Many people will smile when they see this question. Others will frown. And everyone will gain from reading this article -- since this question provides an opportunity to discuss many aspects of the laws of mezuzah.
Let us start from the very beginning:
"I live in an apartment building in New York. My building does not have a mezuzah; why should my elevator?"
The questioner is, of course, correct. Assuming that his building has both Jewish and non-Jewish residents, most authorities contend that there is no requirement to install a mezuzah (Rama, Yoreh Deah 286:1; quoting Mordechai). The commentaries provide two reasons why no mezuzah is required in this instance, some explaining that the Torah never required a mezuzah on a building unless all its residents are obligated in the mitzvah (Taz, 286:2). Others absolve these buildings from mezuzah out of concern that suspicious non-Jewish residents may think the Jew is hexing them with the mezuzah (Shach 286:6). Although some recognized authorities contend that one must place a mezuzah even in a building shared by non-Jewish residents (Aruch HaShulchan, quoting Rashba and several others) the accepted practice is not to.
However, a building with exclusively Jewish residents must have a mezuzah on every entrance to the building as well as on any other doorways inside the building, even if some of the residents are not yet observant. This is true notwithstanding that no one lives in the hallway or foyer. This halacha requires some explanation:
When the Torah teaches (in this week’s parsha) about the mitzvah of mezuzah, it requires placing it on the side posts (mezuzos) of one’s house and one’s gates. A house is predominantly used for residence, while a gate is not, yet the Torah requires placing a mezuzah on the gates of a Jewish city, or on the gates leading to a Jewish house, because they are entrances to the house (Yoma 11a). Thus, if one enters one’s property through a full gateway, meaning that it has a lintel and side posts, one should place a mezuzah on that entrance. This is true regardless as to how many such "gateways" one enters before one reaches the house (Rambam, Hilchos Mezuzah 6:8). Even a revolving door requires a mezuzah if it has doorposts and a lintel.
Similarly, the hallway doors of a building whose residents are all Jewish require mezuzos. Although the hallways are not suitable for dwelling, they function as entrances to the apartments, and therefore qualify as "gateways."
Sometimes the entrance to a residence includes a gateway to a building’s outside premises, then a gateway to a courtyard, followed by another series of doors leading into the building vestibule. If all the tenants of the building are Jewish, one must install a mezuzah on each entryway, as I explained above.
The Gemara teaches that one places the mezuzah on the right doorpost entering the house (Yoma 11a). Placing the mezuzah on the wrong side invalidates the mitzvah, and reciting a bracha before affixing such a mezuzah is unfortunately a bracha levatalah (a bracha recited in vain). Thus, it is very important to determine whether a doorway is considered an entrance to one room, or the entrance to the other, since this is the paramount consideration in determining which side post is graced with a mezuzah.
WHO IS RIGHT?
Regarding an internal house door connecting one room to a second, it is usually clear whether the doorway is primarily an entrance to one room or to the other. However, there are instances when it is unclear whether the doorway is considered an entrance or an exit -- what does one do in such an instance? This question is sometimes relevant when one has a doorway connecting a living room to a dining room. Since each situation may be somewhat different, I leave this shaylah for one to ask one’s rav.
If one lives in an apartment building with only Jewish inhabitants, the doors to the stairwells also require mezuzos, just like the entrances do, since they lead to residences (see Chovas HaDor, page 45). This halacha can be directly derived from a case in the Gemara, which describes a two family house in which an inside stairway connects the two apartments. The Gemara requires mezuzos on the entrances to the stairwells from each of the apartments (Menachos 34a as explained by Rashi). Although no one resides on the stairway, one must still install a mezuzah on its entrance since the stairwell functions as a "gateway" to a residence.
WHICH IS THE RIGHT SIDE OF A STAIRWELL?
Regarding the placement of a mezuzah on the doorway of an apartment building’s stairwell, we are faced with an interesting predicament - on which side post of the doorway does one place the mezuzah? Is the doorway serving to enter the stairwell, obligating one to place the mezuzah on the right side entering the stairwell, or is it an entrance to the floor, obligating one to place the mezuzah on the right side exiting the stairwell?
The answer to this question may at first seem strange. On the entry level, one should place the mezuzah on the right side entering the stairwell, because this is the method of entering the building. However, on the other floors one should place the mezuzah on the right side entering the floor because that doorway functions primarily as an entrance to the apartments on that floor! (Chovas HaDor, page 45). Thus, we have an anomalous situation of placing some mezuzos on the right side entering the stairway and placing others on the opposite side.
