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The Episcopalian Architect Who Designs Mezuzot

How Peter Pennoyer started crafting Jewish doorpost markers for his clients

Stephanie Butnick
February 06, 2015
Doric column. (Shutterstock)
Doric column. (Shutterstock)

Tablet contributor Andrew Marantz has a story in this week’s New Yorker about an unlikely artisanal mezuzah designer: architect Peter Pennoyer, whose classic, precise designs make him a sought-after name for the rich and famous looking to renovate. He’s also an Episcopalian, and came by his side project when an observant Jewish client whose Manhattan townhouse he was designing requested 52 mezuzot affixed throughout the new home.

Marantz explains that what Pennoyer found on the market wasn’t exactly up to his aesthetic standards:

The Talmud is silent on the question of mezuzah design, and, to Pennoyer’s dismay, contemporary venders seemed inclined toward kitsch. “We wanted it to look exactly right,” he said. “We tried Manhattan Judaica shops, online auction sites, We could not find anything that wasn’t terribly, unacceptably ugly.” Pennoyer made a few drawings, and the clients chose a design that was formal but not ornate—a stripped-down four-inch Doric column made of brass, to be mortised into the doorframes. A metal shop in Brooklyn made the mezuzahs and shipped them uptown, and a rabbi said a blessing over each one as it was installed.

Eventually, Pennoyer designed a line of artisanal mezuzahs, which he hopes to sell on the Internet. “I never set out to be a mezuzah salesman, but why not?” he said.

Pennoyer isn’t the only design-minded artisan crafting thoughtful, artistic mezuzot. Alexander Gruss, who with his wife Lorelei run Studio Gruss, which designs custom mezuzot for clients, explains his inspiration and process in the video below. For something a little more literal—yet still lyrical—on your doorpost, check out “neo-ancient Judaica” designer Tamara Connolly’s Kli Paschal Mezuzah, which features a simple red mark down the center of a white ceramic mezuzah.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.