Pictured: Romance Mezuzah by Michal David
Odd. If you were to take a survey in the US which boasts one of the two top largest populations of Jews in the world (almost equal to Israel), the majority of Jews are very unaffiliated and are more than likely to have a large Evergreen or Fir Tree in their home around the 25th of December before they'd have a Hanukkah Menorah and could belt out Christmas Carols by heart and have no idea as to what brachot to recite when (and if) they light Hanukkah Candles.
Sad state of affairs, isn't it?
However there are two Mitzvot (commandments) that a good majority of Jews, no matter how unaffiliated they are, do keep - one being Brit Milah (circumcision) and the next being Mezuzah.
The Mezuzah (literal translation is doorpost) is written on parchment (Klaf) (made from the hide of a kosher animal, in this case a cow) and on the Klaf the words to famous affirmation of "Shma Yisrael" from the Bible (Deutoronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) written by a Torah scribe in ink with a kosher chicken feather. The words are written ever so meticulously and within the strictest guidelines of Jewish Law (Halacha). The types of writing vary - from the more simple to the fancier and what is known as "muhudar" in Hebrew, meaning exquisite. The writing also differs between the Ashkenazi Jews (those that descend from Central and Eastern Europe), Sephardi (Spanish-Portuguese Jews whose ancestry dwelled in Spain before the expulsion in 1492) and Mizrachi or Oriental Jews (Jews from Arabia, and Asia). Though some customs differ, the concept and the mitzvah are the same.
The Mezuzah Klaf must be encased. Many mistake the encasings as mezuzot themselves, yet the mezuzah claff is the heart, the encasing merely does a job by covering and protecting the parchment.
According to Halacha, the Mezuzah needs to be placed on the right side of the door (from the viewpoint of one entering the room), towards the top and on a slant with the top of the mezuzah facing in towards the room. Most Jewish homes, be they observant or non-observant to the non-affiliated have Mezuzot at the main entrance of their house or apartment. This is how people have identified Jewish homes for thousands of years.
Pictured: Mezuzot from Israel
The Mezuzah needs to be just above shoulder height on the average sized person. Traditionally the encasings were nailed to the doorpost, yet most people now use double-stick tape for the back of the encasing and it is stuck onto the doorpost. The Bracha (blessing) recited is:
Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu l'kboah mezuzah. (translation: Blessed are You G-d, King of the Universe who sanctified us with your commandments and the commanded us to affix the mezuzah. The mezuzah is then affixed.
The majority of Jews worldwide just place the mezuzah on their main entrance, yet Orthodox Jews place Mezuzot in the front of their homes as well as every doorpost leading to another room in their home. The only exception is the bathroom and washroom as it is a prohibition to have a holy object by a bathroom. The mezuzah is holy because it contains the holy name of G-d written inside.
What is very interesting about Israelis per se, I have seen all types of Israelis - from the pious Chassidim to the "arssim" who are of Mizrachi descent wearing tight jeans, and shirts with their hair encased in gel, go out of their way upon approaching a door and kissing the mezuzah with love, respect and holiness.