Rare Mitzvah fulfilled on the Avenue



The Torah (Deuteronomy 22:8) states “When you build a new house, you shall build a parapet for your roof, do not allow blood (to be spilled) in your house when one (who may fall) falls from it.” From this verse we derive the obligation to remove all potential hazards from our property so that no one should hurt themselves, including placing a gate, called a Ma’akeh in Hebrew, around a flat roof or exposed balcony.


Most people do not have the opportunity to fulfill this precept as they purchase existing homes. Even those that build new homes do not usually have the opportunity to participate in the placing of a railing around a roof or balcony as it is generally included in the contractors role.


Ms. Paula (Tamar) George, a New Orleanian living on St. Charles Ave in the lower Garden District, renovated her home. One of the areas renovated was a second floor room that had been changed by the previous owner from a porch to an enclosed room. In the process of renovation, the enclosed room was reverted back to a porch. In doing so the porch, accessible via large floor-to-ceiling windows, was left exposed without a railing. While visiting one day, Rabbi Mendel Rivkin observed that according to Torah law the porch required a railing. Since the Mitzvah is so rare Ms. George had never heard of it. After hearing about the Mitzvah of Ma’akeh, she enthusiastically threw herself into the building project. Living, as she does, in a historic district, where all zoning issues are compounded manifold, this was not an easy task. The railing would have to match the decor of the home and neighborhood. It would require approval by the Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC), the architect and Paula’s Feng Shuei consultant. Lastly it would have to meet the Halachic requirements of a Ma’akeh.


After more than a year’s worth of effort it appeared that the railing would be complete in late November. It was suggested that the occasion of the railing’s completion could be used as a learning experience for the community, most of whom have never heard of this Mitzvah, let alone fulfilled it. Being the New Orleanian that she is, Ms. George decided to throw a “parapet party” to celebrate the finishing of the railing. On Sunday, November 28, in the presence of friends and community members, Paula took a drill in hand and loudly recited the blessing, “Blessed are You L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His precepts and instructed to make a Ma’akeh.” Amid cries of Amen and Mazel Tov she drilled in the last screw and her Ma’akeh was complete.


In true New Orleans spirit, the guests then proceeded to the foyer for refreshments as strains of live Jazz wafted through the room. For the guests, none of whom had ever witnessed the fulfillments of this Mitzvah, it was truly a unique experience.