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Fringe Judaism


Most people don’t think of Judaism as a fringe religion. Yet that’s our uniform. Under their shirts, Jewish men and boys wear a poncho called a tallit katan (literally: small cloak), with fringes hanging from each corner, just as the Torah prescribes (Numbers 15:37–40), “They shall make fringes on the corners of their garments . . .”

These fringes, called tzitzit, are coiled and knotted to remind us of all the mitzvot. The numerical values of the letters that comprise the Hebrew word tzitzit add up to 600. Add the eight strings and five knots of each tzitzit, and the total is 613. Now you understand why it’s customary to let the tzitzit hang out at the waist, in plain eyesight. Having a tangible reminder of the 613 mitzvot, in turn, strengthens our mastery over the temptations of the heart.

These fringes are coiled and knotted to remind us of all the mitzvotOnly garments with four (or more) corners require tzitzit, and few garments today (other than ponchos) are four-cornered, so we wear a special four-cornered tallit just so we can perform this mitzvah. During the morning prayers, men don a tallit gadol—a larger version of the tallit katan.

Traditionally, young boys begin wearing a tallit katan at the age of three.

Technically, tzitzit is a daytime mitzvah. According to the Kabbalah, however, tzitzit should be worn even while sleeping at night.

Donning a Tallit Katan:

Inspect the tzitzit every day and disentangle them. If they become shortened or torn, show them to a rabbi to ascertain whether they are still kosher.

Before donning the tallit katan, say:

Blessed are you, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of tzitzit.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC June 29, 2016

Re: Women are not obligated to wear a tallit. This is because they are exempt from fulfilling almost all time-bound positive commandments (such as donning Tefilin which is done during the day or reciting the Shema at a specific time in the morning) Nonetheless, women do fulfill many of these mitzvot if they so desire.

Yet the prevailing custom is that women do not wear tallitot. A number of reasons for this reticence are found in Halachic works. Here is an informative article that explains many of them: Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC January 21, 2013

Re: These must be set aside (in "shaimos" or "geniza") and are subsequently buried.

More information can be found here Reply

costas papac/nou January 17, 2013

Please give more explaintions about the tzitzit. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous January 16, 2013

tzitzis If a pair of tzitzis is determined to be no longer kosher, how should it be disposed of? Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner February 27, 2012

To Anonymous in Newark There are some very good articles that Rabbi Tzvi Freeman linked to a few comments back. I suggest that you have a look at them. In addition, I recommend that you read Is it Appropriate for a woman to Wear a Tallit?

Best of luck! Reply

Anonymous Newark, NJ January 24, 2012

The Tzitzit and the kippah I hope the writer of this topic is still in touch with reading comments on this subject, and I would greatly appreciate to have a response to my following statement.
I will start to wear a kippah and a tallit when I pray as well very soon. I can't understand why would and females should be discouraged form wearing garments G-d commanded for us all to wear (not including the kippah, but it is a headcovering) especially if the garments are designed for women. It's like saying women should wear shirts or pants because men wear them. Reply

Anonymous December 20, 2011

Rabbi, I do thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment "Exemptions?", with your interesting perspective.

Concerning the sages, am I correct in saying that the Mishnah, in particular,itself does not in any way ban women from wearing tzitzit?
It does say,
:"Women, slaves and minors are exempt from the recitation of Shema and from tefillin, but are obligated for the Amida Prayer, mezuza, and Grace after meals"
(Berakhot 3:3)"

...which didn't indicate there was a ban any of these activities. To further the logic that women are banned from tzitzit & tefillin, women would also be equally banned from saying the Shema twice daily.,

Where else might I find more about women and tzitzit in the Mishnah in particular?
Thank you for your time thus far. Chanukah sameach! Reply

Anonymous December 19, 2011

Exemptions? Why would a woman desire to be exempt from a reminder given to all Yisrael, to keep her connections with HaShem in tact?

I watched the video via the link provided, which didn't offer logical reasoning as to why a woman is or should be exempt from this reminder not to stray, while on the other hand being held fully accountable for any straying.

While I do understand the sources referenced by Freida, I must disagree that women don't need reminders to keep the mitzvot throughout her day....that reminder being tzitzit. Being a woman myself, I'm fully aware of the tendency to stray from mitzvot on any given day.