IS AN ELEVATOR DIFFERENT?
Having established that the stairwell of an all-Jewish building requires mezuzos, does the elevator of such a building require mezuzos? Do we consider the elevator doorways as "gateways" to the upper apartments of the building just as a stairway is? Perhaps the elevators are even more of an entranceway to those apartments since people use them more frequently than the stairs! Several responsa discuss this question.
(Bear in mind that many elevators have two doorways, the stationary door that is part of the building, and the door of the elevator "cage" or platform. For purposes of this article, I will refer to the "stationary doorway" and the "platform doorway.")
Although people presumably asked this shaylah decades earlier, the earliest responsum I discovered on this subject is a 5724 (‘64) inquiry by the Helmitzer Rebbe (of New York) to Dayan Yitzchak Weiss, then Av Beis Din of Manchester, England, and later Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis of Yerushalayim (Shu"t Minchas Yitzchak 4:93). In this teshuvah, Dayan Weiss questions whether an elevator requires a mezuzah since it constantly moves and cannot be considered a residence. He compares an elevator to a moving residence, regarding which we find a debate whether it requires a mezuzah. Rav Avraham Dovid of Butchatch, usually called "the Butchatcher," rules that a moving residence requires a mezuzah. According to this opinion, someone who lives in a van or truck requires a mezuzah on the door even if he constantly drives it to new locations (Daas Kedoshim 286:1)!
The major annotator to the Butchacher’s commentary, the Mikdash Me’at, disagrees, contending that a moving residence is considered a temporary dwelling and never requires a mezuzah. In a different responsum, Dayan Weiss deliberates whether a mobile home requires a mezuzah since people often reside in them, whereas using a bus or automobile as a residence is considered temporary and does not require a mezuzah (Shu"t Minchas Yitzchak 2:82; see also Chovas HaDor pg. 37).
Dayan Weiss initially compares an elevator to this dispute between the Mikdash Me’at and the Butchacher, since an elevator is constantly moving. However, he then suggests that an elevator might require a mezuzah even according to the Mikdash Me’at, because even though the elevator moves, it is part of a residence that does not move. He compares this to the following case, which requires some explanation:
The Gemara rules that a house smaller than four amos squared, approximately seven feet by seven feet, does not require a mezuzah (Sukkah 3a). A space this tiny is too small to qualify as a proper residence even for people living in impoverished circumstances. The Torah requires a mezuzah only on a doorway to a house fit to live in.
What if a room is smaller than four amos squared, but is perfectly serviceable for its function as part of a house, such as a walk-in pantry that connects to the kitchen? This room is smaller than four amos squared, and one could argue that as such it is absolved from mezuzah. On the other hand, one could argue that it functions perfectly well for residential use since it is part of a house that is four amos squared.
Indeed, the authorities dispute concerning the halachic status of this pantry. Some poskim contend that this room requires a mezuzah notwithstanding its size since it suffices for its household purpose (Chamudei Daniel, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 286:11). This approach contends that although a house smaller than four amos squared is too tiny to be a domicile on its own, a room suitable for its intended use that is part of a house is not excluded from mezuzah. Dayan Weiss accepts the position of the Chamudei Daniel as the primary halachic opinion (Minchas Yitzchak 1:8).
Other authorities dispute this conclusion, contending that a room this small is excluded from the requirement of mezuzah (Daas Kedoshim 286:19). In their opinion, affixing such a mezuzah is unnecessary and reciting a bracha beforehand is a bracha levatalah, a bracha recited in vain. (Some authorities disagree with the Chamudei Daniel’s position but still require a mezuzah on the right hand side reentering the kitchen as an entrance to the kitchen.)
HOW IS A PANTRY LIKE AN ELEVATOR?
Dayan Weiss explains that the underlying principle of the Chamudei Daniel’s position is that any part of a residence that has a domestic function requires a mezuzah. He reasons that just as the Chamudei Daniel required a mezuzah on a small pantry since it is suitable for its specific use and it is part of a residence, an apartment building elevator also requires a mezuzah since it too is suitable for its intended use and is part of a residence. He therefore concludes that the elevator platform door requires a mezuzah, although without a bracha, out of deference for the authorities who reject Chamudei Daniel’s line of reasoning. (Obviously, one should be careful to affix the mezuzah in a place where it will not be smashed each time the door closes.)
WHAT ABOUT THE ELEVATOR’S STATIONARY DOORWAY?
Does the stationary doorway entering the elevator also require a mezuzah? If it does, then one must install a mezuzah not only on the doorway of the elevator platform, but in addition on the stationary doorway of every floor! Dayan Weiss concludes that these doorways do not require mezuzos, since they are functional only when the elevator cage is opposite them, and at that moment the mezuzah servicing the platform door does double duty, fulfilling the requirement for both the platform as well as the stationary doorway. This last concept, that one mezuzah services all the elevator doors in the building, is by no means obvious, as we will soon see.
A DIFFERING APPROACH
Rav Yaakov Blau, currently a Dayan of the Eidah HaChareidis, reaches a different conclusion regarding whether an elevator requires a mezuzah. He contends that the modern elevator is comparable to the case of the Gemara requiring mezuzos on the doors leading to a stairwell. Rav Blau maintains that an elevator is identical to a stairwell except that one substitutes an elevator platform for a stationary stairway (Chovas Hador, page 44). He reasons that since the primary entrance to an apartment on the upper story of a building is through the elevator, the stationary doorways leading to the elevator are therefore "gateways" to the upper apartments, no different from the stairwells, and are definitely obligated to have mezuzos.
Having concluded that the "stationary doorway" of each elevator floor requires a mezuzah, Rav Blau then addresses the question concerning which direction the mezuzah should face. Do we place the mezuzah on the stationary doorway entering the elevator or exiting it? He concludes that since the elevator’s main function is to transport people to the upper floors, the doorway on the entrance floor requires a mezuzah on the right side entering the elevator, and the other floors require one on the right side exiting the elevator.
Why are the mezuzos on different sides? Since the function of the stairs and elevator are as means to access the upper stories, one should place the mezuzah on the right side as one walks in their direction.
On the other hand, whereas Dayan Weiss contends that the platform doorway requires a mezuzah because it is part of a residence, Rav Blau rules that the platform doorway does not require a mezuzah since its function is exclusively as a moving passageway.
Thus, although both Dayan Weiss and Rav Blau require mezuzos on an elevator, they completely disagree which doorway requires a mezuzah, Dayan Weiss requiring one on the platform doorway, but not the stationary doorways, and Rav Blau concluding just the opposite, that the stationary doorways require mezuzos, but not the platform doorway. (By the way, the Helmitzer Rebbe, who asked Dayan Weiss originally, held the same way as the Chovas HaDor.)
Indeed, since these are two independent disputes, someone could conclude that the platform doorway and the stationary doorways both require mezuzos. If one accepts Dayan Weiss’s premise that the elevator requires a mezuzah because it is part of a stationary permanent residence, and one disputes with his contention that the mezuzah on the platform suffices for the stationary doorway, one would conclude that both the platform doorway and the stationary doorways require mezuzos.
AN OPPOSITE APPROACH
On the other hand, one could reach the exact opposite conclusion and not require a mezuzah on any of the elevator doorways, as we will see. Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh 2:97:23) conjectures that the elevator should be treated differently from a stairwell because the elevator is not suitable for residential use at all but only for transportation. Further, he absolves the stationary door of the building from mezuzah because it can never be used independently of the elevator. Thus, its use is also considered non-residential.
Rav Shlomoh Zalman presents another reason to absolve the stationary door from mezuzah -- since as soon as the elevator changes floors, the stationary doorway becomes useless, and it therefore should not be compared to a stairwell.
In his written responsum on the subject, Rav Shlomoh Zalman concludes that it is preferable to install a mezuzah without a bracha on the right side of the stationary doorway entering the elevator on the entrance level of the building since this is the main entrance and exit into the building. The reason for his differentiation between the ground floor elevator and the other elevators is unclear, and I have been told orally that he did not really feel that there was any necessity even for the ground floor mezuzah.
In practical terms, many follow the lenient opinions that do not require a mezuzah on either the platform doorway or the stationary doorway. Residents of a building with only Jewish inhabitants should agree to jointly ask a rav whether they are required to install a mezuzah on the doorway.
Just as a properly functioning elevator lifts us to great heights, so the properly fulfilled mitzvah of mezuzah takes us far higher. We touch the mezuzah whenever we enter or exit a building to remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant presence, and it is a physical and spiritual protective shield. Whenever passing it, we should remind ourselves of Hashem’s constant protection.