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Mezuzah symbol meaning


“And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates”. Deuteronomy 6:9

This passage, from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy, is what lies behind the century’s old tradition of placing a mezuzah on the frame to your homes front door.  As with the commandment to wear fringes (tzitzith (Numbers 14, 39)) and phylacteries (tefillin (Deuteronomy 6:8)), the mezuzah serves us as a constant reminder, whenever we leave or enter the home, of God’s power and love and of His commandments.

Did you know?  The ornate container we fix to the doorpost isn’t actually the mezuzah but serves as a receptacle for the mezuzah – a parchment script containing passages from the Torah including the Shema - “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One”.

golden mezuzah pendant with the hebrew ש letter

The Origin of the Mezuzah

The book of Deuteronomy uses the same passage twice in relation to the mezuzah, in Deuteronomy 6:9 and Deuteronomy 11:20.  Moses is speaking to the Children of Israel during their long journey from slavery in Egypt, and just before the cross over into the Promised Land.  He reminds them of God’s might, of God’s compassion and of God’s commandments and instructs them to place a sign on their doorposts, as they had done before the Plague of the First Born in Egypt. (Exodus 11:7 and 11:13) so that Angel of Death would know that a Hebrew family resided in the home.

It’s interesting that while mezuzah is generally translated as a “door post”, it is also translated as ‘doors’ (Proverbs 8: 34), ‘windows’ (Kings 7: 5 – Septuagint, Greek translation), ‘Temple Gates’ (I Samuel I:9) or ‘jambs’ (Ezekiel 41:21).

The Mezuzan in Jewish Writings

Nahmanides and the “Sefer ha-Chinuch” (Book of Education, 13th Century Spain) both state that the mezuzah is placed at the entrance to the home to remind the person pf their faith in God.

Abraham ibn Ezra, in a work discussing the 613 commandments, Yesod Morah Ve-Sod Ha-Torah (1158) says that not only does the mezuzah remind us of our faith, but also of the commandments that God has given us.

Maimonides (the RaMBaM) declares that every Jew must observe the commandment to fix a mezuzh to their door post.

The Zohar says that just as the body of every male Jew is marked by being circumcised, and they must wear fringes (tzitzith) on their clothes, so must the house be marked with a mezuzah.

In the modern era, Rabbi Joseph Teluskhin says that the mezuzah reminds the Jew of how is expected to behave in his home and of the high standards of behavior expected of him when outside of the home.

The Mezuzah in History and Tradition

According to tradition, Jews have been using the mezuzah since around 1312 BCE.  One of the earliest non-Biblical reference to the mezuzah can be found in ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus attributed to AD 93 BC in which he writes that the mezuzah was too been seen on all doorposts and was an ancient custom.

At the same time, Jewish communities across the known world also, for the most part, carried on the tradition of the mezuzah.  One notable exception was the Spanish Diaspora when, in 1235, Rabbi Moses of Coucy criticized Spanish Jews for not using the mezuzah, after which there was return to its usage.

Over time, minor cultural differences crept into the various Jewish communities of the Diaspora with many still in practice today:

  • Jews of Syrian origin check the mezuzah one a year (the commandments call for an examination every 7 years).
  • Most Jewish communities place the mezuzah at an angle.  Spanish Jews place it upright and enclose the parchment scroll in ornate cases.
  • The Moroccan community place the scroll in a case inscribed with the Hebrew letters that make the name of God - Shin, Daleth and Yud (Shad-dai)
  • In Turkey, it was customary to recite a prayer when leaving the home to ensure good health and prosperity.

The Mystical Power of the Mezuzah

Many Jews also see the mezuzah as a protective amulet or charm.  In Deuteronomy 11:21, adherence to the commandment regarding the mezuzah is said to bring long-life to the person and their family.  Other traditions say that the mezuzah will protect the home and its inhabitants from all evil and harm.  According to the Zohar, the mezuzah brings light and enlightenment which banishes the forces of evil that wait outside of the door to enter the home.  As such, it is widely used in Kabbalah jewelry to bring luck and protection to the wearer.


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