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Shomer Negiah again

We moved into our new house today. By coincidence, the geographic area that met our location requirements (walking distance to the park, the grocery store, the library, major bus routes) is coterminous with the area that is walking distance to Squirrel Hill's various Orthodox synagogues, so we seem to have become the token Gentiles on the block.

There's something kind of funny to me about leaving a land of modestly dressed women and men who won't shake my hand, only to move into a neighborhood full of modestly dressed women and men who won't shake my hand.

Today's interesting cultural interaction occurred when our movers, who are Israeli, arrived at the new house. Bringing in the first load of boxes, one of them noticed the mezuzah on our front doorway and said, "Oh! You're Jewish?"

"No," I said, "The former owners left that there."

The next time I walked through the doorway, I noticed the mezuzah was gone.

I was somewhat relieved, since I didn't know what I was supposed to do with it -- I think it's supposed to be buried, like an old Torah, but I wasn't sure.

However, then the former owners called to say they'd come by to collect their mezuzot today. So, awkwardly, we had to ask the mover if he'd taken it. He replied that it was obligatory to remove the mezuzah if the new houseowners weren't Jewish, and did not offer to give it back to us. So, I hope the former owners were just coming by to make sure the mezuzot were correctly disposed of, and not because they had any particular sentimental value!


Jul. 30th, 2010 11:44 am (UTC)
As much as I'm totally interested in respecting such benign and simple religious requirements --- like, if it were my house I was moving into and the mover asked for me to give it to them, or asked for me to give it back to the previous owner because it was surely a mistake to leave it behind --- the movers just taking it seems awfully uncomfortable to me. What if it was a piece of furniture instead?
- I'm sorry, our religion prohibits you sitting on this special chair
- But I'm sorry, I tend to prohibit people taking things out of my house without asking me first
Jul. 30th, 2010 11:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, that aspect was a little unnerving. (Our realtor thought it was extremely weird, and she's Jewish.)

On the other hand, I think the mover understood what happened, which I didn't at the time: when they vacated the house, the house sellers didn't yet know whether we were Jewish, and if we had been, apparently the right thing to do would have been for for them to leave their mezuzot in place until we'd had a chance to put OUR mezuzot up. So it definitely wasn't like a chair or something; he knew it had been left there for a specific purpose, and that purpose turned out not to obtain in this situation.

The weirder part for me is that he obviously didn't trust us not to desecrate it in the 12 hours before the former owners showed up to reclaim it. Or else he didn't trust them to actually show up, I guess.

I refrained from telling him that I grew up in a non-Jewish household with a mezuzah on the door. I don't think he would have approved. :-p

(I also refrained from telling him he missed the one on the cellar door.)

Edited at 2010-07-30 11:53 am (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)
Yeah, I only brought up the chair to point in the direction the slippery slope went :)

I did think of the fact that, because of what you said, it was quite a reasonable likelihood that the next family to move into a house in that neighborhood would be jewish --- but then again, I would expect the leaving family to determine this, and then decide whether to leave the mezuzah or not.

Maybe, like you said, there exist families that aren't Jewish, but want to keep mezuzot arond for some reason anyway. It sounds like you're possibly "not allowed" to do this, but that's verging on really legal-philosophically uncomfortable. It reminds me very directly of Peter Suber's comments:

Similarly, most other games do not embrace non-play and do not become paradoxical by seeming to do so. Children often invent games that provide game-penalties for declining invitations to play, or that extend game-jurisdiction to all of "real life" and end only when the children tire or forget. ("Daddy, Daddy, come play a new game we invented!" "No, sweetheart, I'm reading." "That's 10 points!")
(from http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/nomic.htm)
Jul. 30th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
This, of course, reminds me of the Jews in front of the Giant Eagle (Noahides) who, upon learning that I wasn't Jewish, told me my duties as a non-Jew.

See http://gustavolacerda.livejournal.com/413306.html
Jul. 30th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
Those same people looked very uncomfortable hearing that I'm not Jewish but some people in my family are and would not take my word for it that I understand Halakah enough to know that I am not considered Jewish by custom even if I have some Hebrew blood.

I have learned that they are still keen to give me Latkes and Dreidls but won't give me Tefillin. Some of my Orthodox friends won't give me Chometz and others are eager to give it to me. Hooray for confusion!

Edited at 2010-07-30 09:19 pm (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
I guess it makes sense that the movers, who work for the outgoing family, understand their customs, especially since it's Squirrel Hill.

But I find this very weird and somewhat imposing.
Jul. 30th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
No, those were our movers. That they were also Orthodox Jewish is a total coincidence.

In the end, the sellers came over today for their mezuzot and were quite content that the movers did what they did, so it all works out OK.
Jul. 30th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
Well, arguably the mezuzot weren't supposed to come with the house at all -- it's not like they were in the contract or anything, and they were left as a convenience, should the next owners be Jewish. The movers presumably considered them more "property of the Jewish community" (including themselves) than "part of the house." But you would think they'd ask first.

In sort of parallel terms (and this is going to sound really dorky) there's a bit in the seventh Harry Potter book, which I just re-read, in which it is explained that goblins consider everything goblin-made to fundamentally belong to them. Humans that "buy" goblin-made items are just renting them until the death of that human, and goblins consider it criminal that humans will such items to their kin (and therefore, the vast majority of human-owned goblin-made artifacts are "stolen" -- this, of course, generates a certain amount of plot, since many of the important artifacts in the story are goblin-made).
Jul. 30th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Yeah the community-owned-ness thing makes a ton sense to me as an explanation for why it feels weird: my expectations are completely within the framework of strict secular personal property. If you leave it in the house, it's mine, and it certainly doesn't belong to some movers that you never met. But conceptualizing the Jewish community as something that owns mezuzot (and even kinda owns the house itself in a lingering sort of way after the last family moves out) makes those actions pretty sensible.

Then again, of course if this actually happened to me I would totally be like "oh ok sure have it" since I have no use for a mezuzah.