One of our alumnae posed the following question via email:
She is sharing an apartment with another roommate who is Jewish and two other roommates who are not. She has put up mezuzot on her room and the room of the other Jewish roommate and she is wondering if the communal areas of the apartment require mezuzot or not.
The question seems to be dealt with directly by the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 286:1) when he lists the places that have an obligation to have a mezuzah. The Shulchan Aruch says that a house owned by partners must have a mezuzah, the Rama adds that this applies only to Jewish partners who own a house, however if a Jew and non Jew own a house together it does not require a mezuzah.
The decision of the Rama is problematic both as far as it’s source and as far as it’s logic is concerned.
The source in the gemara that deals with any sort of partnership in mezuzah is found in Chulin 135b. The gemara is dealing with various mitzvoth that may or may not be effected by lack of singular ownership, such as trumot and maaserot, the first born animals and chalah. In all of the cases the gemara tells us that the phrase “your” (in plural) used in each and every case mentioned, indicates that the Torah is speaking to the specific audience at hand, Jews, to the exclusion of non Jews who have entered into a partnership with a Jew. Therefore if there exists a “mixed” partnership none of the aforementioned mitzvoth apply.
When it comes to mezuzah the gemara says that even though the Torah says “your” house in the singular nonetheless partners are still included because of another pasuk which tells us that mezuzah is meant to increase “your” days which is written in the plural, teaching us that even property owned by partners is obligated.
The Mordechai, in Avoda Zara poses the dilemma that we are dealing with: are we to infer from the fact that the gemara deviated from the pattern that it had established earlier in excluding non Jewish partnership from other mitzvoth and made no mention of non Jews at all when it comes to mezuzah that a “mixed” partnership is indeed obligated; or are we to note the reason that partners of any type are obligated, which is only because the Torah has a special interest in “increasing our days”, which applies to Jews only?
He concludes that a “mixed” partnership is indeed exempt from Mezuzah and this is the source for the ruling of the Rama.
The problem is that discussing the same matter the Rashba comes to the exactly opposite conclusion obligating such a partnership and this is quoted by the Bet Yosef in a latter addition to his work. It is believed that this is the reason that when the Shulchan Aruch discussed partnerships he didn’t mention any distinction at all because he sides with the Rashba who believes that the religion of the parties is irrelevant. Many commentators point out that the omission of a distinction on the part of the Rambam would as well lean in this direction. In short the Rama maybe based on the opinion of the Mordechai but there seems to be equally weighty evidence on the other side of the argument as well.
The Shach in his comments on the Shulchan Aruch as well, rejects the notion of partial non Jewish ownership as being an exemption for mezuzah. He however accepts the Rama’s decision on the grounds that it may be dangerous to put up a mezuzah in such a situation as the non Jew may suspect the Jew of witchcraft and kill him!!! He goes as far as to explain that the Jews did not put Mezuzot on the gates of the “Jewish streets” (ghettos?) even though all the residents were Jewish, because the non Jews would either remove the Mezuzah and disgrace it.
[The comments of the Shach have to be studied in light of the question of how far one must go in their observance of Mitzvoth, which we will not go into in this shiur].
In light of all that has been stated above the Aruch HaShulchan concludes against the ruling of the Rama and rules that a partnership with a non Jew does not automatically exempt one’s house from mezuzah. As far as the issue of danger is concerned he writes that each case must be judged on it’s own merit and I would assume that in this particular case there would hopefully not be too much to worry about.
If we are to follow the psak of the Aruch HaShulcahn then we would conclude that the public areas in the apartment are indeed obligated in Mezuzah.
I cannot end this shiur without mentioning the ambivalence that I had in answering such a question. The circumstances of responsa literature tell us a tremendous amount about the societies in which Jews have lived through out the ages. While I am happy to be able to assume that a Jew sharing an apartment with a non Jew is free to practice his or her religion openly, I would hope that we would be living in a time and place where we would be striving to enhance our Jewish experience by surrounding ourselves with our brothers and sisters. While Judaism has respect for people of other religions, I wonder if Chazal would look upon such living arrangements as a “lechatchila”. I am aware of the circumstances that exist in housing arrangements on certain college campuses, and I assume that to be the background of this question. In this week’s Parsha we are told of the symbolism of the Mezuzah as the element that was designed to extenuate the very uniqueness of Am Yisrael.
May the next Hilchot Mezuzah question that is posed in our generation be related to the obligation of affixing a Mezuzah on the doorposts of the Mikdash.