mezuzah when he leaves, since the owner of the building is non-Jewish, or must he leave the mezuzah for the new Jewish resident?

Rav Yaakov Emden discusses a similar case: A Jew was renting a house from a gentile who then sold the house to a different Jew. The tenant will be moving out before the change of ownership takes effect. Should he remove the mezuzah before he leaves, since the house is still owned by a gentile, or is this forbidden, since a Jew will soon be acquiring the house and moving in? On the one hand, we do not want to leave the house mezuzah-less, yet there is a concern that the gentile owner may deface or steal the mezuzah before the Jew moves in.

Rav Emden rules that the tenant should remove the mezuzah before he vacates, out of concern that the gentile may treat the mezuzah inappropriately. He also quotes the Maharil, who requires removing the mezuzah because one may not give a mezuzah to a gentile. However, if the gentile’s sales contract with the purchasing Jew specifies that the mezuzah is included, the tenant should leave the mezuzah (Shaylas Yaavetz 2:121).

GENTILE LANDLORD, JEWISH TENANT

Rav Emden’s case is when the gentile has sold the property to a new Jewish owner. What is the halachah if the property remains the gentile’s, but he usually rents to Jews? Should one leave the mezuzah for the next Jewish occupant or not?

Beis Lechem Yehudah (Yoreh Deah 291:1) rules that one should remove the mezuzos, even if the gentile landlord usually rents to Jews, as long as the next Jewish tenant is not moving in immediately.

We can now answer one of our opening questions: “My landlord is not Jewish, but this is a neighborhood where only frum Jews are moving in. Do I remove my mezuzos when I leave?”

This depends. If a new tenant is moving in immediately, one should leave the mezuzos for him. However, if there will be a time lag before he moves in, one should remove the mezuzos — out of concern that, in the interim, they may be abused.

There are other instances when one is required to remove the mezuzah and, accordingly, no calamity will result from doing so. If there is concern that someone may damage or deface a mezuzah that is left behind, one must remove the mezuzah. For example, if the residence will be painted, the mezuzos must be removed to prevent their becoming invalidated. Even if the landlord is Jewish and the new tenant is also Jewish, if the apartment will be painted between residents, the vacating tenant should remove the mezuzos to save them from damage, which is certainly bizuy mitzvah, and no harm will befall him for doing so. Once he has removed the mezuzos for a legitimate reason, he is not required to return them. The new tenant is now responsible to affix new mezuzos.

Similarly, if there is concern that the mezuzah will be stolen or otherwise abused, one should remove it.

NEW RESIDENT HAS HIS OWN MEZUZOS

As I mentioned earlier, although the first resident is required to leave his mezuzos behind, he is technically permitted to charge the new tenant for them. What is the halachah if the new tenant wants to install his own mezuzos rather than purchase or receive gratis those of the previous tenant? Does this present any halachic problem, and is there any basis for a safety concern in this instance?

The contemporary authorities assume that if the new resident wants to install his own mezuzos, he may remove the “old” mezuzos owned by the previous tenant and put up his own. In this instance, one is not leaving the house unprotected, since new mezuzos are immediately placed on the doorposts. Based on this ruling, there is a common practice of having the new tenant, or his agent, remove the old mezuzos and install the new ones.

One should be careful to remove the “old” mezuzah before installing the new one, since having two mezuzos on one’s door violates the prohibition of adding to the Torah’s mitzvos, bal tosif (Pischei Teshuvah 291:2). Just as one may not add a fifth parsha to one’s tefillin when the Torah requires four, and just as a kohen may not add a fourth bracha to thethree brachos of duchening, so may one not add a second mezuzah to the doorpost when the Torah requires only one. For the same reason, one who moves to a house that has an old, painted over mezuzah on the door must remove that mezuzah, even if it is probably invalid, and not just affix a kosher mezuzah alongside it.

MEZUZAH SWITCH

At this point, we can now address our first question:

“We are moving residences, and I understand that I must leave the mezuzos in my old home. However, they are beautiful, mehudar mezuzos that I would like to use in my new dwelling. Is there any way that I can take these mezuzos with me?”

The answer: One may remove the nice mezuzos one has on his door and replace them with kosher, non-mehudar mezuzos. Since one is leaving the house with a kosher mezuzah, this suffices to protect the house (Da’as Kedoshim, Yoreh Deah 291:1).

At this point, we can discuss our third question, concerning someone using a house in Eretz Yisrael who borrowed a mezuzah. It is indeed true that Chazal required a person to place a mezuzah on his doorpost in Israel, even if he stays only overnight. However, may he remove the mezuzah when he vacates?

In this case, there is an interesting complication, since the person borrowed a mezuzah and must return it. Assuming that the landlord and/or future residents are/will be Jewish, he cannot leave the house without a mezuzah. He can, of course, resolve the problem by putting up replacement mezuzos for the borrowed ones, but this is a solution that he wants to avoid.

The problem was resolved by contacting the management of the building. The management was interested in having a mezuzah on the door of the residence and took care of the matter.

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). We thus see that care in observing this mitzvah not only protects one’s family against any calamity, but also rewards one with a beautiful domicile. May we all be zocheh to be careful, always, in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!

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