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Mezuzah – Part III


Mezuzahs on Public Buildings

This week’s article deals with mezuzah issue concerning public buildings: which public buildings require a mezuzah, and which do not? Where require a mezuzah, but no bracha? Can a coffee room obligate a mezuzah for an entire building? Is a home office halachically different from the rest of the house? Does the fact that CPAs sleep in the office during tax season change the mezuzah requirements of their office? Do different shuls have different levels of mezuzah-requirement? Whom does a shul belong to? Does a prisoner affix a mezuzah on his cell, or a patient on his hospital room? When is a guest obligated to hang a mezuzah on the doorpost of his hotel room? Of this and more in the coming article.

Mezuzah Protection

In this week’s parasha we learn how the Jewish nation goes to war: “When you go out to war against your enemies, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord, your G-d is with you” (Devarim 20:1). Before going to battle, the priest of war calls out those who return home: “What man is there who has built a new house and has not [yet] inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man inaugurate it” (Devarim 20:5). The Targum Yonoson explains that this refers to one who built a house but didn’t affix its mezuzah. This man returns home since the sin of failing to affix the mezuzah could be a reason for his death at war. This teaches of the protection the mezuzah affords us – even outside the home, at war, the mitzva of mezuzah protects us.

This week’s installment will end our series on the mezuzah, focusing on public buildings – shuls, store, business places, and others.

Mezuzah for Business Areas

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 286:11) rules that a store in the marketplace does not require a mezuzah. The Levush (YD 286:11) and Shach (ibid 21) explain this is because a store is a temporary dwelling, and the Torah requires a mezuzah only on permanent residences. The Shulchan Aruch compares a store to a succah on Succos and a ship’s cabin in their (non)-mezuzah obligation.

This halacha puzzles contemporary poskim since we are required to affix a mezuzah on storage room doorposts, and if comparing their doorpost’s volume of traffic, stores rate much higher. Besides, a store is also used to “store” merchandise both when open, and closed. Why, therefore, should a store require a mezuzah less than a storage space?

Mezuzah on a Storefront

  • The Taz maintains (YD 286:10) that a store is only used during the day and not at night, and in order for a space to be considered inhabited it has to be used for its designated purpose both day and night. Although it also serves to store merchandise, the space is not intended for storage. Rather, its main purpose is commercial, and storage is only a secondary use.
  • The Yad Haketana (Mezuzah 2:21, quoted in Pischei Teshuva footnote 10) disagrees with the Taz’s explanation. In his opinion, the Shulchan Aruch refers here to a storefront from which merchandise is removed every night, or a stall in the marketplace that is used only on market days. This is the kind of store for which a mezuza not required, but other stores do require a mezuzah. (This opinion is also mentioned in the Ben Ish Chai [Rav Pe’alim II YD 36:3).
  • The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 286:26) sees here manifestation of the Rambam’s opinion that exempts all storage spaces from mezuzah. He does, nevertheless, wonder why the Shulchan Aruch would mention this opinion if it is not accepted l’halacha.

Home Business

The Shulchan Aruch only exempts a store from mezuzah obligations. However, a home business or store that is part of a house requires a mezuzah (Siddur Rabbi Yaakov M’lisa, Pischei Teshuva YD 286:10; Aruch Hashulchan YD 286:25; and others).

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD I, 178) rules that if a business is not active every day it is certainly exempted from mezuzah. Apparently, he follows the Taz’s opinion that exempts every store and business from affixing a mezuzah despite serving as a storage for merchandise or business tools. He does, nevertheless, take in account the Yad Haketana’s opinion, and therefore requires a mezuzah affixed on a business doorpost, albeit without a bracha.

Rav Elyashiv, though (Shvus Yitzchak chapter 2:2) requires a  mezuzah affixed on a store with a bracha.

Many poskim rule differently in this matter, depending upon various factors such as if there is a coffee room or not, and how a business is used. Every case requires individual consideration and ruling, and one business cannot be compared to another.

Domesticated Business Place

Some businesses are used most of the year as other business places – only for certain hours of the day, but for parts of the year it used both day and night. This could be the case for CPA offices where owners might sleep in the office during tax season, a packing plant during harvest season, or workers on a construction site.

