Is your mezuzah kosher or not Better let the scribe check it out

The gray-bearded man peered intently with a magnifying glass at the delicate piece of parchment. Then came the prognosis: unkosher.

An Israeli-born sofer (scribe) affiliated with the Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Yaakov Safranowitz had this to say about currently being based out of Los Angeles: "I'm only doing a task here; I belong to Israel like every Jew belongs to Israel."

Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi brought Safranowitz to San Francisco on Sunday to ensure the mezuzot of his congregants at Congregation Chevra Thilim were, in fact kosher, in time for the new year.

The scribe also wrote the last 18 words in the new Torah of another Orthodox congregation in San Francisco, Adath Israel.

While the Jewish custom of affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost of one's house is commonly observed, many Jews do not know the scroll inside must be checked periodically to ensure it's kosher.

"It happens frequently," said Safranowitz. "If a letter is not connected, or is faded," it causes the scroll to become unkosher. Also, letters can change over time, he said. "People don't realize."

Sometimes, a scroll can be easily fixed, with a minor scratch of a razor blade. If this is the case, Safranowitz said, this is preferable to buying a new one. But if the words have suffered irreparable damage, the scroll must be buried.

Examining one brought to him that appeared smeared, Safranowitz surmised it must have been hanging outside. So waterlogged was it that he said, "Maybe flowers will grow out of here."

He looked at three of Chevra Thilim's Torahs and determined from the type of script that they were all from Hamburg, Germany, and ranged from 300 to 700 years old. All three are beyond repair, he said, and must be tied outside of their velvet covers.

Torahs deemed unkosher can be used to dance with on Simchat Torah, explained Al Finch, the synagogue's president, but they cannot be used to read from.

Congregants raised enough money in the last year and a half to repair six of their Torahs, but these three are beyond repair.

They also replaced every mezuzah in the shul, because none was deemed kosher.

Safranowitz had a certain intensity and air of holiness about him — perhaps it comes with a job considered so sacred that he must go to the mikvah each morning before he begins to copy the texts.

Mezuzot checked, he was ready to go to the airport. But not before telling one woman present she should marry a Chassid and have 15 children, and convincing one observer to put on tefillin.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."