The well-known phrase “A man’s home is his castle” expresses the desire for one’s home to serve as a safe place for his/her family, protecting them from any potential enemies or harm. In addition to building strong walls and fortified openings to prevent entry by human thieves, people have also equipped themselves with talismans and holy objects designed to protect them from demons and evil spirits.
The mezuzah, which the Torah commanded the Jews to affix to their doorframes, was originally intended to remind Jewish home owners to keep God’s commandments. Over time, the mezuzah was also attributed with the function of protecting the house. An early testament to this can be found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Pe’ah, 1:1), which tells of a wealthy man who sent a precious stone to Rabbi Judah HaNasi and in exchange, the rabbi sent the man a mezuzah he had written for him. When the wealthy man complained of the inequity of the transaction, Rabbi Judah HaNasi replied that the mezuzah was more valuable than the gem because while the stone had to safeguarded from thieves, the mezuzah protected its owner and saved him from any harm. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Avodah Zarah, 11:1) describes Onkelos the foreigner who kissed the mezuzah when Roman soldiers came to arrest him. When they asked him why he did so, Onkelos replied that the mezuzah attests to the protection provided by God to the residents of the house.
Over the years, it has become customary in many Jewish communities to hang texts of various blessings near the entrance to one’s home in order to keep harm at bay. For example, in the 19th century the words “Let no sadness come through this gate, to afflict neither the elderly nor the young” were inscribed over the entry gate at the home of one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Damascus.
In the early 19th century, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, known as the Yismach Moshe, hung a talisman featuring the rhymed text of the Birkat HaBayit blessing as a means of stopping the plague that had broken out in Hungary’s Jewish community. In 1883, the talisman was printed in the Hungarian town of Munkacs (currently in the Ukraine) and was distributed widely throughout many Jewish communities.
In recent decades it has become popular to hang the Birkat HaBayit blessing in one’s home. The wording of the blessing written by Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum has been altered over time, incorporating numerous changes and additions, and printed on plaques and various ornaments. Some Jewish law adjudicators do not see this talisman favorably, as it seemingly competes with the mezuzah in its role as protector of the house. But others consider this custom as one that enhances the mitzvah with ornaments designed to decorate the home.