This week’s article will discuss the halachos of the mezuzah, specifically the rooms that require a mezuzah affixed on its doorpost. Does every storage-room, and walk-in closet require a mezuzah? How big does the room have to be? How is the size calculated? Do closets, countertops or large appliances deduct from a room’s size? What kind of porches or yard doors require mezuzahs? Why are there different opinions as for on which side to affix the mezuzah?
This week’s parasha contains the psukim of the second paragraph of the Shema. One of the mitzvos repeated here is the mitzva to affix a mezuzah on every gate and doorpost. This week’s article will focus on the definition of door or gate, and where to affix the mezuza.
The primary halacha of mezuza requires affixing one on every doorpost that leads to a dwelling place. Also gates that lead to these spaces require a mezuzah: gates to backyards, stairwells, and even city gates.
The Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 5:1) summarizes the relevant halachos:
Ten requirements must be met by an area to be obligated with a mezuzah on its entrance. If one of the requirements is lacking, there is no obligation for a mezuzah. They are:
- The area [of the dwelling] must be at least four cubits by four cubits.
- The entrance must have two doorposts.
- The entrance must have a lintel.
- The area must have a roof.
- The area must have doors.
- The entrance must be at least ten handbreadths high.
- The space must not to be consecrated.
- The space must be intended for human habitation.
- The space must be intended to be used for a dignified purpose.
- The space must be a permanent dwelling.
These above mentioned halachos can be divided into three defining categories: 1) the shape of the room, 2) the shape of the entranceway, and 3) the room’s use.
- Shape: for a room to require a mezuza it must be larger than two square meters (or 2.4X2.4 according to other opinions).
- Entranceway: an entranceway that requires a mezuza must be built with two side posts and a lintel, or two vertical walls and one horizontal one. The entranceway must be at least ten handbreadths high (80-100 cm). The Rambam requires the space to have a door, but many others disagree (see Shulchan Aruch – YD 286:15).
- Use: the space the entranceway leads to must be used for human dwelling or domestic uses like eating and sleeping. Therefore, a shul does not require a mezuza because it is consecrated and not a domestic space. Also, spaces designated for unclean purposes (such as a bathroom) do not require a mezuza.
The Gemara (Succah 3a) writes that a room less than four cubits by four cubits does not require a mezuzah because it cannot be used for domestic purposes. The Rishonim disagree on the definition here: according to the Rambam rooms with an area of sixteen square cubits of any shape requires a mezuzah, however, the Rosh (Hilchos Mezuzah 16) necessitates the room to have at least four cubits lengthwise and four cubits across to require a mezuza.
This difference in opinions here applies to long narrow rooms or hallways for which the Shulchan Aruch rules (OC 634:2) no mezuza is required, but the Shach (YD 286:23) requires that one be affixed, albeit without a bracha (alternatively, the blessing can be included in affixing of another mezuza where one is certainly required). This ruling appears in the Mishna Brura (OC 398). However, the Chazon Ish (YD 169:4-5) rules that mainstream halacha follows the Taz and affixing a mezuza on this shape of room is simply a stringency, and no blessing should be recited.
Another issue that needs to be clarified is the measurements of a cubit. What is known today as the Chazon Ish’s measurement sees the cubit as 60 cm, while the other opinion, known today as Rav Chaim Na’eh’s measurement, measures the cubit at 50 cm.
The Mishna Brura rules (Biur Halacha 271:13) that in determining a Torah-obligated mitzva we follow the stringent opinion, while for a rabbinic mitzva we follow the lenient opinion. Since the mitzva of mezuzah is a Torah obligation, we must follow the stringent opinions both directions. Therefore, a room that is only two meters wide or four-square meters requires a mezuzah. The only caveat is that usually, this tiny space cannot be used for domestic purposes, and therefore a mezuza is unnecessary for other reasons.
As for reciting the blessing: when affixing a mezuza on a room of these dimensions, the Mishna Brura (ibid) rules that a blessing is recited. However, since there are different opinions regarding measurement and sizing, a rabbi should be consulted beforehand.
Old Israeli kitchens were often built as long, narrow spaces that were not even two meters wide but were sixteen square cubits in area due to their length. According to Sephardi poskim who follow the Shulchan Aruch a mezuza should be affixed in this space with a bracha, but Ashkenazi poskim follow the Shach and Mishna Brura who rule that a mezuzah should be affixed without a bracha. Chazon Ish rules that this kind of kitchen does not require a mezuzah at all, and affixing one there is merely a stringency.
