Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Nisan 5759 - March 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family
The Majestic Mezuza Display
by Devora Piha

An impressive and comprehensive private collection of mezuza batim (cases) can be seen inside the entrance of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue next to Heichal Shlomo on Rechov King George. This is the work of forty years of collecting by Jacob and Bella Rosenbaum of Monsey. It is worth a visit during Chol Hamoed to see the marvelous array of mezuzos, ranging from the tradition form to the most unusual use of materials and craftsmanship. The lobby hours are 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9- 12 on Fridays.

This uplifting colletion reminds us of the great value that Jews everywhere have for hiddur mitzva - to enhance and beautify the mitzvos and thus glorify the Name of Hashem. One of our first obligations to our Creator is to place His Name in our hearts, our minds and on our doorposts, as a constant reminder of His presence. This is exemplified in the several hundred pieces that meet our eyes as we take notice of this remarkable collection.

Each mezuza `house' has a story. There is the Mezuza of Belmonte which goes back about five hundred years to the time of the Spanish Inquisition. To the unknowing eye, Mezuza #23 in the third or fourth cabinet to the left, as you enter, looks like a present day round ceramic wall relief about 9 x 9 inches. On it are a tree and other pastoral subjects. Under the tubular trunk of the tree is the parchment of the Shema. No one would imagine it to be a mezuza. It looks like a Christian icon. It was designed to disguise its holy purpose from the non-Jewish neighbors for fear of death or torture. This mezuza was owned by Marranos who wanted to fulfill the mitzva of mezuza without being detected. The parchment was hidden in a secret cell inside the trunk of the tree.

[Incidentally, a researcher of `Crypto-Jews' recently discovered a very interesting practice shared among people living in Brazil, New Mexico and Spain. They had a huge statue by their doorway, whose foot they kissed when entering and leaving the house, without knowing why. He discovered this to be a throwback to their ancestors, Marranos who had hidden mezuzos in the foot of the statue so that they could preserve double allegiances simultaneously.]

Mezuza # 17, also on the left, is one of many nondescript casings without a shin on the front, used for the offices of the Reichman building in Toronto. It is an example of downplaying the mezuza on the doorpost so as not to attract the undue attention of non-Jews.

In the first display case to the right of an office door is a casual-looking mezuza inside of a frame that has an interesing story. Two hundred and thirty years back, the Breslov chassidic community built an impressive chair styled after the Throne of King Shlomo in honor of their Rebbe. Years later, when the Communists took over, the chair was dismantled and smuggled out of the country. A new chair was built here in Jerusalem and the old pieces of wood were made into mezuzos. This is one of them.

According to Mr. Yeshaya Barzel, the spokesman for the display, the second cupboard on the right hand side of the lobby houses a replica of a mezuza that was left on the moon by a Jewish astronaut in 1979. Although there are no doorposts on the moon, this Jew felt a desire to leave a mezuza and a Tehillim on the moon that states, "If I look upon Your skies and I see this moon and stars that You have created..."

Most of the other examples as well, sing out and call attention to their special purpose by their size, design, intricacy of their handiwork or their elegance and refinery. The materials used are as varied as the designs. We see gold, silver, brass, mother of pearl, ivory, exotic woods, abalone, coral, ceramics, glass, plastic and Plexiglas, beadwork, embroidery, papercuts and even dried and woven corn husk incorporated into the finished case. (As with many decorative Chanuka menoras, not all of them may be halachically kosher.)

The variety of mezuzos is vast. Attention is drawn to the Moroccan silver and emroidered shields typical of North Africa which were placed over the meuzos in Moroccan homes by the lady of the house. These shields are made from the same materials as the talis bags. Another striking case is one in the shape of a hamsa (chamisha - five fingers), that is, a hand-shaped amulet. Here the parchment is placed behind one of the fingers. There are several cases that resemble large pieces of jewelry and others that are miniature and complex structures such as a beis knesses, a bird in flight or a large door key that combine the use of several materials together. And, finally, we have splendid examples of traditional silver mezuza casings similar to those seen in shuls and homes today and from years past in Europe, North America and Israel.

The mezuza is the first indication of a Jewish home. Its contents are one of our greatest treasures, the Shema Yisroel. The kosher mezuza protects the home of every Jew in each of his rooms and his entrance ways, however simple or elaborate its bayis may be.


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