Doorway Dispute

From: Dennis

Dear Rabbi,

I will be moving into a home that is presently occupied by Jewish people. I know that a leaving resident cannot take down the mezuzot and leave the house without mezuzut when he knows that the new occupants are Jewish. The seller called me to ask me to bring 9 mezuzot to replace the 9 she is taking with her. Since she has expensive mezuzot ($60 each) she figures I’d rather replace them than pay for hers. She is correct, especially since I already own a few. My question is this: There will be a few weeks between the time they leave and I move in when the painters will be painting. I would prefer not putting up my mezuzot until after they have painted and I can buy nice mezuza covers. The seller prefers that my mezuzot be up when she takes hers down. Do I have time, or must I do as she says? Can the mezuzot be wrapped in plastic and put up with tape rather than with a proper cover and nails until I move in? And what if I said I couldn’t pay for her mezuzot, can she still take them?

Dear Dennis,

Yes, you have time. Before you move in you have no obligation at all to put up mezuzot, and you don’t need to comply with the request of the current occupants.

But you are a nice person and you want something tactful to tell them. If you simply “show them the door” they may “go through the roof,” and your relationship will surely be “out the window.” So I suggest you tell them the following:

True, generally, when moving out of a house it’s forbidden to remove the mezuzot if a Jewish person will be moving in. This is based on an incident in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 102a) where a person moved out, took his mezuzot, and as a result, ended up burying his wife and two sons. But the poskim qualify this rule: One may take down the mezuzot if he needs them and the new tenant is not going to pay for them (Sh.A., Y.D. 291:2). That’s the case here: They need the mezuzot and you don’t want to pay for them.

Furthermore, you said the house is going to be painted. Before painting, it’s recommended that the mezuzot be removed so they don’t get damaged (Yesodei Yeshurun, Ma’arechet Beit Haknesset 2, citing the Atzei Zayit).

So for both of these reasons (i.e., you won’t buy the mezuzot and the house will be painted), the present occupants need not worry about removing them when they leave. And once the current occupants remove the mezuzot for a permitted reason, the unoccupied home may remain “mezuza-less” until you move in.

If, nevertheless, they do not want to leave the house without mezuzot, they can either leave theirs (or some inexpensive others, such as from a gemach) until you start painting or until you put up your own. In such a case, arrange in advance when and who will remove the mezuzot that are left and how they shall be returned.

Speaking of doorway disputes, this reminds me of the following:

People experiencing difficulties in life often check that their mezuzot are kosher and properly affixed on their doorposts. Once, a certain non-religious person’s kids were becoming religious one by one. He didn’t know what to do. Comically, one of his friends mentioned that maybe the source of his problems is that there’s something wrong with his mezuzot. When he approached the local rabbi with his “problem”, the rabbi responded, “If your children are becoming religious, when you check your mezuzot you’ll probably find they’re kosher!”

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