A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
AN ELUL REMINDER: CHECK YOUR 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
required to check his mezuzos twice in seven years, or once every
three-and-a-half years,(3) since it is an established fact that over a
period of time mezuzos are liable to become invalid. 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 all mezuzos periodically and be prepared to buy
The three-and-a-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 or an examiner
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. This
should not be allowed to happen.
In a situation when a sofer or an examiner is not accessible, one should
still not totally forsake the checking process. As explained earlier, the
main purpose of checking is to find out whether or not a mezuzah that was
originally kosher became ruined. Technically, anyone who reads Hebrew well
and is familiar with the basic layout of a mezuzah can check if the
lettering has faded or if the letters are no longer whole and fully formed;
no professional sofer is required for this.(10) Of course, if a question
were to arise about a specific letter, then one would need to refer to an
halachic authority 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 doorpost, 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, and a
professional is not available, the checking can be done by a layman as
In order to check a mezuzah, it must be removed from the doorpost. 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 doorpost. One does not recite a blessing over
the mezuzah when re-affixing it to the doorpost.(12)
When mezuzos are removed overnight [and, according to many poskim, even
when they are removed for more than several hours(13)], a blessing should be
recited when they are re-affixed.(14) 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
If the existing mezuzah is pasul and a new one is needed, a blessing is
recited over it. The same halachah applies if the existing mezuzah was found
to be pasul, but it was able to be repaired. When it is re-affixed, the
blessing is recited.
QUESTION: What can be done if the checking process will take a long time and
the house [or room] will be left without a mezuzah?
DISCUSSION: Sometimes the checking process can drag on overnight or even a
few days. In such a case, it is improper to leave the house (or any single
doorpost) without mezuzos. According to some opinions, the people in the
house may even have to move out while the mezuzos are being checked.(16)
Obviously, this is a terrible inconvenience and highly impractical.
To avoid this situation, there are some possible alternatives:
1. Buy [or borrow(17)] 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.(18) This solution is not practical for a large house that has
many mezuzos to be checked.
2. Renounce ownership of one's home(19) for as long as the mezuzos are
being checked. This procedure, called hefker, removes halachic ownership
from the home and makes it an ownerless entity. Once ownership of the house
is renounced, the obligation to put on a mezuzah is lifted. The residents
are living in an ownerless property, and they are not obligated to put on
mezuzos.(20) [Before re-affixing the mezuzos, one should have in mind that
he is once again becoming the owner of the house.]
The proper way of making an item hefker 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.(21) If three adults are
not available, one may rely on this view.(22)]
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
Maharil 94 writes that it is proper to examine one's mezuzos if misfortune
befalls an individual or his family, God 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 If the owner was preoccupied with the mezuzos throughout the time that
they were removed from the house, possibly the blessing should not be
14 Even if the house was not pronounced as hefker.
15 See Kuntres ha-Mezuzah 289:3.
16 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 and he cannot find a replacement.
17 Har Tzvi Y.D. 238.
18 Harav C. Kanievsky (Mezuzos Beisecha 289:6); Kuntres ha-Mezuzah 289:6,
quoting several poskim. Other poskim, however, do not require a blessing to
be recited (oral ruling by Harav M. Feinstein, quoted in Oholei Yeshurun,
19 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 and O.C. 246:3 concerning a Jew's animal on
Shabbos. For various reasons not all poskim agree with this solution, and it
is not common practice. [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 immersed.]
20 Although one who "borrows" a house is required to put on mezuzos, in this
case the people living in the house are not "borrowers." Halachically, the
house has no owners to "borrow" from. The house is technically ownerless and
temporarily exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah.
21 Rama C.M. 273:5.
22 See Sma C.M. 273:11, Mishnah Berurah 246:15 and Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 18.