Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fascinating Reform Responsum

Note the bolded text:

New American Reform Responsa140.
The Paper Mezuzah Text

QUESTION: May the gift shop of a congregation sell mezuzot which contain the text on paper rather than on parchment as the tradition has mandated? (Rabbi Sue Levy, Houston TX)

ANSWER: The tradition of using parchment for the Torah, the megillah and the mezuzah has already been recorded in the tractate Softim 1:1ff; Mezuzah 1:1 and all later codes. Despite the use of paper alongside parchment during this and subsequent periods, parchment continued to be mandated probably as it was more durable and was readily available. Irrespective of the reasons involved, tradition has demanded parchment. We must now ask whether there is any good reason for us to change this tradition? For us in the twentieth century the use of a traditional Torah, megillah, and mezuzah serves as a direct link with the past and with fellow Jews. As Reform Jews we are open to suggestions for change, but only for good and valid reasons. No such reasons exist in this instance. We may contrast this with the use of a Torah which is very expensive. If a congregation cannot afford a Torah then it may simply read from a printed Bible until a Torah can be acquired (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #69). No great expense is involved with a mezuzah. It is possible for everyone to set aside enough money to purchase a mezuzah with the proper parchment.

We should be careful about any unnecessary escalation of the costs of this parchment. It might well be possible for congregations to train scribes who can produce mezuzot and do so at a minimal charge or perhaps as a gift to the congregation. We at Rodef Shalom years ago trained a high school student who wrote a megillah which we still use.This should be encouraged.

There are some unusual conditions under which a paper mezuzah may be acceptable. For example, during the recent persecution of Soviet Jews,affixing a mezuzah presented an act of courage. As a kosher text was difficult to obtain a printed text was acceptable under those circumstances until an appropriate text could be obtained.

It is especially important for a synagogue gift shop to sell only kosher mezuzot. Anyone purchasing a mezuzah would assume that the text was kosher. A printed text violates the prohibition of Leviticus "do not place a stumbling block before the blind" (Lev 19:14). If for some reason a paper text is provided by the supplier, then this should be made absolutely clear to the purchaser. Better yet, a kosher text should be substituted.

In summary, therefore, the gift shop of a congregation should sell only mezuzot with a kosher text. Anything less would be inappropriate.


  1. See my post here:

  2. Question - my take of the word "prust" is usually someone or something that is vulgar, but with a SEXUAL conotation. I guess whenever I heard it said in yeshiva, it was always with a sexual slant, denigrating a rasha or the like for sexual behavior. But then I was talking with my uncle this evening and I used the word to describe Hugh Hefner ("a prusta person who has been blessed with 80 years of life") and he said that when he was growing up that the Yiddish word "prust" just meant coarse or unrefined. Am I off base here or is there a reason I might have always heard "prust" used with a sexual slant?

  3. Ah, but what if they're vegans, and don't use animal products? I'm surprised that this wasn't an issue.

  4. They seem to at least in theory have a concept of daas Torah. It's the
    Rabbis at the top who determine "what makes sense". Note the responsa didn't say if you think parchment
    makes no sense, you don't need it. No, the Rabbi who wrote this is deciding what makes sense. Interesting.

  5. Another observation:
    They don't care what the reason is for how parchment came to be used. The main thing is "it's tradition" (sounds like fiddler on the roof).

    I guess that's l'shitasam, that regardless of the origins, every generation is entitled to discard the old "if there is good reason".

    Just the opposite of us; Once there is a takana, we can't uproot it even if the original reason no longer applies (such as yom tov shaini after the fixed claendar was put in place).

  6. It's interesting, but if you think about it, it has to be this way. If the reform rabbis thought any differently... they'd be out of a job!