A Jew Lives Here

Jewish people who are serious about practicing their Judaism realize that living incognito is not an option for them. Judaism, by its very nature, teaches its people not to be ashamed of their identity. Jewish practice, by its very essence, forces a distinction from neighboring Gentiles. This distinction can be seen clearly by observing Jewish diet, dress, and worship. Consistent with this is the God-given command to display publicly God’s Word: “And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Dt. 6:9). Jewish people have taken this commandment literally, displaying these words for two reasons. First, they serve as a reminder of the individual privileges and responsibilities each Jew has before the living God. Second, they serve to mark out a Jewish home, letting the community know that a Jew lives there.

The name of this distinguishing mark is mezuza (pronounced meh-zoo’-zah), which means doorpost. Mezuzas (the Hebrew plural is mezuzot) are small oblong boxes made of various materials—often wood or some type of metal, and these days even glass or acrylic. They hold two small portions of God’s Word, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and Deuteronomy 11:13–21. These verses are penned onto a small piece of parchment (klaf) by a scribe, rolled up, and placed inside the container. According to Jewish law, a mezuza must be placed on the lintel of every doorway in the house, except the bathrooms.

Each mezuza must have the name Shaddai on the front. This can be accomplished either by placing a hole in the case so that the word is displayed from the carefully rolled-up parchment, or by writing the word on the case itself. Shaddai is one of the many names of God recorded in the Jewish Scriptures. It means almighty or sufficient. Eight times it appears to communicate the truth that God is all-sufficient and almighty. Jewish interpreters believe that three Hebrew letters—Shin, Daled, and Yud—are an acronym of the phrase shomer delet Israel (guardian of the door of Israel).

Several points must be considered regarding Jewish law and the mezuza. First, it must contain real parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal. Second, a scribe must pen the verses onto the parchment. Third, before the mezuza is placed on the doorpost, a blessing must be recited: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to affix mezuza.” Fourth, the mezuza must be affixed with nails, screws, or glue to the right side of the door. It must be placed about a third of the way from the top of the doorpost. Fifth, the mezuza must be tilted 45 degrees at an inward angle—that is, toward the house. Sixth, the parchment must be removed every few years to make sure that it is in good condition.

Perhaps you have seen a Jewish person put his fingers to the mezuza and then to his lips as he enters or leaves a room. It is customary to touch the mezuza and then kiss the fingers as a demonstration of respect, love, and devotion to God and to His commandments.

It is not uncommon to see mezuzas in places other than the doorpost. Some people wear small mezuzas around their necks as necklaces or as charms on bracelets. When I was growing up, my parents had a magnetic mezuza mounted on the dashboard of our car. These uses are permissible, as long as they are intended as symbols of the owner’s identification with the Jewish people. However, the mezuza should not be used as a talisman or a lucky charm; to use it in this way is considered unworthy.

A familiar Jewish story is told of a very religious man whose children sent him on a nice vacation. The man was hesitant to go because he was concerned that the hotel might not be kosher, although his children assured him that it was. They knew he would never stay in a place that did not meet the standards of Jewish law. When the man arrived, the manager gladly escorted him around the building, making it a point to stop at the kitchen. The manager wanted his guest to see for himself that everything was strictly kosher. Later, when they arrived at the room where the elderly man would be staying, he reached up his hand to touch the mezuza. Much to his surprise, there was no mezuza! “Where is the mezuza?” shrieked the old man. “Not to worry,” the manager calmly replied. “This hotel is equipped with a master mezuza that we keep on the roof.”

From time to time in my travels, I have visited the homes of Gentile believers who have placed mezuzas in their entryways. Why would believers, redeemed by the one who fulfilled the law, display a mezuza? Here are some of the reasons given to me: “I love the Jewish people.” “I want to identify myself with the Jewish people.” “It is a reminder for me to pray for them.” “It serves as a reminder of God’s relationship with His Chosen People and His relationship with me.”

One thing seems clear. We, as Christian believers, can glean this truth from the mezuza. We may not need an outward, tangible sign, but our attitude and practice should convey clearly to those around us that a Christian lives here.

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