The Mezuzah as Amulet

Have you ever noticed that Jewish homes have a little box attached to the doorpost? It’s a slanted box on the outside of the home (and sometimes on doorposts of interior rooms).  This little box is called a mezuzah, and it’s one of the amulets that Jews have used throughout history to bring protection to themselves. (I have also written about another Jewish amulet- demon bowls.)

A mezuzah is a small box affixed to the doorpost of the home. It contains a scroll with text from the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:

Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L‑rd Your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L‑rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L‑rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates-so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L‑rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

 

The outside of the mezuzah is usually affixed with the Hebrew letter shin which stands for Shaddai- one of the names of G-d. The name Shaddai is often on the reverse of the scroll. Sometimes, other names and charms were written on the scroll as well- names of angels, kabbalistic imagery, etc

Historically speaking, the mezuzah was used as an amulet and talisman, both warding off evil and attracting blessings to those within the home. As you can see from the text, having the scroll affixed to the doorpost was seen as a method for ensuring prosperity, fertility, and long life. Traditionally, the belief was that the scroll had to be deemed kosher for the the mezuzah to be effective. At various times, when negative things would happen, it would be blamed on the person not having a mezuzah on their doorpost, or that the mezuzah was ineffective due to its non-kosher status. Many times, a person was urged to have their mezuzah checked to ensure it remained kosher after negative things happened.  

Many people claim that the mezuzah is not an amulet or talisman, but is simply an object used to fulfill a divine commandment. But, it can’t be argued that at times throughout history the object has been seen as having magical or mystical properties. The same goes for today- some do still view the mezuzah as an amulet. Whether or not a Jew believes the object has magical properties, the object is often placed, just as prescribed, kosher and on the doorpost. If the reason is to follow a divine commandment, I question why it is important to obey that command. Surely, a person gets something out of following an instruction- even if it is just feeling good about oneself. No matter how you look at it, the mezuzah does serve as an amulet in some way.

 

Never Forget. Never Again

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day which commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination center. 

Do you know how many people died during the Holocaust? Many people are aware of the six million Jews who died. They were not the only ones. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, a total of approximately 20 million people died. That number includes the approximate 17,303,900 known deaths as well as the undetermined numbers of certain groups of people. Who were all of these people?

  • Jews
  • Soviet Civilians
  • Soviet prisoners of war
  • Polish civilians
  • Serb civilians
  • disabled individuals
  • Roma
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Repeat criminal offenders
  • German political opponents
  • Homosexuals

You can read more about this here

I’m going to include here a piece I wrote in November 2015. It has been just over three years and we are still no closer to finding an answer to this question. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that we must never forget the horror of what happened to 20 million people. I do know that when we say “Never Again” that it is exactly what we mean. This atrocity can never happen again. We must make sure that it doesn’t. And it doesn’t just apply to Jews. While Jews were the largest single group who died in the Holocaust, there were 14 million non-Jews who perished. Never again means never again…for anyone. 

Here is my piece from 2015:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the #Syrianrefugees issue. I can understand both points of view when it comes to deciding if the USA and individual states should admit refugees. I really can. It’s not an easy decision no matter which way you look at it. On one hand you have innocent people trying to flee hellish conditions just to be able to stay alive. On the other hand, you have a real threat of terrorism from a small percentage of those people. Or at least we have a potential threat.

The one thing that weighs heavy on my mind is something that I’m sure many people get tired of hearing. The Holocaust. This has happened before. European refugees attempting to flee to the USA and being denied entrance. Lest we forget, in 1939, 937 refugees fled Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba aboard the MS St. Louis. When they arrived in Havana, only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark and enter Cuba. The remaining passengers were denied entry.

After leaving Cuban waters, the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the passengers could see the lights of Miami. They begged President Roosevelt to grant entry to the US, but he didn’t even respond. The St. Louis was sent back to Europe with 908 passengers. Great Britain admitted 288 refugees and the remainder were admitted to continental European countries. Of those 620 refugees admitted to the European mainland, 532 were trapped when Hitler invaded Western Europe. Ultimately 254 of those people died in the Holocaust.

Two hundred fifty four lives that could have been spared. Think about that. It seems like such a small number compared to the millions of people who died, but 254 more people could have lived. Imagine what their decedents could have done. Decedents who were never born. I know a beautiful woman who lives because her mother was put on the kinder transport to England while her other family members were on the St. Louis. If I remember correctly, they landed in Holland, but were part of those who ultimately died. Just thinking about it makes me cry.

We can not continue to live a life ruled by xenophobia. We have to do our best to make the world a better place. Yes, terrorism is real. Yes, we need to be mindful of those who we allow in our country. But that goes for anyone, not just refugees. 254 people died in the Holocaust because of American antisemitism and xenophobia. Jewish people say “Never Again”. We all should say never again. But we shouldn’t just mean never again for Jews. We should mean never again for all people. I’m not saying we should just admit anyone. But saying refugees should be vetted isn’t enough. We need to have some real dialogue about what can honestly be done, what can truly work. This isn’t the time for ideals. It’s the time for making real choices. Will we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past or will we be better people this time around and do the right thing? I’m not saying what the right thing is. I don’t know. I really don’t. But we have to stop being ruled by fear and start living out compassion and love for our fellow man.

If you want to read more about the tragedy of the St. Louis, please go to this page on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website.