The Mahram Schick (YD 286) proves from a Gemara that dwelling in a space for a week is considered permanent dwelling, which requires a mezuzah.

The Gemara (Yoma 10b) discusses the Koehn Gadol’s quarters in the Mikdash (called Lishkas Palhedrin) where he resided for the week before Yom Kippur. This suite was empty all year, and Chachomim required a mezuzah affixed on its doorpost. Some opine that although he dwells there against his will, even compulsory dwelling requires a mezuzah. However, Rabbi Yehuda maintains that it requires a mezuzah so people shouldn’t say the Kohen Gadol is incarcerated.

Rav Chaim Kaniyevsky rules (Shevus Yitzchak 2:2) that every space in which people reside for a full week requires a mezuzah (but a renter or guest must reside there for 30 days in order to have mezuzah obligations.) However, a succah where people don’t stay unconditionally – they may leave in case of discomfort — is exempted.

Jointly Owned Property

The Rishonim disagree regarding a property owned jointly by Jew and gentile.

  • According to the Rashba (Chullin 135b) a home jointly owned by Jew and gentile requires a mezuzah because a Jew needs the protection afforded by the mezuzah in every situation.
  • The Mordechai (Chulin 740) learns it is exempted from mezuzah from the pasuk that mentions the reward for the mitzva: “…In order that your days may increase” (Devarim 11:21). The Torah sees no point in increasing a gentile’s days, therefore his property does not require a mezuzah.
  • The Mordechai (Chulin 741) writes that a jointly owned house is exempted from mezuzah because the Jew does not own complete house, and an incomplete house is exempted from mezuzah just like a grafted esrog is not kosher for Succos (Chida, Birkey Yosef 286:2).
  • The Achronim maintain that since the gentile might remove or otherwise deface the mezuzah, we don’t place a mezuzah since it might be defiled.
  • Others explain that it might cause danger since gentiles sometimessuspect the mezuzah is somehow connected to witchcraft. If a mezuzah would bring a Jew to life threating danger, affixing it is forbidden.

Practical Halacha

The Shulchan Aruch (286:1) requires a mezuzah on the doorpost of a jointly owned house without mentioning one jointly owned by Jew and non-Jew. The Beis Yosef (Bedek Habayis YD 286) writes that halacha follows the Rashba requiring a mezuzah on jointly owned property, but the Rama disagrees. The Chida (Birkey Yosef 1) notes this dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama, ruling that if the non-Jewish partner will not steal the mezuzah or deface it and it won’t endanger him in any way, a mezuzah should be affixed without a blessing.

The Levush (YD 286:1) and the Taz (footnote 2-3) agree with all the above-mentioned reasons, noting that even if the non-Jew’s share in the property is minor, the space is exempted from a mezuzah. However, the Shach (ibid, footnote 6-7) maintains that where most of the house belongs to a Jew and there is no concern of arousing the non-Jew’s ire, a mezuzah should be affixed with a bracha.

The Igros Moshe (YD III 121) maintains that the Rama only exempts a jointly owned property from mezuzah where both Jew and gentile live together in the same room and use the same doorpost (even if each has his own corner). However, if each has a different room, the Jew’s doorway requires a mezuzah.

Houses of Worship

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 286:3) rules that a shul is exempted from the mitzva of mezuzah unless it also contains living quarters, for example the shamash’s house. However, a Beis Midrash’s status is disputed, and therefore, affixing one should be done without a blessing. The Shach (ibid, footnote 19) explains that a shul only used for prayers is not considered residential, but a Beis Midrash where students study all day — is.

According to Rashi (Yoma 12a) a shul is exempted from mezuzah since it is ownerless — it serves anyone who wishes to pray. However, a privately owned shul that belongs only to its members does require a mezuzah.

The Rambam (Mezuzah 6:6) notes that consecrated property is exempted from a mezuzah, and only if guests eat and sleep there is a mezuzah required.

The Chasam Sofer (volume II, YD 286) explains that the Rambam does not mean to exempt every consecrated space, but rather any space not used for regular dwelling.

The Chazon Ish (YD 217:7) considers prayer a domestic use, explaining that the Rambam intended to exempt a shul because it lacks specific ownership. Only the fact that one can prevent someone else from entering makes a space yours, which is one of the obligating features of a mezuzah according to the pasuk: “And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” (Devarim 11:20) .

