Question: Is it correct that there is a danger involved in removing the Mezuzot from the doorposts of one’s home when moving to another home and if so, what can be done for one who invested a hefty sum in purchasing beautiful Mezuzot?
Answer: The Gemara (Baba Metzia 102a) states: “Our Sages taught: When one rents a house to another, the tenant must affix a Mezuzah. When the tenant leaves this house and wishes to move into a new home, he should not take it and leave (rather, one should leave it affixed on the doorposts of the house one is vacating). Once, an individual took a Mezuzah with him (in order to affix it in the new home he was moving into) and he buried his wife and two sons.” This means that even when one is moving out of a house or apartment, one may not remove the Mezuzot from the house one is vacating and doing so poses a danger that his wife and children will die, G-d-forbid.
The Nimukei Yosef (authored by a later Rishon named Rabbeinu Yosef ibn Haviva, one of the great Spanish scholars) quotes the Ritba who says that the reason why one may not remove the Mezuzot from a house one is vacating is because through the Mezuzot, the divine presence of Hashem rests upon the house and by removing them, the presence of Hashem leaves as well.
The Ritba writes in his commentary on Masechet Baba Metzia (ibid.) that the reason why there is a danger to remove the Mezuzot from the house is because since the Mezuzah serves to protect the inhabitants of the house, one who removes them is causing danger to befall the following inhabitants of this house; thus, it is measure for measure that the individual who was not concerned with the deaths of another’s children who required protection ended up burying his own wife and children. Clearly, there is great depth behind this reasoning, for the primary obligation to affix a Mezuzah rests on the new tenants moving into the house and not on those who lived there before. Nevertheless, the simple understanding of this issue is that our Sages were extremely concerned with the danger present as a result of a lack of Mezuzot in a Jewish home; thus, since it is possible that some time will pass before the new inhabitants of the house affix new Mezuzot, our Sages prohibited the vacating tenants to take the Mezuzot with them.
If one has truly beautiful and expensive Mezuzot at home and has difficulty (financially or otherwise) obtaining other such Mezuzot, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l that there is room to take these Mezuzot down by taking them to be checked by a certified Sofer (scribe) in order to ascertain their Kashrut while taking care to immediately replace them with kosher, lower quality Mezuzot. When one receives the high quality Mezuzot back from the Sofer, one may take them and affix them in one’s new home. In this way, there is no concern whatsoever, for our Sages were only concerned that the new tenant not be left without Mezuzot causing a possible danger to his children; however, in this way where one immediately affixes other Mezuzot for the next tenant, there is no concern. It is preferable to do so several days before vacating the house. One is likewise entitled to payment from the new tenant for the Mezuzot one has left him.
For those residing outside of Israel, if one knows that the next tenant to move into the house or apartment is a non-Jew, one should not leave the Mezuzot affixed to the doorposts, for the Mitzvah of Mezuzah applies only to the Jewish nation. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 291, Section 2)