In a country where it’s a nearly ubiquitous custom to kiss a Mezuzah upon entering and exiting a building, at a time when said country is all up in arms about Swine Flu, is probably a bad combination. But the question has already been asked. Can kissing a Mezuzah contribute to the spread of the disease?
What’s the need for the question? Of course yes. Flu is extremely contagious, and it stands to reason that an object that collects bits of saliva from passersby can function like a hub for H1N1. But the Rabbis were asked anyway. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had this to say on the subject, “If a specific order is given in the matter, the mezuzah must be kissed from the air, to ensure that the custom is not forgotten.” That’s a pretty fair compromise, but why must an order be given? We all know that the flu spreads from salivary contact. Do we need an order to tell us so?
Meanwhile, six out of seven doctors interviewed on the subject declined to comment about Mezuzahs in particular, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis. No comment. There was only one doctor brave enough to tell the truth. Kissing Mezuzahs (sans Rabbi Amar’s air-kissing technique) increases the spread of Swine Flu, is dangerous, and people should refrain from doing it. His name is Ilan Youngster, and he based his warning on research he presented a year and a half ago sampling 70 Mezuzahs, which all turned out to contain many dangerous bacteria.
“Perhaps,” he continued, “because of the fact that the mezuzah is a religious object, people are afraid to sterilize it.”
Rabbi Amar responded to Youngster’s recommendation with ambivalence. On the one hand, he didn’t want the Health Ministry to issue an advisory against the practice, however, he recommended that anyone who wants to follow Youngster’s advice, “…put his hand near the mezuzah and kiss it, so as not to miss out on this good and important custom.”
I would ask Rabbi Amar about the commandment of “shmor et nafsheha” which is a Biblical obligation that a Jew watch over his health and well being, which I’m guessing should override a mere custom, but Amar wasn’t available for comment. I also didn’t call him for one either, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis.