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This post is based on a Powerpoint presentation given in a class on the Torah at Marylhurst University on 21 April, 2014. The text from the presentation is below, followed by information about the sources used. Click here to view or download the presentation.
What does ‘mezuzah’ mean?
The word ‘mezuzah’ means ‘doorpost in Hebrew. It also refers to the scroll that observant Jews post on their doors, and it colloquially is used to refer to the cases that are hung on the doorposts which contain the scrolls.
The most famous prayer in Judaism is the Sh’ma, whose opening paragraph reads: “And you shall speak of them [the Torah's laws] when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.… And you shall write them upon the doorpost of your house ad upon your gates” (Dueteronomy 6:7,9). The Hebrew word for doorpost is mezuzah, and for thousands of years Jews have posted small boxes, also known as mezuzot, on their doorposts. Inside each box is a small scroll, which must be written by a scribe. It includes the first and second paragraphs of the Sh’ma including the commandment concerning the mezuzah. When a Jew enters his house, he sees the mezuzah and is thereby reminded how he should act in his home. Likewise, when a Jew leaves the house, the mezuzah reminds him of the high level of behavior he is expected to maintain wherever he goes. (Telushkin 710)
The Mezuzah Case
The mezuzah scroll is traditionally held inside a mezuzah case which is then attached to a doorpost. These cases come in a large variety of shapes and sizes, and the images below suggest.
About the Mezuzah Scroll
In order for the mezuzah scroll itself to be considered kosher according to halacha (Jewish law), it must be written in a very specific manner by a trained scribe known as a sofer.
The kosher mezuzah scroll is hand-written with a quill pen and a special black ink onto a parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal. Each letter of each word must be perfect and the back of the scroll will have the word ‘Shaddai’ written on it.
The text on the scroll comes from the Torah. Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat and be sated. Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away and worship strange gods and prostrate yourselves before them. And the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that the Lord gives you. And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way and when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, in order that your days may increase and the days of your children, on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to give them, as the days of heaven above the earth.
I See the mezuzah as a beautiful reminder of the Torah. Not only is it written on a scroll like the Torah, but it contains the words of the Torah, and like the Torah, it must be meticulously created by a trained scribe. In a sense, it takes the command to ‘Hear, O Israel,’ and expands it to also be ‘See, O Israel.’
Sources (including images)
Caves, Jonathan. Mezuzah. 28 July, 2007. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Djampa. Creteil Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai synagogue Mezuzah. 14 July, 2011. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Djampa. Israel Safed Beit Hameiri Mezuzah. 07 Oct. 2010. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Djampa. Old Jerusalem Yochanan ben Zakkai Synagogue Mezuzah. 10 Aug. 2010. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
“Deuteronomy – Chapter 6 (Parshah Va’etchanan) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible.” Deuteronomy – Chapter 6 (Parshah Va’etchanan) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Judaica Press, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. [Link]
“Deuteronomy – Chapter 11 (Parshah Eikev and Re’eh) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible.” Deuteronomy – Chapter 11 (Parshah Eikev and Re’eh) – Tanakh Online – Torah – Bible. Judaica Press, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. [Link]
Fine, Anthony. Untitled Image. 29 July 2012. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Jodi0327. The only mezuzah I saw. The Netherlands was particularly deadly for Jews during WWII. Only 1 out of 16 survived. 19 June 2011. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Mezuzah Scrolls. Mezuzah scroll ashkenaz real front.JPG. 03 Apr. 2012. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
Moore, Ari. mezuzah. 02 Oct. 2005. Flickr.com. Web. 04 Apr. 2014 [Link]
Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History. Revised ed. New York: W. Morrow, 2008. Print. [Amazon Link]
Zienowicz, Alina. Mezuzah Haifa 2011.JPG. 07 Aug. 2011. Wikimedia Commons. commons.wikimedia.org. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. [link]
“Rastafari means to live in nature, to see the Creator in the wind, sea and storm. Other religions pointed to the sky, and while we were looking in the sky, they dug up all the gold and diamonds and went away with them.” (Jimmy Cliff)
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
(Bob Marley, Redemption Song)
“No one should question the faith of others, for no human being can judge the ways of God.” (Haile Selassie I)
“Few modern-day movements have spread as widely as Rastafari. Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1930s, today the movement of ‘Jah people’ is chanting down Babylon ‘outernational.’” (Frank van Dijk)
April 21st is Grounation Day. For members of the Rastafari movement, Grounation Day is the commemoration of the visit of Emperor Haile Selassie I to Jamaica on April 21, 1966. The Rastafari movement, sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Rastafarianism,” is a fascinating religious movement (though many devotees would say that it is not a religion). An afrocentric tradition that was influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions, Hinduism, and the experiences of oppression (referred to as downpression) of the 20th Century Jamaican ghettos coalesced as the Rastafari movement in 1930 when Haile Selassie I—then known as Ras Tafari—was crowned emperor of Ethiopia and was given the title His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God. Haile Selassie I’s coronation took on messianic meaning for the some in Ethiopia, who saw him as an incarnation of Jesus and God in the flesh.
