This week’s article is the second installment on mezuzahs. This week we will focus on the obligation to affix a mezuzah in service and storage areas. Does a basement door require a mezuzah? Which kind of storage space requires a mezuzah? Is there a difference between a commercial storage area and one used to store Pesach dishes? Does a garage require a mezuzah? What activities exempt an area from a mezuzah – is it only a bathroom, or are spas, gyms, massage and reflexology studios also exempted? Why do bedrooms require a mezuzah? Does a barn require a mezuzah? What is the difference between a barn and a zoo regarding mezuzahs?
This week’s parasha begins with the pasuk: “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse” (Devarim 11:26). G-d’s blessing depends on our actions, as the next pasuk explains: “The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your G-d” – if we heed G-d’s commandments we will be blessed with perpetual abundance. Oftentimes, people feel that although they really would like to improve their ways, it is just too hard to change habits. As we pointed out last week, in order to help us change our habits and instill in us fear of Heaven Hashem gave us several, relatively simple mitzvos – tzitzits, tefillin, and mezuzah. One who is scrupulous with these mitzvos is shielded from sin – i.e. these mitzvos make improving our habits easier.
The Taz adds a requirement for opening the gates of abundance (YD 285:1): every time we pass by the mezuzah we should think of G-d’s oneness. Placing one’s hand on the mezuza certainly has its own merit, but thinking of what’s written in it every time we pass it is certainly the main purpose.
Last week’s article discussed the size and shape of the room that requires a mezuzah. This week we will focus on the room’s usage, specifically — those rooms which are not designed for domestic purposes — basements, garages, storage spaces, etc.. Next week’s article will be, G-d willing, the third and final installment in these series, in which we will discuss temporary dwellings such as hotel rooms, stores, shuls, public buildings, and spaces jointly owned by Jews and gentiles.
Rooms That Require A Mezuzah
The following are various categories of rooms as defined by their usage, with each having a different mezuzah requirement:
- A room used for domestic purposes such as eating or sleeping.
- Rooms used for none of the above, but that receive a lot of foot traffic.
- Public rooms.
- Rooms used only during certain hours of the day.
- A clean room in which undignified activities take place – Ex. a children’s room with a changing table.
- A room designated for undignified activities – e.g. a bathroom or shower.
- An area in which the mezuzah might be defaced or discarded such as the door to an apartment housing non-Jews who may defile the mezuzah.
Any living area requires a mezuzah, provided it is not used for undignified activities (the definition of which will be detailed further). Therefore, when affixing mezuzahs for the whole house it is preferable to recite one bracha on a kitchen or living room and then affix the mezuzahs on all other doorposts.
The Gemara (Yoma 11b) notes a dispute which kind of storage area does not require a mezuzah – are all storage areas exempted from mezuzah, or is only a storage area which is in used for makeup application exempted?. In addition, the Gemara also mentions another kind of storage area which doubled as a ladies’ bathing area. Despite not being a public bathhouse, since it was also used for bathing, the area does not require a mezuzah.
The Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:7) rules that every storage area is exempted from mezuzah even if nobody bathes there. However, the Shulchan Aruch (YD 286:2) follows to the other Rishonim’s opinion that a mezuzah is mandatory for all storage areas, unless used for bathing.
Most poskim follow the Shulchan Aruch, requiring a mezuzah for all storage areas. The blessing for affixing the mezuzah, though, is disputed among the poskim. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (141:66) and Pischei Teshuva (YD 286:16) rule that a blessing should be recited upon affixing a mezuzah for a storage space. (Since none mention the Rambam’s opinion, it was apparently dismissed from mainstream halacha). Rav Chaim Kaniyevsky rules accordingly (Mezuzahs Beisecha 286:14).
On the other hand, the Sfas Emes (YD 286:2), Avnei Nezer (OC 385:5), Mikdash Me’at (286:2), and Aruch Hashulchan (YD 286:9) rule that although halacha follows those who disagree with the Rambam, since no blessing is recited in doubtful situations, the Rambam’s opinion is taken into consideration, and no blessing should be recited upon affixing the mezuzah.
Nevertheless, the Aruch Hashulchan notes the accepted practice to recite a blessing upon affixing a mezuzah on a storage area. This is the ruled l’halacha by Rav Wosner (Shevet Halevi volume X, chapter 4) and Rav Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak, volume X, chapter 96).
Contemporary Storge Areas
Since the reasons for exempting or requiring a mezuzah on storage areas are not fully detailed in earlier halachic sources, contemporary poskim render opinions for the various halachic parallels. This results in different opinions among different poskim. In this article we present various topics of discussion. For practical ruling please consult your rabbinic authority.
The Drisha (YD 286:2) and Shach (YD 286:2) rule that a storage area requires a mezuzah because it receives a lot of foot traffic and is therefore considered a domestic space. The Drisha adds (Sma 427:2) that although it is not considered a domestic space for the mitzva of erecting a guardrail on its rooftop, since the mezuzah is intended to remind us of G-d’s Oneness, affixing one is required on any place which we enter or exit from often.
