Mezuzah in an Apartment

Dear Rabbi Fried,

You may have seen the story about the new statute in Texas allowing tenants to put mezuzot on their exterior doorways. Apparently, this was in reaction to a situation where a resident was prohibited from putting up a mezuzah by the rules of his apartment community. I was curious what Jewish law would have said about this situation. If a Jew finds himself living in an apartment complex that prohibits hanging anything in doorways, what is he supposed to do? Defy the ban and hang a mezuzah anyway? Move and incur substantial inconvenience, costs, and possibly lease violation penalties? Or do the property rights of the apartment complex owner simply override the biblical commandment?


Dear Steve,

We all applaud the wisdom and fortitude of the Governor Rick Perry, of Texas, who in June of this year signed the bill you mentioned into law, that apartment owners do not have the right to prevent Jews from attaching a mezuzah onto their doorposts. This came about as the result of a complaint of a Houston couple, who was ordered by the administration of their apartment complex to remove their mezuzah and, after refusing to do so, were charged a fine.  The Florida state legislature passed a similar bill in 2008.

What you raise is a fascinating question: in a situation where no such legislation is in place, such as in Texas before June of this year, apartment owners would have the legal right to forbid their tenants to attach a mezuzah to their doorways. This would raise numerous questions, as you mentioned. 

According to Jewish law, one cannot fulfill a mitzvah through violating someone else’s property rights; to do so could be considered a type of theft. A mitzvah performed through stolen property is not considered a mitzvah, rather it’s considered a sin. 

This issue is discussed by the Halachic authorities of Jewish law with regards to the mitzvah of Sukkah; one cannot build a Sukkah structure on the property of another without their permission. To do so could render it a “Sukkah gezulah” or a “stolen Sukkah” which the Torah disqualifies as a structure worthy of fulfilling that mitzvah.  There are times that apartment complexes have ordered a Jewish tenant to remove their Sukkah, which creates a serious problem; to defy that order and use the Sukkah anyway could be self-defeating, as the Sukkah may be disqualified according to Jewish law. (This is besides the perhaps larger issue of Chillul Hashem, or the desecration of G-d’s Name, for a Jew to openly defy the wishes or directives of the owners in the name of a mitzvah)

 [This, incidentally, can be an issue even in a complex where the owners are understanding and allow the building of a Sukkah if the Jewish tenant is lax in taking down the Sukkah until some time after the holiday; this could become a Chillul Hashem – besides inciting the management to think twice whether to allow this practice in future years!] 

The very same concern could apply to a mezuzah which is attached against the legally binding directives of the owners; one would arguably not fulfill the mitzvah if he or she would defy that order and attach the mezuzah. (This is besides the above issue of Chillul Hashem)

As far as costs, penalties and difficulties in breaking a lease and relocating, the Halachah would require one to pay even up to one fifth of their estate to fulfill a positive mitzvah; if the loss would be more than that amount they would not be required to do so. 

I think the simplest solution in such a situation would be – somewhat of a surprise!  The ideal place to attach a mezuzah is on the outside doorpost to be seen when entering the home. According to most authorities, however, in situations where that would not be possible, one fulfills the mitzvah by attaching the mezuzah onto the inner side of the doorpost as well. This ruling is utilized, at times, when the structure of the door does not permit the attachment of the mezuzah on the outer right side of the doorway (and to attach a mezuzah on the left side is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah). If the attachment outside the door is not possible for other than structural reasons, such as the directives of the owners, one should attach the mezuzah to the inside of the doorpost and would therefore not need to relocate to fulfill this mitzvah.  


Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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