The Rastafari movement and its message spread around the world through reggae music, most notably the music and message of Bob Marley. Having been a fan or reggae music since my childhood, I have long been interested in the countercultural message of the the Rastas as expressed through the music I love: ideas like understanding the dominant western society as ‘Babylon,’ the unwavering love for God (or Jah), the emphasis on personal health, and the unapologetic use of cannabis (ganja) as a religious sacrament.
It has also long bothered me that people seem to know little more about the Rastas than they have dreadlocks, listen to reggae and they smoke herb, as all three of those things are also done by many people who are not Rastas. This Grounation Day, which marks the 48th anniversary of Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica, I am setting out for a 2-month experiment of studying the teachings and traditions of the Rastas as much as I can, consuming an ital diet of vegan non-processed foods, listening to reggae music primarily, giving Jah praise every way I can, and blogging about the experience and some things I learn as I go.
Some of the subjects I intend to blog a bit more in depth on are: The Ital diet, Views on HIM Haille Sellasie I, Ganja, Reggae, Bob Marley, Isms & Schisms, Rastas & Race, and the Dreadlocks. Are there any questions about the Rastafari movement you have that you think I should explore further? Any suggestions? Leave your feedback in the comments.
I must admit it had been a while since I had seen a film in the theater. In fact, the last film I saw in the theater was Avatar, which was released nearly 4.5 years ago. I kept hearing mixed reviews about Noah, however, and as a religious studies student I admit I was very interested to see for myself whether or not the film was worth the hype. The fact that I am currently taking a class on the Torah and have been reading and rereading the first 11 chapters of Genesis—the section of the Bible which goes from creation through the Noah story only made me more curious to see how it fared. My mother and her boyfriend were both curious to see the film also, so on Easter Sunday we stopped by the cinema, purchased tickets, and entered into the darkness of the theater awaiting the Noah experience, for good or bad.
There has been much controversy over this film and many complaints that it diverges from the biblical text. If a word-for-word account of the Noah story is what you want, I would suggest going and just reading it from your Bible—it isn’t a long story at all and won’t take more than a few minutes. With the expectation that a Hollywood film is going to be, well, Hollywoodized, and realizing that a story as short as the Noah story would need some additions in order to be adapted to film, I found Noah to be an interesting interpretation on a classic story. I have to agree with other reviewers who felt the treatment of the Watchers (the Nephilim) was… bizarre, to say the least. I am not familiar with any traditions having the Nephilim as giant stone creatures nor that they helped Noah build the Ark, but I suppose they needed to be giant stone creatures to fit the story the filmmakers were trying to tell.
In summary, if you want a story that is true down to the detail to the biblical story, Noah is not that story. If you want an interesting twist on a classic biblical tale with the expected Hollywood fluff thrown in, Noah does a good enough job with that.
For an interesting look at the film compared to the biblical text, check out this video by the Bibledex guys at the University of Nottingham: