A mezuzah (plural mezuzot) is a small scroll of parchment that has been inscribed with some Torah verses, then placed in a decorative case. It’s affixed to the doorposts of all rooms (except for bathrooms and, depending on the custom, laundry rooms) of any Jewish home.
Those verses in the scroll are also in the Shema, one of the most important prayers in Judaism. It’s also the verses that command us to have mezuzot.
The Shema (which, again, includes the explicit commandment of affixing mezuzot to our doors) is so important, we are expected to recite it every morning and every night. It’s also present in communal services. It’s the first thing a Jewish person is expected to recite in the morning, the last thing before bed, and the last thing a person is expected to say on their deathbed.
Not a big enough deal? How about this one: the traditional interpretation is that the Torah was God’s words written by Moses. Not Moses’ words inspired by God, but God’s direct words. This belief would then mean that God himself personally commanded us, with no room for argument, to have these verses affixed to our doorposts.
I recently had an issue with my front door mezuzah after moving to a new apartment. \
Within a few hours of affixing it (with mounting tape - more on this later), I had a knock on my door and the building manager told me it had to come down.
After some back and forth, the reasons given for were:
- Body corporate by-laws forbade any kind of decoration visible in common areas;
- Fire regulations precluded any kind of fixtures to the unit doors.
Now, I was sure that those by-laws could not be applied in this case, as even if they had been written with the best of intentions, they would still be discriminatory as they would effectively prevent any jewish person from living in the building (would be equivalent to creating a by-law that forbade muslims from wearing a turban). This does seem to be the case and any such by-laws would be in breach of QLD laws (see section below).
With the fire regulations, it took a bit more work and a few more phone calls to get to the bottom of it, but long story short - it’s only a potential problem if:
- It’s a fire door; and
- The mezuzah is affixed with nails/screws/anything that creates a hole in the door and/or door frame.
In Queensland, the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 has limitations and provisions that would effectively prevent discrimination. By-laws banning additions to door frames would prohibit such religious symbols as mezuzot, meaning such by-laws could be struck out as unreasonable and oppressive.
This article from the University of New South Wales Law Journal goes more in-depth into the issue.
Ok, this one was a little harder to get to the bottom of. I had to talk to several people and eventually someone who works in the safety assessment department of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) was able to explain where the potential issue was coming from.
The summary of my few calls:
- From the QFES standpoint, a mezuzah is a non-issue.
- If your front door is a fire door/fire resistant doorset, then your mezuzah should be affixed with double-sided tape and not nails or screws.
- In theory, a fire door technician with a vendetta against the use of mezuzot, could try to claim that the double-sided tape used to affix the mezuzah on the doorframe is somehow impacting the frame’s structural integrity and therefore lowering its fire rating. This claim would not hold up to scrutiny, but this is something people could weaponise. They did mention they’ve never even heard of this happening though, and this was more of a theoretical issue than anything else.
So, the recommendation was:
- If you have a fire door, use mounting tape and not nails/screws.
- From there, either:
- Be present during the next fire door inspection just to be paranoid and point out that your mezuzah is using tape and not nails or screws. This shouldn’t be an issue - I’ve had a mezuzah attached to a fire door go through inspections before, and the technicians didn’t even bat an eye (and I didn’t even mention the mezuzah at all), but again, this is just about ticking all boxes.
- Be proactive and call the company that is responsible for your fire door certification, and just ask them for a confirmation that double sided tape won’t destroy your door.
I have to point out that it’s absolutely insane that anyone would be required to get confirmation that tape doesn’t kill a fire-resistant door in order to be able to express their religion. Bureaucracy does fail us at times.
On the plus side, once this is done, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about anymore. You shouldn’t have had to worry about it at all to begin with, but let’s not go there.
The RTA was very straight to the point:
- You have the obligation to return the property in the same state it was when you moved in (minus wear and tear), so if your mezuzot caused any damage you’re required to fix it.
- You have the right to quiet enjoyment of your home. This includes your right to exercise your religious obligations without being harassed for it. Any attempts to stop you from exercising your right to quiet enjoyment constitutes a breach of the tenancy agreement.
As per RTA instructions, and provided you’re not using nails/screws on a fire door’s frame, this request to remove your mezuzah constitutes a breach to section #183 (quiet enjoyment).
You are then able to issue a notice to remedy breach (form 11) and, if not acknowledged within 48 hours, you can contact the RTA to request dispute resolution.
This can be escalated to QCAT.
Breaches of the quiet enjoyment clause can attract a fine of 20 penalty units.