Posts Tagged ‘Reconstructionism’

Making Mezuzot

August 29, 2010

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  If you don’t like what one Rabbi tells you about fulfilling a Jewish commandment, you can always find another Rabbi whose response you will like better.  That being said, we should not always be looking for leaders to tell us that the way we want to practice Judaism is kosher.  Sometimes, we must be prepared for the challenge of doing things differently than what feels natural, easy, or even rationale.  That being said…

Growing up in the Conservative movement, I learned that only a mezuzah parchment written by a professional Sofer, with a special quill pen, can be considered kosher and used to fulfill the mitzvah.  When I was a kid, I loved the mythic idea of the Sofer – a learned man (always a man) with a long beard who could draw beautiful letters (without making any mistakes!) with a chicken feather on cow’s hide. Today I appreciate that upholding this tradition binds us with our ancestors.  However, I also believe that connection might be achieved through other means.

Now living my Jewish life as a Reconstructionist, I am searching for a balance between intention and tradition.  To me, the idea of making one’s own mezuzah, both the cover and the scroll, seems as meaningful path to understanding and embodying the words the mezuzah illustrates, “These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts…Write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates”, than buying those object.

Of course, I’m not a Rabbi.  I’m an arts and cultural educator which might explain my interests in manipulating clay and ink to make my own mezuzot.

Since I arrived at OWU, I’ve been hoping to craft religious objects with you.  Next week, we’ll be making mezuzot as a way of welcoming everyone back to campus, uniting our kehillah, and helping you all establish your Jewish homes-away-from-home.  We had many options for making cases.  The scrolls were another matter.

First I planned for you to write them yourselves.  I knew that not all of you would agree with me that this could be considered kosher.  Even the Reform Movement urges members to use a hand-written parchment, although it makes allowances for temporary uses of paper and for the training of lay people to write parchments.  Perhaps living in a college dorm, on a limited budget, is one such time.  I’m curious, do you have a mezuzah on your door already? Were you planning to buy one and put it up in the next few weeks?  I wasn’t sure how many of you would be willing to shell out $30 for a kosher scroll, and I wasn’t sure that would be necessary.

Then I remembered that not all of you would be able to write the Hebrew words yourselves.  So, I did what any 21st century professional would do – I sent an email to one of the Hillel listservs I belong to.  I posed the question of using photocopied scrolls and got a variety of responses.  Some said we must get Sofer-made parchments and that I should provide you with a list of sources (local and online) where you could do that on your own.  Others suggested that we could write our own scrolls (in English even!) as long as we understood that we were not completely fulfilling the commandment.  Someone else said he had used xeroxed scrolls with students in the past.  He and I agreed that this was better than nothing.

What do you think?

On September 5th, we’ll be painting mezuzah cases.  Thanks to a generous donation by Professor Caplan in the English Department, I will have Sofer-scribed parchments available for you.  But I’m still curious.  For the sake of debate, if all I had to offer were the photocopies, how many of you would have:
a) used one in your mezuzah,
b) copied it by hand (onto parchment in black ink) in Hebrew, Engligh, or some combination of the two, or
c) used information I would also have supplied on where to buy a “kosher” scroll.

Shavuah Tov and see you soon!