Op Ed: Have no Fear, “Undercover Mezuza Man” is here!

by CJ Ross

Have no Fear, “Undercover Mezuza Man” is here!

When there’s something strange and your Mezuzah don’t look good, Who you gonna call? Mezuzahbusters!

Brace yourself for the crack undercover sting that has just gone viral! For those of you just tuning in, a fellow in Chicago (we shall call him YDW) conducted a top secret experiment which is sure to be featured in an upcoming episode of “Law and order,” or “Agent Emes.”

Here’s the plot. YDW along with several others, conspired to secretly purchase ten (10) Mezuza’s from eight (8) different Crown Heights establishments. These purchases were allegedly made by a “chabad outreach” organization. The organization colluded with YDW in deceiving the merchants, and then shipped the sealed boxes they received to YDW, who videoed what he no doubt proudly considered a scientific study worthy of being published in the prestigious Journal “Sheker Hachein,” a semi annual fictional periodical, that I just made up.

YDW’s premise appears to be that purchasing ten (10) Mivtzoim Mezuza’s from say “Moshe Klein” or “Judaica World” who incidentally, move thousands of these bad boys each year, would be a good representative sample. YDW secured witnesses to ostensibly corroborate that no tampering was done to these samples. I especially enjoyed the fast forwarding sound effects as he unpacked each box. Next, he divided the Mezuza’s up into 8 cute little Ziplock baggies, making sure to remove any identifying marks, and once the Eidim were makabel Kinyan, he showed us how they all traveled to a “qualified” Soifer’s home to get them checked. I love class trips!

The venerated soifer showed us his CV. I wonder if he has worked for one of these 8 Judaica Establishments? Inquiring minds want to know! We are fortunate that he shared his rubric of what he considered to be a non Kosher Mezuzah, and he then proceeded to check each one. The results were color coded with BLOOD RED corresponding to PASUL and BRIGHT GREEN as KOSHER. Kudos for the token “Bedieved” and Yellow “Shailas” categories.

Next, this veteran expert, delivered his Psak. SPOILER ALERT. Shockingly, most were PASUL (except for 1 lucky winner who had ALL Ten (10) of his Mezuazahs in AWESOME MINT condition. I’m thinking they may have accidentally shipped Alter Rebbe’s mezuzas. Who knows! I’ve been working on some great advertising slogans they might consider using… “We are the ONLY KOSHER Mezuzahs in town” or “We are the 100%” and “Go Green with Machon Stam”. Understandably, they would need to change their name or get a DBA for the last slogan. But I think it would be worth it financially. I’m just saying.

After receiving this devastating analysis, YDW reports that he then made the executive decision, (this is his baby and he gets to call the shots,) to go to another “qualified soifer” who will remain anonymous (because he wont tell us the guys name) who, get this, reports EXACTLY the same findings as the first brilliant soifer! Amazing. TWO Jews, ONE SAME OPINION!

Moving along, YDW then outed by personal name, eg: WALMART otherwise known as “SAM WALTON,” and labeled 7 out of the 8 establishments as “FRAUDSTERS”. This is no surprise as from the very beginning of his feature film YDW used the term “FRAUD,” and at the closing credits he exhorted viewers with a call to action to “Whistelblow” any past experiences they may have had when buying a mezuzah.

YDW concludes his Mezuzah flick with what he thinks are ABSOLUTE truths.

  1. Thousands of people around the world are buying Mezuzah’s that are simply NOT KOSHER.
  2. ONLY one (1) establishment came out 100% Kosher
  3. Five (5) places are selling Mezuzahs of decent quality, but these Mezuzahs have NOT been checked, and many of these Mezuzah’s are NOT Kosher.
  4. If your’e buying from those stores, have them checked by someone else AFTER you purchase them.
  5. Make sure the Mezuzah you are buying is a 100% Kosher.
  6. Two (2) of the leading sellers of Mezuzahs in Crown Heights, should NOT be selling these at all.

So now that you know the rest of the story, here are some thoughts to ponder. I hate to throw YDW under the bus, and I apologize in advance for what may sound as harsh and insensitive. On a personal level, I mean no disrespect to him and wish him well. However, his actions require someone standing up and calling out his behavior.

