Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5768
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Question: In some modern, decorative, clear mezuzah cases, the klaf (parchment) is unfolded so that it can be read while attached. Is this kosher and is only a lack of hidur (best way to fulfill a mitzva),or must the klaf be rolled?
Answer: The very long-standing practice has been to roll the mezuzah klaf and put it into some sort of canister. The rolling is documented already by the gemara’s (Menachot 31b) statement that the mezuzah should be rolled from the left side of the parchment to the right so that its beginning (in right-to-left Hebrew) is opened up first. These instructions are brought as halacha by the Rambam (Mezuzah 5:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 288:14).
However, your assumption that the rolled form is at least preferred need not be evident from the classical sources. Perhaps the rolled-up version is assumed only due to such technical reasons as that it takes up less space and is better protected. Perhaps being able to read it is an advantage (see language of Rambam, Mezuzah 6:13). The venerable posek, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Da’at VIII, Yoreh Deah 30), raises this as a real possibility. Of course, it is hard for many of us (including this respondent) to diverge from tradition and ignore possible mystical implications about which we know little (perhaps including the Name of Hashem on the back of the klaf, which turns out being facing out). Remember also that despite the advantages of being able to read content of tefillin (which are closely related to mezuzot), they are certainly rolled up and hidden away.
Let us return to your question: could an unrolled mezuzah be halachically prohibited? The gemara (Menachot 34a) asks why we do not take the pasuk literally and write a mezuzah’s content directly on the doorposts. If this were done, there would not be anything to roll up, which seems to prove that there is no intrinsic need to roll. However, we must consider the gemara’s conclusion, which provides a source for writing on a klaf, and see whether it impacts our question. The gemara says that we learn from another appearance in the Torah of the word writing, which is done on a normal writing surface, that the same is done for a mezuzah. The Rishonim on the page bring three possible identifications of the other writing: a get, the scroll of a sota, and a sefer Torah.
There is a very strict, lone opinion (see Noam, vol. X) that assuming the gemara compares mezuzah to a sefer Torah, since a sefer Torah must be rolled, we learn that if a mezuzah is not rolled, one does not fulfill the Torah law of affixing it. This opinion is convincingly disposed of by Rav Yosef and others (see also Chovat Hadar (9:(9)) and Pitchei She’arim 288:94).
The major question is whether the change from tradition is in and of itself problematic. See again Rav Yosef’s responsum, where he cites an opinion that this is grounds to remove such a display and re-affix the mezuzah normally (without a beracha). His own approach is that while he does not recommend it, one could allow such a display to remain. The question of changes in tradition is a major topic that cannot be properly treated in a sentence or two. However, we should note a pertinent factor. Affixing a mezuzah in this manner does not seem to be based on subversive intentions but is intended to glorify the mitzva, make it more significant to some, and/or at worst to be unique. Therefore, although we would not push the practice, we would not reject it either.
We also refer to a responsum from our book, Living the Halachic Process (G-2), where we pointed out that if the scroll was not yet used as a halachic mezuzah, it could be displayed in a non-halachic setting in a room where it will not be disgraced. Therefore, one has the option to use the see-through case in his living room and put a standard mezuzah case on his doorpost.
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