“Tucson Mezuzah Week’ is the first community-wide opportunity, offered by Congregation Chofetz Chayim and the Southwest Torah Institute, to have every Jewish home in Tucson protected by the mitzvah of placing mezuzot on every doorpost,” says the congregation’s Rabbi Israel Becker.
Often called the “Jewish security system,” the mezuzah is the parchment scroll with the Shema prayer handwritten by an expert scribe. In Jewish tradition, placing a mezuzah on every door of a home or office is a commandment and symbolic reminder of G-d’s presence. It protects the inhabitants, whether they are inside or outside, transforms the entire building into a holy object, and according to the Talmud, helps protect individuals from committing sin.
For Mezuzah Week, March 15-19, Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden from the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish Studies will come to Congregation Chofetz Chayim for educational and scroll-checking events. He is a sofer (scribe) certified by the renowned Sofer Rabbi Yosef Heinermann of Cleveland, Ohio. “This also is Rabbi Gilden’s first offering of this program. And, for the first time, everyone in the Jewish community has an opportunity to have their mezuzahs checked,” says Becker.
Use of the mezuzah to mark Jewish homes dates back more than 3,300 years with scrolls found dating back more than 2,000 years. The word “mezuzah” literally means doorpost, but commonly refers to the scroll, affixed inside an often-decorative container. The scribe writes on the parchment with special ink in Ktav Ashurit, a Hebrew lettering style reserved for the Torah, tefillin, and mezuzot. The Shema on the scroll contains almost all of the most basic principles of Jewish belief.
“According to the Shulchan Aruch [the 16th century Code of Jewish Law], a mezuzah that is placed on private property, such as one’s home, must be inspected twice in seven years,” Becker adds. “When checking a mezuzah, looking at the outside of the parchment roll for dryness or outside damage is insufficient. Rather, the mezuzah must be opened, and one must carefully check that the letters are not cracked or faded. Because the halachic (legal) requirements for the script are numerous and complex, a mezuzah should be checked by a skilled and competent sofer.
“Recently a couple from our congregation approached me to have their mezuzot checked,” Becker says. “Because we do not have a scribe in Tucson, I sent them to a competent scribe in Los Angeles. We were shocked to find that some of their cases were empty and some only contained blank pieces of paper.”
When it came time for Becker to have his own mezuzot inspected, he thought it would be wonderful to share the opportunity with the entire community. His wife, Esther Becker, says that bringing a scribe to service the community is another dimension in fulfilling the congregation and institute’s mission. “We are so conscious now about making sure we have effective physical security for our homes and public places, it is certainly appropriate that we spiritually secure all the rooms and doorways of our homes as well,” adds Becker.
Gilden was born in Israel and immigrated to Canada at age 10. After religious schooling, he attended Yeshiva of South Bend Indiana and mastered the study of Jewish law at the Milwaukee Kollel prior to ordination. For two decades in his community, Gilden has been called upon to respond to questions about the laws of kosher food, family matters, and to take advantage of his skills in testing for shatnez (fabric derived of wool and linen, which the Torah prohibits wearing).
Gilden will present a forum detailing the training for a scribe; what the scribe looks for in checking a Torah, mezuzah, or tefillin; and mezuzah placements in homes and private property. The Sunday March 15 event from 5-6 p.m. is free, followed by refreshments. Register for the forum by March 11 at www.tucsontorah.org/mezuzah.
Through Thursday, March 19, Gilden will inspect community members’ mezuzah scrolls at the synagogue, 5150 E. Fifth St., for $10 each. Financial help is available for those who need assistance. Replacement mezuzot will be for sale. Gilden and Becker will be available to advise where mezuzot are required in homes. For an inspection appointment, email Becker at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating the number of mezuzot to be checked. Arrangements also can be made to inspect tefillin.