Putting Up a Mezuzah for a Non-Jew

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

7 Av: Putting Up a Mezuzah for a Non-Jew

Some people treat mezuzah superstitiously, as if the box itself protects, independent of our belief in or subservience to Hashem. That explains why some non-Jews want mezuzot on their doors, even though they might not believe anything else about Judaism. On the 7th of Av, 5709 (1949), R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe Yoreh Deah 1;184, was asked about a non-Jew who wanted his Jewish landlord to put a mezuzah on the door. The landlord wanted to know if he could, to avoid losing the tenant.

Rema to Yoreh Deah 291;2 had allowed putting up the mezuzah if there was a worry about evah, hatred, that the non-Jew would harm the Jew for refusing. The questioner, R. Ephraim Greenblatt, wondered whether that was only where the non-Jew might actually damage the Jew, or even the loss of rent would be enough to allow affixing the mezuzah. (R. Moshe will note the reasons to resist putting it up later in the responsum).

Hatred Or Loss, Not And Loss

R. Moshe starts by positing that Rema actually recognized two different possible negative outcomes in such an interaction with a non-Jew. The non-Jew might hate (or, less dramatically, bear a grudge) towards the Jew, even if that would not lead to any direct damage, and then the non-Jew might work to damage the Jew. Either sufficed to allow putting up the mezuzah, R. Moshe reads Rema as saying.

He supports his contention by noting that in 148;12, when explaining why we allow conducting business on non-Jewish holidays, Rema mentioned only the hatred component, not that the non-Jews might cause monetary loss to the Jews. (Avoiding hatred is the sufficient reason, also, to allow giving medical care to non-Jews on Shabbat, in any situation where they would not accept the Gemara’s justification for not giving such care, that we are only allowed to violate Shabbat to save the lives of those who observe Shabbat. Wherever that’s not convincing, the hatred that would ensue from our refusal renders it permitted).

There is hatred that fuels vengeance, and hatred that stops at ill will, with little likelihood of ensuing damage.

Just Hatred Doesn’t Allow Everything

Ill will alone would not allow transgressing a Biblical prohibitions; it’s no greater a danger than many others in life, and we’re not allowed to violate the Torah to avoid bringing danger into the world.  R. Moshe actually thinks we are often allowed to bring new dangers into the world; we are, for example, allowed to help lionesses and bears give birth even though that introduces a new dangerous animal into the world.

When Chazal made decrees, however, they decided to allow us to violate those even to avoid this lower level of dislike. For R. Moshe, that might be because this source of possible future harm has a mind of its own, and can make plans for hurting us, leading Chazal to decide that the danger, while only theoretical, sufficed to suspend their decrees.

But It Does Allow Avoiding Damage

But when the non-Jew walks away from the interaction intent on harming us, that’s an immediate danger. To avert danger, we are allowed to violate Torah law (in certain situations), especially a human being seeking vengeance.

An example would be our refusal to help put out a fire in a non-Jew’s house on Shabbat, or a Jewish midwife refraining from helping a non-Jewish woman give birth (R. Moshe thinks the midwife can hand off more minor aspects of the childbirth to a non-Jewish assistant, since the hovering father or husband won’t notice or mind). In those cases, any bad outcome would lead the non-Jew to seek vengeance against the Jew whose refusal to help led to greater damage, and that allows us to violate even Torah law.

Finding a Biblical prohibition against attaching a mezuzah to a non-Jew’s door is what would explain Maharil’s ruling that the Jew should not do it, even if it will lead to dislike without any plans for vengeful action. What would that Biblical prohibition be, however? R. Moshe suggests that it was a worry about בזיון קדשים, mistreating sacred writings. That would explain Rema’s limiting the prohibition to cases where the non-Jew would take some kind of revenge.

He discards that answer, however, both because Rema should have been more explicit and that would make it a simple and straightforward law, whereas Rema wrote that “it seemed to him” permissible, which sounds more like it was his own novel idea.

It’s Not Biblical

R. Moshe therefore decides that there is no Biblical worry in this case, because a non-Jew who is anxious to have a mezuzah placed on his doorway would treat it well. The only worry is that the non-Jew will pass away, leaving heirs who will not take the same care. Rema held that it did not apply wherever the refusal to put it up would lead to hatred, even if the non-Jew would not intend to cause us any harm for our actions.

The novelty in that approach is that he permitted it even where there wouldn’t be any hatred, where the non-Jew would accept our reasons for not wanting to affix the mezuzah. As long as there would be some loss, such as the non-Jew refusing to rent the place, the Jew could put up the mezuzah.

That’s certainly true where the non-Jew will then rent from a non-Jew, since that shows that he was angered by the Jew’s refusal (if he didn’t care, he could have rented from the Jew despite his refusal). If, on the other hand, the non-Jew would rent from a Jew who is willing to put up the mezuzah, it shows there is no hatred, just an insistence on having a mezuzah. Since R. Moshe thinks our Jew could likely find another renter (and would rule differently if he could not), there is no financial loss, so R. Moshe thinks the Jew should not put up the mezuzah.

Not a Fake Mezuzah

The questioner suggested the landlord could put up an invalid mezuzah, appeasing the non-Jew but not risking the honor of sacred writings. R. Moshe rejects this as obviously prohibited, in that Chullin 94 rules out (Rambam and Shulchan Aruch record the ruling) tricking others, including non-Jews. The non-Jew asked for a mezuzah like Jews use in their service of God; the answer is yes or no, but not to give him something else and pretend it is what he wanted.

It also wouldn’t help, since the prohibition against mistreating Scripture applies even if there’s a problem in the writing. (We could solve that problem by not including a scroll at all, as happens today, but that wasn’t R. Moshe’s reality.) Sum total, R. Moshe thinks that as long as we have reason to believe the non-Jew would treat the mezuzah well, it is fundamentally permissible to put one up. Maharil raised a distant worry as a stringency, which we should accept as long as there is no loss in so doing—loss that includes hurt feelings on the non-Jew’s part or financial loss on the Jew’s.

About Gidon Rothstein

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