There are old apartments where the two-meter-wide kitchen includes a countertop. Whether the counterspace is included in the room’s calculated width or not is debated among the poskim. The Chazon Ish remains with a doubt, but Rav Wosner (volume II 1:56) and Rav Elyashiv (Shevut Yitzchak 6:6) maintain that the counterspace is counted towards the room’s size.
Full-length built-in closets do, according to the Da’as Kedoshim (YD 286:18), detract from a room’s size, but large appliances like a refrigerator or freezer, although only rarely moved, do not.
The Chamudei Daniel writes (quoted in Pischei Teshuva YD 286:11) that the reason small spaces do not require a mezuza is because they do not serve the purpose they were intended for – living in such small rooms is impossible. However, a walk-in closet that serves the purpose for which it was built – for storage – does require a mezuza.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (glosses on the Shulchan Aruch) disagrees with this explanation but requires a mezuza for these spaces for other reasons which will be detailed further.
This results in an interesting halacha – while a tiny storage room less than 16 square cubits requires a mezuzah (per to the requirements outlined in next week’s article) if used for sleeping it would no longer require a mezuza.
Open Porch or Balcony
Another factor determining mezuza requirements is the roof (Shulchan Aruch YD 286;14). An entranceway to an open-air space does not require a mezuzah. Therefore, an open porch does not require a mezuza, as a patio or yard door.
What is considered a roof? Any sort of covering, even a lightweight plastic sheeting or wooden roof is considered a roof. Contemporary poskim debate about a wooden roof that protects from sun, but not from rain, or a plastic or glass rooftop that protects from the rain but does not provide shade. They conclude that the space below these coverings requires a mezuzah but no blessing is recited upon affixing it (See Shulchan Aruch YD 286:11-12, and Pischei Teshuva YD 286:13).
The Shulchan Aruch writes that if the porch is half covered and the covered part is adjacent to the door and has four on four cubits, a mezuza is affixed with a bracha. However, if the covered part is farther from the entrance, no mezuzah is affixed at all.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 1, 181) writes that a roofless porch or yard in which domestic activities are performed requires a mezuza. Therefore, a mezuzah is affixed to the right of those entering a yard or porch from the street, and the house’s front door leading into the house from that front porch or yard is also affixed on the right side for those entering the house, but the back door from which people enter the house requires a mezuza affixed on the right of the exit door to the yard, even if it has a lesser-used exit to the street.
Uncovered porches and small rooms do not require mezuzahs.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (glosses on the Shulchan Aruch YD 286:13) introduces a novel approach – while those small rooms do not require a mezuza in their own merit, their doorways serve as entrances to the main living area, and as an entrance require a mezuza on the right of the entranceway.
The Chazon Ish follows this opinion in his ruling, requiring a mezuzah on the right of those entering the main house. However, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD I, 181) disagrees.
Right vs. Left
Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s approach results in an interesting twist. A porch mezuzah is affixed on the left (since there is no roof, and the doorway is considered an entranceway from the porch to the house), but if a roof is installed, the mezuzah must be switched to the right since the entranceway became an entrance to an enclosed area.
A small 2X2 area requires, according to Rav Chaim Nea’eh, a mezuzah on the right of its entrance, but according to the Chazon Ish, the room does not require a mezuza. Rather, the mezuza should be affixed on the right of those going from the small space into the main area.
Summary – Practical Halacha
To require a mezuza a room must be four cubits on four cubits. Whether this equals to four square cubits or not is up for debate, as well as the actual size of a cubit. Optimally, both opinions should be taken stringently since the mitzva here is a Torah obligated one.
A long narrow sixteen square cubit room which is not four cubits across: according to Sephardi poskim a mezuzah is affixed with a bracha, and according to Ashkenazi — no bracha is recited. According to the Chazon Ish a mezuza here is merely a stringency.
Space enclosed by a roof that protects from both rain and sun requires a mezuzah for the area under it. If the roof protects from one and not from the other, the mezuzah requirements are disputed.
A small room that serves its purpose requires a mezuza according to the Chamudi Daniel, and according to Rabbi Akiva Eiger — not.
On the other hand, according to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, if the room is attached to a larger living space, its entrance is the entrance to the living space and a mezuza must be affixed on the left, which is the right of people entering the larger space.
This disagreement results in the many opinions as to where to affix mezuza’s in houses, and we recommend inviting a rabbi to determine where to affix mezuzahs on every doorpost.
An additional important to note: every addition or removal of a closet in small spaces, as well as adding doorposts or lintels can affect the mezuza obligation, as well as which side to affix a mezuzah.