When we first did a walk-through of what would eventually become our new home, there was no mistaking that the sellers were Jewish. The dead give-away was the large flying rabbi painting displayed prominently in the master bedroom (directly over the headboard, in fact, which I found slightly creepy). The religious beliefs of the sellers were immaterial to us: the house was in excellent condition; and the closing went about as smoothly as one could hope.
But after we took possession of the house, one of the first things we noticed is that the sellers had left their mezuzah!
What’s a mezuzah, you ask? It’s more or less a Jewish good luck charm mounted on the doorframe of the front door. Mezuzah literally means “doorpost,” and technically refers to a small piece of parchment on which is written verses from the Torah. The mezuzah itself is encased in a decorative box, about as big as your finger, usually made of wood, plastic or metal. Mezuzah cases come in all shapes and sizes–there seems to be no end to the options for creative expression.
Rules for mezuzah etiquette could fill a book–and probably do. How and where to display it? Some say there needs to be a mezuzah on every doorway in the house; others say just the entryway is fine. Some say it should be mounted horizontally; others say vertically; yet others say mount it diagonally to split the difference (and if you do mount it diagonally, the top must be slanted toward the inside of the house).
Then there’s the matter of what to do with the mezuzah when you buy or sell a home. The consensus seems to be (from what I’ve read) is that if you sell to a fellow Jew and leave the mezuzah, he is supposed to pay you for the mezuzah separately from the house; if you sell to a goy you should take the mezuzah with you). Therefore I would have expected the mezuzah to be gone.
In any case, we now find ourselves in possession of a mezuzah, so the question is: do we take it down, or leave it? As atheists, we have little tolerance for superstitious folderol. As homeowners we like the idea that the house has some “personality” passed down from the previous owners. The mezuzah, despite its religious origins, has taken on mostly cultural significance for most Jews, and seems only slightly more significant than, say, mounting a horseshoe upside down over the lintel for good luck. It could make for a nice conversation piece.
I posted something about this over at Facebook, and opinions are divided. We still have not made up our minds (nor have we opened the case to see if there’s a parchment inside).
What do you think?