New Bill To Allow Condo Owners to Post Mezuzahs

New Bill To Allow Condo Owners to Post Mezuzahs

by Dvora Lakein

October 5, 2008

( A new bill in Congress will seek to ensure that condo dwellers enjoy the same religious freedoms that others do. New York congressman, Jerrold Nadler, intends to make it illegal for apartment buildings or condo owners to regulate what residents display. If passed, the bill would overturn the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision earlier this summer.

Lynne Bloch, a Chicago resident, certainly appreciates the move.

It was in mid-July that first noted Bloch’s predicament when her co-op, a federal court ruled, had the right to ban the placement of mezuzahs on its hallways’ doorposts. While Americans generally enjoy freedom of religion and expression, American law does not protect an individual’s rights in a co-op. The board of such establishments has the same power as a homeowner to determine protocol.

Following the legal battle, while interesting to Rabbi Shmuel Kesselman, is not nearly as important as getting the job done. Kesselman is the director of the Chabad-Lubavitch sponsored Mezuzah campaign. Mezuza was one of a multi-point mitzvah campaign launched by the Lubavitcher Rebbe back in 1974. The idea was to ensure that Jewish homes have a mezuzah on their front door, and on all the doorways inside their homes. Since then, says Kesselman, general awareness of mezuzahs has skyrocketed.

“When the campaign began 35 years ago,” he explains, “almost 90 percent of mezuzahs were not kosher. People thought that kosher mezuzahs were only for rabbis.” In order for a mezuzah to be kosher, the first two paragraphs of the Shema prayer must be handwritten on parchment by a certified scribe and inserted into a protective case. Today, he says, “a large percentage of mezuzahs on doorposts are kosher.”

Kesselman and his team are sought out by Jews in New York who want mezuzahs on their doorposts. They also make periodic calls to customers on their database to remind them to check their mezuzahs. Even a mezuzah that was written by a proper scribe can have defects or develop problems, which is why they must be checked twice in every seven-year period.

The broader campaign has arms around the world. The Kushner International Mezuzah Bank, under the auspices of Chabad of Bal Harbor, offers free mezuzahs to families in need. Thus far, they have helped nail in 5,694 kosher mezuzahs in 18 countries on five continents. Students, who find themselves with a new address for several years, often receive complimentary mezuzahs from Chabad representatives on campus.

There was a time, admits Kesselman, when it wasn’t only money stopping people from this very noticeable display of Jewish pride. At one point, many refugees from the former Soviet Union were reluctant to do so out of fear. Kesselman and his team went from building to building explaining to people that in their new home, they could perform the mitzvah without fear of recrimination. If Congressman Nadler’s bill becomes law this session, Kesselman is pleased to be able to continue providing that same assurance to condo dwellers as well.

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