A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
CHECKING OUR MEZUZOS
All mezuzos(1) must be checked periodically to verify their kashrus.
Everyone who lives in a dwelling(2) (whether he owns it or rents it) is
Rabbinically obligated to check his mezuzos twice in seven years, or once
every three-and-half years(3), since it is an established fact that over a
period of time mezuzos are liable to become pasul. Age, humidity, rain,
location, a paint job and/or other factors may ruin a mezuzah which was
originally kosher(4). Even if one letter is smudged or cracked, the entire
mezuzah may no longer be valid and often, cannot be fixed. It is imperative,
therefore, to check mezuzos periodically and be prepared to buy
The three-and-half year time frame established by the Rabbis applies only
to mezuzos exposed to normal conditions, not to mezuzos that have to weather
harsh elements like direct sunlight, exposure to a sprinkler system, a paint
job(6), etc. Such mezuzos must be checked more often(7). [Indeed, some
meticulous individuals check all of their mezuzos every Elul(8).]
Some people are lax about checking their mezuzos claiming, among other
excuses(9), that it is difficult to find a professional sofer who will come
to the house, remove all the mezuzos, check them, and re-affix them in short
order. Since people are wary of leaving their homes without the protection
of the mezuzah for any length of time - and justifiably so - checking
mezuzos gets pushed off and sometimes neglected entirely.
But since all that is necessary to ascertain the kashrus of the mezuzah is
to verify that the lettering has not faded and that the letters are whole
and fully formed, anyone who reads Hebrew well can check and render a
verdict. No professional sofer or rabbi is required(10). Of course, if a
question were to arise about a specific letter, then one would need to refer
to his rav for a decision.
Obviously, this type of checking suffices only if the mezuzah in question
was certified kosher by a professional sofer at the time of purchase. Before
one places a mezuzah on his door post, he must have it professionally
checked to be sure that it was properly written. [Unfortunately, buying a
mezuzah from a Jewish-owned establishment is no automatic guarantee that the
mezuzah is kosher.] Once, however, the mezuzah was certified as kosher, all
future checking can be done by any layman as described above.
In order to check a mezuzah, it must be removed from the door post. If it
is removed for only the few moments that it takes to check it, there is no
halachic obligation to replace it with another mezuzah(11). The mezuzah is
removed, looked over carefully, and if no problem is found, it is
immediately returned to the door post. One does not recite a blessing over
the mezuzah when re-affixing it to the door post(12).
But sometimes the checking process can drag on for a number of hours or
even a few days. In such a case, it is improper to leave the house (or any
single door post) without mezuzos. According to some opinions, the people in
the house may even have to move out while the mezuzos are being checked(13).
Obviously, this is a terrible inconvenience and highly impractical.
To avoid this eventuality, there are several possible alternatives:
1) Buy [or borrow(14)] an extra mezuzah which will replace the mezuzah that
is being checked. A blessing would have to be recited when the replacement
is put on(15). This solution is not practical for a large house that has
many mezuzos to be checked.
2) Renounce ownership of one's home(16) for as long as the mezuzos are
being checked. This procedure, called hefker, removes halachic ownership
from the home and makes it an owner-less entity. Once ownership of the house
is renounced, the obligation to put on a mezuzah is lifted. The residents
are living in an owner-less property, and they are not obligated to put on
mezuzos for at least thirty days(17).
The proper way of being mafkir an item is to renounce ownership in the
presence of at least three adults. The adults may be household members.
[Some Rishonim maintain that the hefker is valid even when declared in front
of one individual or even in front of no one at all(18). If three adults are
not available, one may rely on this view(19).]
Before re-afixing the mezuzos, one should have in mind that he is once
again becoming the owner of the house.
When mezuzos are removed for more than several hours, a blessing should be
recited when they are re-affixed [even if the house was not pronounced as
hefker]. If all the mezuzos are re-affixed at the same time, one blessing
suffices for all of them. The poskim argue as to whether one who replaced a
mezuzah and forgot to recite the blessing can recite the blessing later on.
One may conduct himself according to either view(20).
1 Mezuzos which are publicly owned must be checked only once every
twenty-five years; Y.D. 291:1.
2 This includes a woman living alone, students sharing an apartment, etc.
3 In order to remember this obligation, the custom in Frankfurt was to check
the mezuzos every Adar Sheini, which falls every two or three years.
4 Another reason for checking is to see if the mezuzah was stolen [or
misplaced]; Rashi Yuma 11a. See also Meiri, ibid.
5 Y.D. 291:1.
6 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:183. L'chatchilah, mezuzos should be removed before
7 Aruch ha-Shulchan 291:1.
8 Mateh Efrayim 581:10; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:3. In addition, Teshuvos
M'haril 94 writes that it is proper to examine one's mezuzos if misfortune
befalls an individual or his family, G-d forbid.
9 It must be emphasized that there is no halachic basis for laxity in this
obligation. See Birur Halachah, pg. 399, who quotes several sources that
strongly condemn those who are not careful about fulfilling this obligation.
10 Teshuvos Chasam Sofer 283, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 291:3.
12 Pischei Teshuvah 289:1 remains undecided on this issue but most poskim
rule that one should not recite a blessing in this case.
13 See Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 285:1 quoting the Pri Megadim who maintains
that it is prohibited to remain in a house [or in a room] without a mezuzah
and one who has another place to go to must go there. Other poskim, however,
are not as stringent and do not require one to move out of his home if the
mezuzos are down temporarily, if he cannot find a replacement.
14 Har Tzvi Y.D. 238.
15 Harav C. Kanievsky (Mezuzos Beseicha 289:6); Kuntres ha-Mezuzah 289:6,
quoting several poskim. Other poskim, however, do not require that a
blessing be recited (oral ruling by Harav M. Feinstein, quoted in Oholei
Yeshurun, pg. 22).
16 This is suggested by Mikdash Me'at 285:3 and Mezuzos Melachim 285:19.
There are other halachic areas where this solution is suggested, see Mishnah
Berurah 13:15 concerning tzitzis; O.C. 246:3 concerning a Jew's animal on
Shabbos. For various reasons not all poskim agree with this solution. [See
Sefer Tevilas Keilim, pg. 84, who quotes Harav S.Z. Auerbach as ruling that
under extenuating circumstances one can rely on this solution to permit
temporary use of utensils which were not ritually immersed.]
17 Although one who "borrows" a house is required to put on mezuzos after a
thirty-day time period, in this case it may be argued that the people living
in the house are not even considered "borrowers". Halachically, the house
has no owners to "borrow" from. The house is technically owner-less and
temporarily exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah.
18 Rama C.M. 273:5. .
19 See Sm"a C.M. 273:11, Mishnah Berurah 246:15 and Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 18.