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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 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.