Rav Kook Torah

VaEtchanan: Mezuzah and Eretz Yisrael


The Torah commands us to affix mezuzot to the doors of our houses: וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל-מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.

This mitzvah would not seem to have any particular connection to the Land of Israel. After all, the obligation applies equally anywhere in the world.  Under certain conditions, even a boat on the high seas must have mezuzot!

The Talmud in Menachot 44a, however, does make a distinction when performing this mitzvah in or outside the Land of Land. While homeowners are obligated to affix mezuzot as soon as they move in, renters may wait thirty days. Yet this grace period of thirty days only applies outside the Land.1

Why is that?

The Talmud writes that a person renting a home in the Land must immediately put up a mezuzah because of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel.

Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

According to Rashi, the Sages wished to encourage people to live in the Land. If a person spends money on mezuzot - and the obligation to install mezuzot falls on the renter, not the owner - then he will be less likely to leave his residence in Israel. The renter has already put money in the apartment, and usually one is not allowed to remove mezuzot upon vacating the premises.

Additionally, even if the renter does leave, the apartment will be more attractive to other Jewish renters, as it is already outfitted with mezuzot.

Rav Kook had trouble accepting this explanation. Are mezuzot so expensive that this will determine where someone will choose to live?

Tosafot suggested that, on a Biblical level, only homeowners are obligated to affix mezuzot. As the verse says, “Write them on the doorposts of your houses and gates” (Deut. 6:9). The rabbis extended the obligation to renters, on condition that they live in the house for more than thirty days. Why thirty days?

Rabbeinu Manoach (cited by Beit Yosef, YD 286) wrote that only a true “dweller” is obligated to affix mezuzot. Until thirty days, the renter is still considered a “temporary dweller” — a traveler who may decide to leave for another location — and is exempt from observing the mitzvah.

But renting in the Land of Israel is different. A person fulfills the positive mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael with any type of dwelling in the Land — even renting. As the verse says, “וִישַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ” (Num. 33:53). Rav Kook reasoned that since renting is deemed ‘dwelling’ in terms of the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, it is also considered ‘dwelling’ for the mitzvah of mezuzah.2

Children of Zion

Rav Kook called attention to this Halakhic ruling — that Jews living in Eretz Yisrael immediately acquire full residency — to the British High Commissioner. 

Despite Britain’s promises to establish a national home for the Jewish people, the British government imposed strict limits on Jewish immigration. The authorities were deporting illegal immigrants, and Rav Kook requested that the deportations be halted.

The High Commissioner was surprised. “I know that you respect law and order,” he noted. “After all, the Talmud teaches dina d'malkhuta dina — one must obey the law of the land. These people have violated the law by entering the country illegally. How can you argue in their favor?”

“The law refers to new immigrants,” Rav Kook replied. “But these people are not new immigrants; they are returning citizens.

“Our Sages explained that a Jew who was born in Zion, as well as one who looks forward to seeing her, are both considered to be children of Zion. ‘אחד הנולד בה ואחד המצפה לראותה’ (Ketubot 75a). In other words, a person who was born outside the country, yet yearns to see Zion and Jerusalem — he or she is also a child of Zion.

“Spurred by great yearnings for Zion, these new arrivals took great risks and traveled by circuitous routes to come here. As the rabbis wrote, these Jews are ‘children of Zion.’ They are not new immigrants, but returning citizens!”

Rav Kook concluded warmly, “Our country should receive them with open arms, like an overjoyed mother welcoming home children who return, after long years spent wandering in distant lands.”

(Adapted from Da’at Kohen 179; Mo'adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 517-518)

1 If the renter signs a rental contract for more than 30 days, many authorities write that even outside the Land he must affix mezuzot right away.

2 We find a similar line of reasoning in other areas of Halachah. For example, the Sages wrote all fruit set aside for Shabbat must be tithed, even if “the preparatory work was not completed.” The mitzvah of eating meals on Shabbat confers upon the fruit the status of finished fruits (Beitzah 34b).