I like to talk to the people I see often when I shop in a store. I like to see the same faces, the familiarity that conveys.
Usually it is not profound conversation, but sometimes without realizing, it can turn into something substantial.
José (not his real name) saw me entering to the store and asked me a question:
“Do you know about the little rectangle outside doors?”
“Do you mean the Mezuzah?”
“Sí,” said José, as our conversation was in Spanish.
“Why do some people kiss it and some people don’t?” he asked
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I realized that some people kiss it, but I’ve seen people who don’t. ¿Por qué ese eso? Why is that?”
As we continued talking I realized he was very intrigued. I understand. Some women kiss it, some don’t, and the same goes for men. It is not related to how people are dressed either. I think people kiss the Mezuzah or not without thinking too much. It is like an unconscious thing. You are used to it or not.
José is Catholic, as so many people from South America are. I grew up in Argentina and I’m very familiar with Catholicism. I attended a Jesuit university, Universidad del Salvador, in Buenos Aires.
In New York City, Latinos, usually Catholic or Evangelicals, work together with Jews. So it is great to be open to dialogue. Each one can learn from the other. As I’m Argentinian, some people like to talk to me about El Papa Francisco, Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit from Argentina and is the first Pope to be elected from South America. His birth name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and he favors interfaith dialogue.
He is friends with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, director of El Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer, in honor of the American rabbi who founded the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires in 1962 with a group of leaders. The organization ordains rabbis under the auspices of the Conservative or Masorti Movement. At least a hundred rabbis have been ordained and work in many countries.
Pope Francis has a good relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina. He wrote a book with Rabbi Skorka, Sobre el cielo y la tierra (2010) (On Heaven and Earth, 2013) about their conversations about family, faith, religion, etc.
I told José that I thought it was a custom to kiss the Mezuzah, but I would ask some people and come back with a better answer. But that the Mezuzah is important because of the animal parchment inside handwritten in Hebrew by a sofer, a scribe, with the Shema Israel prayer. I had bought some parchments written in black ink to put inside Mezuzot cases at home.
The word Mezuzah comes from the Hebrew for “doorpost” and the source is the commandment in the Torah on Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “You shall write them upon the doorposts of your home and your gates.”
A few days later, I went back to the store and told him I had asked some people, including a rabbi, and that “It is a custom”; you can kiss the Mezuzah or not. It is not an obligation.
“I think it is similar to when people make the sign of the cross when they pass in front of a church,” he said.
“That is interesting, I never thought about that,” I said. Growing up in Argentina, I had seen many times people making the sign of the cross when they passed a church.
Dialogue among people is so important. It opens your mind; it makes you think about different perspectives, and enriches your life. We don’t need to agree, but if we respect each other we always gain in tolerance. If only we would listen more…
Until next time, keep reading, write comments.