20 September 2019 / 20 Elul 5779
The state of California has taken what lawmakers and religious-rights activists around the nation are calling an enormous step forward in ensuring that Jewish residents are able to practice their faith freely, with the Governor signing into law a bill that protects their right to place a Mezuzah on their doorposts. With the rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the nation, sponsors say that the bill will embolden Jewish Californians to live more proudly as Jews.
The Equal Housing Act prevents overt discrimination regarding real estate sales and rentals. However, property owners and managers have invoked homeowner association laws or property covenants that create difficulties for Jewish tenants or condo owners wishing to display a symbol of their faith.
When Meir Lang and his family moved into a new apartment in Mountain View, Calif., they affixed an ornate glass mezuzah case on their doorpost. Soon afterwards, the building management informed them that they had to take it down or be found in violation of their lease agreement.
Lang’s story was one of many used to illustrate the need for such legislation. And while Lang believes that the leasing company asked him to remove the mezuzah, notdue to anti-Semitism, but simply out of ignorance, he thinks the bill will be valuable to protecting religious freedoms.
The “Mezuzah Bill,” (Senate Bill 652) establishes that property owners “shall not enforce or adopt a restrictive covenant or any other restriction that prohibits one or more religious items from being displayed or affixed on any entry door or entry door frame of a dwelling.” Following the bill’s passage, the Legislative Jewish Caucus celebrated by placing mezuzahs on their own office doors.
In recent history, its message of protection and Jewish identity in the face of adversity was re-emphasized by the Rebbe when he launched a campaign in 1974 to encourage the mitzvah’s observance. In 1976, after “Operation Entebbe”, the Rebbe wrote that the events are “an indication that Jews must strengthen all aspects of their security and defences—first and foremost in their spiritual life,” by protecting the home with a mezuzah.
In the aftermath of some of the most horrific acts of anti-Semitic violence targeting Jews and synagogues across the United States, Chabad Rabbis have called for more public observance, not less, echoing the Rebbe’s call.
The current month of Elul is a time for reflection and preparation in advance of the “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One important action to take at this time during Elul is to have our Mezuzah and Tefillin checked by an experienced sofer (“scribe”). (Eli Gutnick may be contacted on 0419 613 141).
Rabbi and Sheyna Riesenberg