Practical Halacha

  • A privately owned Beis Midrash or shul, as well as a rebbe’s private shteible requires, according to the Chazon Ish, a mezuzah, affixed with a blessing.
  • Regular shuls and Batei Midrash built for the public and financed mostly by the public, either through membership payments or seat selling are not considered privately owned (members generally cannot sell their seats or shares in the shul). Often, a portion of the financing comes from outside the community, donated with intention that the space be made available to any Jew who happens to come by. In this case, the space’s sanctity determines its status for mezuzah obligations:
  • If the shul is consecrated unconditionally, eating or drinking is forbidden, as well as any other activity besides prayer (including Torah study). One who come in off the street is forbidden to place his parcels in this shul. Most communities refrain from consecrating their shul in this manner, to ensure users don’t inadvertently transgress the prohibitions of showing reverence to of G-d’s Home (Mora Mikdash). Only rare shuls around the world have this status, and those that do are exempted from mezuzah.
  • Conditional shuls: Most shuls are consecrated “on condition” – i.e. their sanctity is restricted. Certain activities are permitted in these sanctuaries. This conditional consecration for example allows having a short kiddush on Simchas Torah in the main sanctuary.
  • Non-consecrated prayer-halls – shuls often have a side room which, although used frequently for praying when the main sanctuary is taken, is not consecrated for prayer and therefore kiddushim and eating can take place there. It is accepted not to recite any blessing when affixing a mezuzah on these rooms.
  • Shteiblach – a chassidic shteibel, used for all public and private functions, both sanctified and otherwise. This space is purposely called “shteibel” – Yiddish for “little house”, to indicate its sanctity status. This space is used for eating, drinking, sometimes sleeping, as well as prayer and Torah study.

Since it is often privately owned by the rebbe or leader and passed on to his heir, the accepted custom is to affix a mezuzah on its doorpost with a blessing.


Is a prisoner obligated to affix a mezuzah on his cell doorpost?

Where prison administration forbids affixing one or a cell contains a toilet or if prisoners or officers might deface the mezuzah or accuse the Jewish prisoner of witchcraft no mezuzah should be affixed. But where none of these are present, does a cell require a mezuzah?

The Chida notes (Birkey Yosef chapter 3) Beis Hillel’s opinion: a prison is not considered an honorable residence and therefore exempted from mezuzah. This approach is based on the Gemara (Yoma 10a) that requires a mezuzah on Lishkas Plahedrin in the Mikdash only so people shouldn’t say the Kohen Gadol is incarcerated.

The Chida, however, disagrees, and attributes the title of “dishonorable dwelling” only to dirty spaces – where people stand undressed or there is an unpleasant odor. Even a cowshed, unless particularly dirty, requires a mezuzah. He adds that the Sha’ar Efraim (chapter 83) discusses the prospect of affixing a mezuzah on a communal jail house. The Chida concludes that a prison cell is exempted from mezuzah because it is a temporary living space, and designated as such. Another reason is the ownership issue (Pesach Eiynayim Yoma 10a) – if the prison is owned by Jews, there remains a question, but if it not owned by Jews, and especially if a prisoner can be moved from one cell to another without prior notice, the cell does not require a mezuzah.

Hospital Rooms

Hospital stays are covered by either private people or insurance companies, and therefore hospitalizations are not forced stays. Since hospital administration can change a patient’s room at will, the question of mezuzah obligation remains.

The Maharsham (volume VI chapter 116) rules that a hospital owned by Jews requires a mezuzah because although patients can be moved from one room to the next, the whole hospital belongs to all the cities’ Jews and is considered a jointly owned property.

On the other hand, the Avnei Nezer (YD 380) writes that the patient is not obligated to place a mezuzah on his hospital room doorpost since it is not his own and he only rents or pays for the care, food, and lodging, and even a Jewish owned hospital does not require a mezuzah.

Hotel Rooms

While hotel management retains right to change their guests rooms, guests do retain their rights for the night that they are there, and the rooms are used as permanent dwelling places. Therefore, a Jewish hotel owner is obligated to affix mezuzahs on hotel rooms’ doorposts.


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