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Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5771
Ask the Rabbi: Should a mezzuza be affixed on the door of a restaurant run by non-Jews but owned by a Jew.
Question: If a Jew owns a restaurant that is run by non-Jews (the Jewish owner walks in only occasionally) and is in a non-Jewish area, must he affix mezuzot to its doorposts?
Answer: At first glance, he should affix mezuzot, as the major component of the obligation of mezuza is ownership (see Chulin 135b). It is true that if one Jew rents out a home to another Jew, it is the tenant who is obligated in mezuza (Bava Metzia 101b). However, that might be because a renter has a semi-ownership that is most pertinent to the obligation of mezuza (see Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 286:3). Also, according to many opinions, that halacha is only rabbinic because the renter benefits from the mezuza’s protection or because he looks like the owner (see Tosafot, Menachot 44a; Shut R. Akiva Eiger I, 66).
Yet, there are possible grounds to exempt our Jewish owner. There is strong basis to say that the landlord is exempt when he rents out because inhabitation of the place is a necessary component of an obligation in mezuza (Ritva, Bav Metzia 101b). In our case, the Jewish owner does not frequent the restaurant in such a manner. This claim seems to be the subject of a machloket. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 286:4) says that even an area of one’s home that is frequented only by non-Jewish workers needs a mezuza because they function there on behalf of the Jewish owners. Rav M. Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, YD II, 141, explaining Rashi) extends this logic. He says that a landlord would have been obligated in mezuza because he rents it out for his own profit and certainly if he keeps his furnishings there and is exempt only because he lacks full access. Our owner, then, would be obligated.
This matter is related to that of a hospital. Many poskim exempt a Jewish patient who will stay in one hospital room for a long time from mezuza in his room because he has no legal connection to the room. Shevet Halevi II, YD 156 (among others) says that in Israeli hospitals, the Jewish owners need to affix mezuzot even though they do not live in the rooms because the usage is an extension of their ownership. However, he also mentions that numerous Jewish staff members come in and out of these rooms. It is not clear what he would say about a Jewish-owned hospital occupied predominantly by non-Jews, which is parallel to your case. Pitchei Mezuzot (286:123) demonstrates that there is a machloket whether or not it is important who comes and goes.
Part of the relevance of the actual users of the place finds expression in the Rashba (Chulin 135b), who says that the Torah requires a mezuza in a building owned jointly with a non-Jew because the Jew needs the mezuza’s protection. According to this understanding of the mitzva, if the owner rarely frequents the place and thus does not need particular protection there, he would be exempt. On the other hand, we find that one is obligated in mezuza in a storage room for wine or oil (Shulchan Aruch, YD 286:1), presumably even if he goes there infrequently. (One might claim that this is in a case where it is an extension of his home.)
It is unclear whether mezuzot are required in commercial settings, even if a Jew works long hours there (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, G-3). The standard p’sak is to affix one without a beracha out of doubt. This doubt provides another reason for exemption in our case.
Finally, safety is another factor for leniency. Although a renter may not remove the mezuza he affixed upon vacating a house, he should remove it if the next renter is a non-Jew (Bava Metzia 102a) because of concern the latter might mistreat it. Some talk of a similar concern of non-Jewish reaction regarding jointly owned property (Shach, YD 286:6). This could conceivably be an issue in our case even if a Jew is the only business owner.
Combining indications, there are enough reasons for leniency not to affix a mezuza to the building of a Jewish owned business that is not mainly frequented by Jews, and this seems to be the minhag. It would be laudable to affix mezuzot without a beracha if there is not a high chance of their being disgraced.
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