I believe YDW’s intended audience is a vast demographic to include frum and non frum Jews alike. He is speaking to those who are not familiar with the terms “Soifer- Sribe” and “Shluchim- Emissaries“ as he explicitly defines these terms in his motion picture. He seems to think that people will see things as black and white “Kosher/Pasul” or “Eiruv/No Eiruv.” It flows that his intent is to convince everyone that 9/10 Mezuzahs you purchase in Crown Heights are Pasul. I fully understand that he qualifies albeit quite subtly, that these are “mivtzoim” mezuzahs. However, his message is clear and unequivocal that these sellers are committing fraud and pushing Pasul mezuzahs.

At the end of his feature presentation YDW, (see items 1-6,) draws conclusions that are at best incoherent, and at worst deceiving, manipulative, and grossly malicious. He intimates that this is Fraud. Apparently, he is unfamiliar with the definition of Fraud. (There has to be intent, and I don’t know how he makes that leap.) He maintains that thousands of people are buying NOT KOSHER mezuzahs. “Not kosher” according to whom? For a mezuzah to be classified as not kosher, there has to be a fatal flaw in it that invalidates it. Many times one Soifer might classify something Kosher, while another equally learned soifer may find it totally acceptable. There are many Rishonim and Achronim that discuss these issues, and rule accordingly. For YDW not to address the specific flaws found, and point to the halachic decisors to back up his claims, is unprecedented in Torah discourse, and is what leads me to suspect his malicious intent. By the way, intent will play a significant role in determining if he is indeed liable for the damage he has caused. I would speak to a financial adviser ASAP if I were him.

YDW’s finding included ONLY one (1) perfect establishment. That doesn’t sound alarming to the average bear? He goes on to comment on the “decent quality” of the mezuzahs from five (5) of the places, and then asserts (Im not sure how he could possibly know this) that they “WERE NOT CHECKED”. He does not tell us how he came upon this knowledge, and then he tells us that MANY are NOT kosher. He also issues a directive that if you purchase mezuzahs from these places, you would need to get them checked. Who does that? Who buys a mezuzah and then takes to another Soifer (and pays) to have it checked? He also tells us that in buying a mezuzah we must make sure its 100% Kosher. Sounds rather OCD to me. Finally, he says that the two (2) most egregious unwitting participants of this study, “should NOT be selling these at all”. Get ready for a lawsuit my dear friend.

It appears that YDW believes it is a Mitzvah to destroy the reputations of 7 businesses in our community based on the sampling of ONLY Ten (10) Mezuzahs from each place. The amount of hefsed that he has caused to these establishments is incalculable, and he will unfortunately have to account for it Min Hashamayim. In addition, I believe his intent was malicious in the way he outed the merchants, so much so, that there may be a legal cause of action against him personally, for defamation and perhaps even libel. I encourage these establishments to speak to their respective Rabbonim, and take any and all action available to them first in Beis Din and if allowed, civilly, to defend their livelihoods and reputations. Inaction, maybe construed as culpability.

This should be a lesson to us all. If you feel you can make a difference, then your influence counts, use it! However, do so with respect and empathy. Had YDW really cared about effecting change, he might have conducted his shattering and groundbreaking study differently. He might have considered showing the video to ONLY the 7 deficient parties and given them an ultimatum. The conversation might have gone something like this:

YDW: You guys are so Busted! I am sick and tired of all this. Why can’t You all just sell Kosher mezuzas, and not fool innocent unsuspecting people? I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse. I will sit on this video and NOT release it (not now anyway). You are going to make sure you check EACH AND EVERY mezuzah before you sell them. I will be following up with more undercover purchases (so don’t try and figure it out). I will redo my experiment periodically and be in touch. If I find you are still scamming the good people of Gotham, then I will release the video. Oh, and one more thing. Here are your mezuzahs so you can learn what the issues are and I want my money back you……

The author, a scholar of Latvian Orthodoxy, is a resident of the Shechuna and a not so frequent contributor to CrownHeights.info