Friday, July 31, 2015

Mezuzah Revisited. Parshat Vaetchanan.

Mezuzah Revisited. Parshat Vaetchanan.
By Chaim Sunitsky.

Rashi on this Parsha (Devarim 6:9) says that since the word Mezuzot is written without the Vav[1], only one Mezuzah is necessary. It’s generally assumed that Rashi can’t argue with a clear Talmudic statement that every door of the house needs a Mezuzah[2] and therefore he can’t be understood at face value. However the custom in many places in Medieval Europe had always been to only affix one Mezuzah per house[3]. We will now try to examine if indeed there ever was a tradition that supported this minhag.

The Rema makes a unique statement in Yoreh Deah (287:2): “The commonly spread minhag in these countries is to attach only one Mezuzah per house and they have nothing to rely on”. This statement is very unusual. Rema is known for supporting Jewish minhagim and it’s very common for him to use the expression “common minhag” often followed by a statement that this minhag should not be changed, or at least that this minhag can be relied on. Here however the Rema is saying just the opposite: the minhag has nothing to rely on and a “yere Shamaim” person should affix the Mezuzot on every entrance.

It’s hard to understand how this incorrect “minhag” could have possibly become wide spread. R. Yissachar Dov Eilenburg[4] (the author of Beer Sheva on the Talmud) suggested that this mistake became widespread due to incorrect understanding of our Rashi. However I find it strange if the previous minhag was to affix a Mezuzah on every doorpost, how would it change in many countries simply because they misunderstood the Rashi’s Torah commentary[5]. As for the correct understanding of Rashi, two possibilities were offered: either Rashi is saying that we don’t have to affix two Mezuzot on each doorframe[6], or that Rashi is following the opinion of R. Meir that if an entrance has only one doorpost on the right, there is a need to affix Mezuzah (despite the lack of second doorpost[7]). As for Rashi’s actual drasha[8] we don’t see it in any known source in Hazal[9].

In general there was[10] some attempt to explain the custom of affixing only one Mezuzah based on the fact that many of the inside rooms in their houses were not clean enough, but this does not explain what people relied on when the house itself had more than one entrance[11]. However Rashi[12] on our Gemorah brings an interpretation according to which if a house has exactly two entrances, it needs only one Mezuzah on the more commonly used entrance, since the other entrance is batela (is unimportant) compared to the first one. Only if the house has more than two entrances then we don’t say that two entrances are batelim to the one commonly used entrance. Maybe then Rashi on the Chumash is following his shita and saying that a house (or room) with two entrances requires only one Mezuzah. Interestingly, in Yerushalmi[13] there is even a stronger statement that seems to imply that only one entrance per house requires a Mezuzah:

בית שיש לו שני פתחים נותן ברגיל היו שניהן רגילין נותן בחזית היו שניהן חזית נותן על איזה מהן שירצה

The simple meaning of Yerushlami seems to contradict the Talmud Bavli and imply that only the entrance that’s used more often needs the Mezuzah. If he uses both entrances equally, then the Mezuzah is affixed to the “stronger” entrance and is they are equally strong, one can affix the Mezuzah on either entrance.

To conclude we seem to have found a possible explanation of Rashi according to the simple meaning of his words[14] and a possible justification for the old minhag in Europe[15]. Needless to say our words are only theoretical and Baruch Hashem that minhag has disappeared a long time ago and every Orthodox Jew today affixes a Mezuzah on every entrance.

[1] Apparently Rashi implies that Mezuzot is written without the second Vav and can be read as Mezuzat. Our scrolls written according the Mesorah, Rambam (Sefer Torah 2:6), Semag (Asin 22) and Minhat Shai have the first Vav between two Zain’s missing, but Leningrad scroll (used on Bar Ilan disk) in fact has the second Vav missing. It’s also possible that Rashi meant that as long as some Vav is missing we can “transfer” the missing Vav to the last position and thus read the word as Mezuzat. See also Minhat Shai, Shemot 12:7. Interestingly the famous statement of the GR”A that there are 64 different Tefilins one would need to put on to fulfil all opinions does not consider the various opinions about how to write various words like “mezuzot”, “totafot”, which would bring the numbers of different Tefillins to hundreds.
[2] See for instance Menachot 34a.
[3] In this article we only discuss if there is any justification for the custom of affixing one Mezuzah on one’s home. See however Semag (Asin 3) that there were some people in Spain who did not affix Mezuzot at all, and see there in Asin 23 some weird “justification” they used for their “minhag”.
[4] In his super-commentary on Rashi called Tzeda Lederch and his “Beer Maim Chaim” usually printed in the end of Beer Sheva.
[5]  To say nothing about the fact that Halacha is rarely learned from a Torah commentary as Rashi does not “pasken” there.
[6] In Yalkut Shimoni on Mishley (remez 943) indeed there is an opinion that each of the doorposts requires two Mezuzot, but our Gemorah (Menachot 34a) does not hold like this opinion and does not even mention it (see also Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 1:9).
[7] Obviously the Biblical word Mezuzah means not the parchment but the pole itself, so one Mezuzah in Rashi means one doorframe.
[8] Which Rabeinu Bahya quotes as words of Razal.
[9] See however Mordachai (962) who brings in the name of Rif that R. Meir and Rabonan who argue about the above law apparently learn from the spelling of Mezuzot. It may be according to this girsa, not found in our Rif, R. Meir had no Vav and Rabonan had a Vav in the word “Mezuzot” in Devarim 6:9. The Talmud mentions that R. Meir was a scribe and it’s possible he had some especially accurate scrolls that were different from the more commonly used ones (his “Torah scroll” is mentioned in Midrashim, see for instance Bereshit Rabbah 94:9). Our Gemora however only mentions the learning from “Mezuzot” with the Vav to support the shita of Rabonan (see also the first Tosafot on 34a).
[10] See Maharil, Minhagim, Laws of Mezuzah, 1 and Tshuvot 94 . In practice the Maharil and Rema did not accept these explanations.
[11] See also Shu”t Divrey Yatziv Yore Deah 191 who proposes that maybe only the Mezuzah on the outside doorpost is a Biblical command, but the question of a house with two entrances still remains.
[12] Menachot 33a starting with words Holech Achar Haragil and 34a starting with words Af Al Gav Deragil Beechad.
[13] The end of Megila, 34a (see however second perek of Tractate Mezuzah, in Vilna Shas it’s printed at the end of the volume with Avoda Zara). Even if our interpretation off the Yerushalmi is correct, if the house has many rooms, it would seem to need a Mezuzah for each one even according to Yerushalmi.
[14] In Sefer Zechor Leavraham on Rashi in Likutim in the back the author also interprets Rashi to mean only one Mezuza is needed. He proposes that Rashi quotes a lost Midrash similar to the one preserved in Yalkut Shimoni I quoted above. According to the author the dispute there is not whether the Mezuzah is placed on both sides of one entrance but whether there is a need for a Mezuzah on every entrance of the house.
[15] It’s known that many European communities started in Italy, where Yerushalmi was often followed to a greater extent than Bavli and therefore it’s possible that the earliest settlers in France and Germany were told only to affix one Mezuzah on the main entrance leading to the street. Regarding inside rooms, maybe they did not have any since simple houses had only one room in those times or maybe they relied on some of the weak reasons mentioned in Maharil (who rejects them) but regarding the outside doors if there are only two they may have followed Rashi and if some of their houses had more than two entrances they may have followed Yerushalmi or some other lost opinion (partially preserved in the Yalkut Shimoni).   

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