The “Ten Commandments” of Mezuzah
The laws governing where one places a mezuzah are, indeed, complicated. The Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:1) codifies ten necessary requirements that must be fulfilled for a house or room to be obligated to have a mezuzah.
- The room must have a minimum area of four amos by four amos (which is about fifty square feet). In the Rambam’s opinion, it is not necessary that each side be at least four amos wide – if the room or building’s area is at least sixteen square amos, one must place a mezuzah on its entrance. Thus, according to the Rambam’s opinion, a room that is three amos wide and six amos long requires a mezuzah.
However, the Rosh and others disagree, contending that a room three amos wide and six amos long does not require a mezuzah, since it does not have four amos in each dimension. In other words, they contend that a normal living area must be at least four amos in both its length and its width.
Although the authorities accept the Rambam’s position as the primary halachic opinion, and therefore one is required to place a mezuzah at the doorway to a room that is sixteen square amos, even if it is narrower than four amos (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:13), we do not recite a beracha when placing only this mezuzah. Instead, should there be another doorway that is definitely required to have a mezuzah, one should recite a beracha prior to placing this mezuzah, following which he can put up a mezuzah on the door of the room that is narrower than four amos (Shach). (This is the general rule that is applied for any case when there is a safek whether one must install a mezuzah. One does not recite a beracha, but it is optimal to place this mezuzah immediately after putting up a different mezuzah that requires a beracha, thereby including the safek situation with the beracha.)
Let us now return to the Rambam’s Ten Mezuzah Rules – that is, the ten necessary conditions that require a house or room to have a mezuzah.
- The entrance must have sideposts on both sides. I will soon explain what this means.
- The entrance must have a mashkof, that is, something that comes down vertically, similar to the way a lintel functions as the top of a doorway.
- The room or house must be roofed. An enclosed yard or porch without a roof does not require a mezuzah, although sometimes the doorway to an unroofed yard or porch functions as an entrance to the house and requires a mezuzah for this reason. However, a doorway of an unroofed room or building that is not an entranceway to a house does not need a mezuzah.
- In the Rambam’s opinion, a mezuzah is required only when the house or room’s entrance has a door. In this instance, the Rambam’s position is a minority opinion, since most other Rishonim contend that the lack of a door does not absolve the requirement of a mezuzah. The accepted conclusion is to install a mezuzah in a doorway that has no door, but not to recite a beracha when doing so (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 286:15). (Again, the best option here is to place this mezuzah immediately after putting up a mezuzah in a place that all opinions require one, with the beracha recited on the latter mezuzah.)
- The sideposts of the entrance are at least ten tefachim tall, which is between 32 and 38 inches.
- The house or room does not have the sanctity of a shul or beis medrash. In the Rambam’s opinion, a beis medrash does not require a mezuzah. Most authorities rule that one should place a mezuzah on a beis medrash, and, therefore, accepted practice is to place a mezuzah on any beis medrash, but without a beracha. Common practice today is to treat a shul as a beis medrash and, therefore, to place a mezuzah on its door without a beracha.
- The house or room is intended for human habitation. For example, stables and barns are absolved of the requirement of mezuzah.
- The house or room is meant for an honorable use, as opposed to a bathroom or similar rooms, where we do not install a mezuzah.
- The room or house is intended for permanent use. For this reason, we do not install a mezuzah on a sukkah.
The next section is an edited version of an actual correspondence that I was asked via e-mail.
Dear Rav Kaganoff,
I have a sad financial/gezel sheilah for the Rav.
My former employers owe me several hundred pounds. In legal documents, through their lawyer, they have acknowledged that they owe me the money. They have also made it clear that they are not going to pay it. The only way to get the money, at this point, would be if I went to secular court, since it is quite clear, based on their track record, that they would not obey a ruling of a beis din. My wife and I have decided that we cannot afford this. It would cost us more than we would probably win.
However, when we moved, the moving company accidentally packed mezuzos which belong to the former employer. These mezuzos are now sitting in my lift boxes waiting to be unpacked when we move into our new apartment in two weeks.
Prior to accepting this job, the employer had instructed me to purchase mezuzos that I would need for the house that we were renting. He reimbursed us for them two months later.
The money the employer owes me is predominantly from unpaid reimbursements. Frequently, there were expenditures that I made out-of-pocket for which they were supposed to reimburse me. Each month when they reimbursed me, they never paid the full amount. They always shortchanged me — 20 pounds here, 10 pounds there. At the end of my employment, they owed me several hundred pounds of out-of-pocket expenses. And, more recently, they stopped paying the reimbursements altogether.
Am I allowed to keep the mezuzos, since I was the one who originally bought them?
Thanks very much
The fact that you had purchased the mezuzos is not relevant. What is germane is the issue of “tefisah” – a creditor (or other person owed money) taking something belonging to the debtor (or person who owes money) on account of the debt.
In this case, if the value of the mezuzos is certainly less that the amount you are owed, it is permitted to keep them.
The question of “grabbing” (taking hold of) property for purpose of reclaiming bad debt is discussed extensively by authorities.
Permission to do so, in appropriate circumstances, is found in a number of authorities (see Choshen Mishpat 4; Sema 4:3; see also Gra 4:15). In the case of your question, because you are already in possession of the mezuzos, the case is more lenient, and you can certainly rely on the permitting poskim.
A condition for this is that you can prove your case in Beis Din. From the question, I understand that this is the case – the documents you have prove the employer’s debt, and this will be admissible in Beis Din – so that it is permitted to keep the mezuzos on account of the debt.
It is indeed ironic, or perhaps not at all so, that this a mezuzah is to remind us that Hashem protects us, and that this question came from someone whose employer forgot that Who is in charge!
Aside from fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by Hashem, the mitzvah of mezuzah serves to remind us constantly of His presence. We touch the mezuzah whenever we enter or exit a building to remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant presence, so that the mezuzah serves as a physical and spiritual protective shield. Whenever passing it, we should remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant protection. 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 always be careful in our observance of the laws of mezuzah and the other mitzvos, and reap all the rewards, both material and spiritual, for doing so!