The Ben Ish Chai (Rav Pe’alim II, YD 36:1) and several contemporary poskim explain that this explanation is relevant only for a storage space that is annexed to the main living area (such as a walk-in pantry or barn from which milk or eggs are brought into the house). A storage area that is disconnected with the house such as commercial storage area does not require a mezuzah, as well as any area not often used.
The Avnei Nezer (OC 302:480) and Ben Ish Chai (Rav Pe’alim volume II, YD 36:1) explain that the area needs to be habitable, but the owner does not necessarily have to live in it.
The Nachalas Tzvi (YD 291:4) explains that even one who spends long stretches away from home, since his storage area stores his belongings, it requires a mezuzah. Storage is considered a domestic use and a room designated for that purpose requires a mezuzah.
Cellar, Basement and Garage
As mentioned, there are various opinions regarding contemporary storage spaces. While some require a mezuzah for almost every cellar and even require a bracha, others exempt almost every area, and certainly do not permit reciting a blessing. Here, I will present my rebbe, Rabbi Luxemburg shlita’s opinion:
The Mishna Brura (Biur Halacha 358:1) rules that a barn is considered a domestic area because its owners enter it often to tend to the manure, milk the animals, collect eggs, shear wool, and slaughter them for meat. Although the manure is the least important part of the cowshed, since cleaning and clearing it requires regular visiting in the barn, it is because of the manure that the area is considered domestic.
This seems to indicate that the thrice daily milking is not considered entering often enough, and only dealing the animal refuse makes the area constantly used.
To recite a blessing upon affixing a mezuzah on a contemporary storage area, Rabbi Luxemburg requires the area to meet the two following requirements: it should be used for domestic uses, and people must pass in the doorway several times each day.
Therefore, a basement, garage or walk-in closet which is used several times a day and stores household items or is used for household activities requires a mezuzah affixed with a blessing. However, storage areas used only once a day or for non-domestic storage require a mezuzah with no blessing .
Where a mezuzah was affixed with no blessing because the space was at the time only used for example to store Pesach dishes and succah boards, if the area is renovated and became habitable it requires removing the mezuzah and reaffixing it with a bracha. The mezuzah must be affixed only when the space requires one. Therefore, a mezuzah that was affixed beforehand must be reaffixed once the area’s use has changed.
A basement or living area should ideally be given a mezuzah only once people begin living there, but if designed for a new couple leaving the mezuzah affixing for the wedding evening is not recommended for practical reasons. Instead, when they are setting up, they or their family should eat a small meal to make it inhabited. Then, the space requires a mezuzah with a blessing.
The poskim write (Drisha YD 286:2; Shach YD 286:2) that a full-time living space, although occasionally used for undignified activities, requires a mezuzah. However, when the undignified activities take place, the mezuzah should be covered. Storage areas, if used as a ladies’ bathing area (despite being exceptionally clean); or a very dirty area like a barn require no mezuzah, even a covered one.
Children’s bedrooms with a changing table or where people may be undressed certainly require a mezuzah since the room is intended for regular domestic use. However, before engaging in undignified activities, the mezuzah should be covered (the mezuzah cover should be opaque). For guestrooms, kitchens, or main entrances, a clear mezuzah case is preferable since G-d’s Name is apparent through it.
Bathroom, Spa, Gym
Despite the bathrooms today being clean and hygienic, no mezuzah is required there even if covered with two coverings.
Shower rooms or rooms where people are not fully dressed are likewise exempted from a mezuzah.
Cowshed and Chicken Coop
The Gemara (Yoma 11a) and Shulchan Aruch (286:2) rules that a cowshed and chicken coop require a mezuzah like a storage space. The Pischei Teshuva quotes the Yad Haktana who rules that a cowshed used to be very dirty and exempted from mezuzah as an unclean room, but a chicken coop was not so dirty, and required a mezuzah. The Yad Haketana ends the discussion that it all depends upon the facts on the ground and laying out rules is impossible.
This explanation leaves it difficult to determine if the cowshed during the Gemara’s times was smaller and cleaner because the manure was cleared several times a day, or perhaps human sensitivities have changed. Today, a barn or chicken coop are certainly not clean, and therefore do not require a mezuzah.
A doghouse or kennel large enough for people to enter and into which people do go in several times a day to care for the dogs, as well as a petting zoo which is kept clean and tidy require a mezuzah. However, if the owner does not use the space for his domestic uses, some poskim exempt it from the mitzva of mezuzah altogether. Therefore, when affixing one, no blessing should be recited.
Small doghouses are exempted.
The Or Chadash (quoted in the Noda Yehuda OC 47; and Chasam Sofer OC 95) requires a mezuzah for a zoo, but the Noda B’Yehuda writes that only animal shelters for animals that can live alongside humans require a mezuzah. Spaces that host wild animals with whom humans cannot live are exempted from mezuzah.