Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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MICHAEL GREENSTEIN
The Hidden Mezuzah
T
h e
w o r d
mezuzah
has more than one meaning. In the first
place it means doorpost, without any religious component; in
the second instance, however,
mezuzah
refers to the prayer scroll
in a case which may be affixed to the doorpost of any Jewish
home. Hence some confusion arises from the juxtaposition of
doorpost, case, and enclosed scroll. To complicate matters fu r­
ther, the word may be derived from the Hebrew
zuz,
the root
for “to move,” and this contradictory relationship between sta­
tionary doorpost or fixed scroll and its kinetic origin suggests
that the
mezuzah
carries with it a complexity beyond religious
connotations.
Mezuzah
first appears in the Bible in Exodus when Jews are
instructed to mark their doorposts so that the angel of death
may pass over their houses in order to punish only the Egyptian
households. Thereafter the
mezuzah
served to identify Jewish
homes: the threshold became a reminder of history, Exodus,
and Exile — the diasporic condition par excellence, re-enacted
annually during the ritual of Passover. To mark the doorpost
accordingly is to highlight the tensions between home and wan­
dering — the still point in a nomadic universe. The Greeks
placed a statue of Hermes at their gates or doorways to affirm
the possibility of journeying; the
mezuzah
fulfils a similar func­
tion at the threshold of time and place.
The noted anthropologist Victor T u rne r has devoted most
of his career to studying the relationship of thresholds to ritual
processes in different societies. According to T u rn e r ’s scheme,
an individual undergoing a rite of passage passes through three
stages — pre-liminary, liminary, and post-liminary. O f these
three, the liminary or threshold stage is the most important,
for during this intermediate period the individual steps outside
of society’s laws and structures to enter a freer state of
“communitas” which T u rne r compares to Buber’s “I-Thou” re-
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