Question: Should your mezuzah be affixed on an angle or standing up straight?
Short Answer: Although the Vilna Gaon ruled that the mezuzah should be affixed standing up vertically, Ashkenazim should affix their mezuzos slightly slanted. Sefardim, on the other hand, should affix their mezuzos standing up vertically, according to Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l.
I. Like a Bolt
The Gemara in M’nachos (33a) states in the name of Rabbi Yehudah and Rav that if you affix your mezuzah like a “nagar” – loosely translated as a “bolt” – it is pasul. However, the Gemara then questions this rule, based on the house of Rabbi, where all the mezuzos were affixed like bolts. The Gemara then answers that the bolts in the house of Rabbi were affixed differently than the bolts referred to by Rabbi Yehudah and Rav.
Rashi and Tosafos (ibid) understand the Gemara’s answer in different ways. Rashi explains that if the mezuzah is affixed vertically (standing up), it is kosher, but if it is affixed horizontally (lying down), then it is pasul. Tosafos, on the other hand, explain that if the mezuzah is affixed vertically (standing up), it is pasul, but if it is affixed horizontally (lying down), then it is kosher. Additionally, both Rashi and Tosafos suggest an alternative explanation: that the house of Rabbi had slanted mezuzos.
II. Proof From Sefer Torah
One of the proofs that Tosafos bring that a mezuzah should be affixed horizontally (lying down) is that the sefer Torah was placed lying down in the Aron in the Mishkan. Indeed, this proof is relevant to another discussion in halachah as well: According to Tosafos, the parchment is placed lying down in the t’filin, instead of standing up.
However, the Nimukei Yosef disagrees with this proof and suggests that it is more respectful for the sefer Torah to be placed standing up in our aron in shul. See Mishnas Moshe (siman 20) for further discussion on this machlokes. Indeed, many Acharonim explain that Rashi requires the mezuzah to be standing up because this is more respectful for the mezuzah. [See sefer K’vius Mezuzah K’Hilchasah (13:3*) who brings numerous other reasons as well, including that this law is Halachah L’Moshe MiSinai.]
III. Practical Halachah
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 289:6) paskens like Rashi, that the mezuzah should be affixed vertically (standing up). While the Rama (ibid) initially notes that the minhag of certain places is to follow Rashi, he then cites the opinion of Tosafos that the mezuzah should be affixed horizontally (lying down), and concludes that it is proper to follow both opinions by affixing the mezuzah on a slant. The Chayei Adam (15:19), as well as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (11:6), both follow the Rama, and rule that the mezuzah should be affixed on a slant. [As an aside, our shulchan in shul is often on a slant in order to follow this compromise of the Rama with respect to the sefer Torah. See sefer Maadanei Asher (siman 63).]
However, the Vilna Gaon (ibid) – after explaining that the Rama suggests that the mezuzah be affixed slanted in order to be yotzei both opinions of Rashi and Tosafos – argues on the ruling of the Rama. The Vilna Gaon says that Rashi is the correct opinion and holds that the mezuzah should be affixed vertically. The Vilna Gaon appears to support his ruling from the Rama himself, who seemingly agrees to the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling (Orach Chayim 32:45) that the parchment is placed standing up in the t’filin.
Indeed, the Mishnah B’rurah (Biur Halachah, Orach Chayim 32:45) likewise follows Rashi, and cites a Noda BiYehudah who rules that the parchment need not be placed lying down in the t’filin, because we do not follow Tosafos in this issue at all.
IV. The Ashkenazi Custom
The Chazon Ish and the Steipler reportedly (Orchos Rabbeinu, Vol. 4, pg. 249) followed the Vilna Gaon and ruled like Rashi, that the mezuzah should be affixed standing up vertically. They challenged the “slanted” compromise of the Rama, because this accomplishes neither opinion – not Rashi nor Tosafos. However, the Chazon Ish and the Steipler slanted their mezuzos a little bit (“ma’she’hu”) in order to not deviate from the accepted custom to slant the mezuzah. This slanting, however, is still considered standing up straight in their opinion.
Note though that many disagree with the reasoning of the Chazon Ish and the Steipler, and hold that affixing the mezuzah completely slanted is a good compromise, as the mezuzah is now neither a vertical “bolt” or a horizontal “bolt.” See sefer K’vius Mezuzah K’Hilchasah (13:3*) in the name of the Minchas Elazar. On the other hand, the sefer K’vius Mezuzah K’Hilchasah (13:3*) also brings the Daas Kodashim who holds that a small slant also accomplishes the compromise of the Rama.
However, the sefer Avnei Yishfe (7:105:4) notes that the simple custom is to follow the Rama and to slant the mezuzah completely, as this follows both the opinions of Rashi and Tosafos.
V. The Sefardi Custom
It would appear that the minhag of Sefardim should be to affix the mezuzah vertically standing up, like the simple understanding of the Shulchan Aruch. However, the sefer Maadanei Asher (siman 63) cites numerous Sefardi poskim, including the Shulchan Gavo’a, who rule that the mezuzah should be affixed slanted. Nevertheless, the Maadanei Asher (siman 63) concludes with the ruling of Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in Halichos Olam 8, pg. 256) that the mezuzah should be standing up vertically like the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch.
However, Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l also ruled (Mei’ein Omer, 6:2:28) that a Sefardi individual who purchases a house with mezuzos that are already affixed slanted need not take down and re-affix the mezuzos in a standing-up position.
Next Week’s Topic: Does a door leading to the backyard of a house require a mezuzah? If yes, which side of the door do you affix the mezuzah?
Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email EphraimGlatt@gmail.com.