Non-Jews and Mezuzot
Recently there was a case in Florida of a woman who was in a legal battle with her condo association over whether she could have a mezuzah affixed to her doorpost. While the condo association claimed that the affixing of a mezuzah violated condo rules, throughout history there are a number of examples of non-Jews either receiving mezuzot from Jews or actually trying to get mezuzot from Jews. In the Jerusalem Talmud we read,
Ardavan sent our teacher (רבינו הקדוש) a priceless gem, with the request, let me have in return an article as valuable as this. So he sent him a mezuzah. He sent back word, I gave you a priceless object, and you returned me something worth but a folar. (jPeah 1:1, trans. J. Neusner)
Most scholarly treatment of this text tried to answer the question why Ardavan would send a give to the Patriarch, and not why the Patriarch sent him a gift in return, with the fact that it was a mezuzah less important. A similar question was asked of R. Yaakov Moelin, the Maharil. Somebody wanted to know whether it was permissible to send a mezuzah to a non-Jewish official who wanted to affix it to a fortress. The official added that if they didn’t send the mezuzah to him he would cause trouble for the Jews. The Maharil responded in the negative, fearing that the mezuzah would be desecrated or at least not receive the appropriate respect. This opinion of the Maharil is brought by R. Moses Isserles in his comments to the Shulhan Arukh and he adds that if there is a fear that enmity (איבה) would develop if the mezuzah is not sent to the non-Jew, then it is permitted. In explaining the Maharil’s opposition, Yedidyah Dinari points out that many non-Jews believed that some Jews possessed magical powers and in the efficacy of amulets written by some of them. It should be pointed out that many of these beliefs were, and still are, held by many Jews.
Update: I realized that I didn’t emphasize that Ardavan is a Babylonian Parthian ruler, making the story all the more perplexing.
Update II: I literally just got my copy of Prof. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael vol. 8 minutes ago and in it he has a chapter about mezuzot in the Middle Ages and he discusses the Yerushalmi and the Maharil. I’ll look it over today and add his take on things.
Updates III: I read Sperber’s chapter quickly and he discusses how during the Middle Ages on the parchments in mezuzot were often added magical formulas and/or names of angels and that they were seen by many as amulets which protected the house.
Yedidyah Dinari, Hachmei Ashkenaz be-Shilhei Yemei ha-Beinayim, p. 53; idem, “Rebbi Shalah Mezuzah le-Artavan” in Sefer ha-Zikaron le-Rav Dr. Oks; Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia, pp. 82-83. (I forgot to write down which volume).