She is certainly held accountable for failing to keep those mitzvot yet she is denied,by the sages, the privilege of that most important reminder, while at the same time being required to cover her head every day of her life, a mitzvot absent in Torah Shebiktav & one which doesn't aid in reminding the woman of her commitment to keep HaShem's not break them. Reply

Baruch Davidson NYC October 24, 2011

Re: Anonymous of October 9th Even where the Torah does not specify that only men are obliged in that particular law, women are still exempt from that obligation if it is a time-bound Positive commandment. The sources for this are discussed in the video class available here Reply

Anonymous October 9, 2011

Tzitizt (part 2 of 2) It seems to me that when a miztvot is specific to one gender or that of the priests the phrase it is rather plain who the miztvot applies too e.g.

"Speak unto the children of Israel and say to them if a woman have conceived seed.." etc etc. V'yakra 12:2

"Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose...." etc Devarim 16:16

I am just confused as to how we can assume in one place that it was all of Israel(male and female) HaShem was instructing a positive miztvot to, and where He was only addressing the males...when there is not that plain distinction.

I apologize for stumbling over my words. I hope that you are able to hear my heart through this and answer accordingly.

I truly wish to please HaShem in all that I do Reply

Anonymous October 9, 2011

Tzitizt Why is the description of where to place the Tzitzit understood as being a literal four corner (square) as opposed to the way Yesha'yahu describes the earth in Yesha'yahu 11:12 "And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."

The earth is not square...which means it does not have literal four (pinnacle) corners. But still the four corners of the earth is used to describe the very most edges of the earth. So therefore how come the mitzvot of the tzitzit does not apply to the four edges of a round garment? Is this not just a description of the four edges of any garment?

Also how does the "Children of Israel" being spoken to here differ from the "children of Israel" being spoken to in V'yakra 23 regarding the instructions for the Feasts, or V'yakra 11 regarding the clean and the unclean which are for both male and female.
(part on of two) Reply

Menachem Posner for Montreal, QC January 11, 2011

RE: Wearing the Tzitzit Winding strings around your finger may be a nice thing to do, and it may help you remember G-d, a good thing no doubt. However, the way to fulfill G-d's commandment is to affix the fringes on the corners of a garment, just as He instructs us in the Torah. Reply

marsha goodlettsville, usa January 11, 2011

wearing of tzitzit is it ok to wear just the fringes(not the whole tallit) but just the fringes? For instance, to make them into a bracelet, as a reminder of the commandments and to G-d? Thank you Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman September 10, 2009

Back to Anonymous in Derry I have a feeling you didn't read the links I provided a few comments back. There was a link to Why Aren't Women and Men Treated the Same in Judaism? that gives a basic answer.

Okay, you're right. We really need an essay that addresses this more fully. Reply

Anonymous Derry, NH September 10, 2009

Timebound Mitzvot But why? Why would they be actively discouraged (and in some communities forbidden) from some timebound mitzvot yet encouraged to do others such as hearing the shofar or dwelling in a Sukkah? Shouldn't we all strive to take on as many mitzvot as we are able? I don't see how taking care of children would prevent a woman from wearing tzitzit, which take only a minute or so to bless and put on in the morning. And are stay-at-home dads exempt from timebound mitzvot? What about working women with no children? The very reasons for exempting women from timebound mitzvot have disappeared in most cases in recent decades and in some cases have even shifted to men (as in stay at home dads). Shouldn't we re-think the customs for enacting the commandments in light of that? Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman September 9, 2009

Are Shabbat and Kashrut time bound? Shabbat, yes. Kashrut, no. Shabbat, however, is an exception. Since there is a prohibition involved (not working), so anyone affected by the prohibition is also obligated in the positive side of the mitzvah. Pesach is another exception. Kashrut is a set of prohibitions, not obligations.
Many mitzvot that are time bound are still performed by women, such as hearing the shofar. Tzitzit and tefillin happening to be two that women are not only not obligated in, but also discouraged from. Reply

Anonymous Derry, NH September 9, 2009

Aren't all Mizvot regarding Shabbat observance also time-bound (even more so than tzitizt)? So should women also be discouraged from keeping Shabbat? Or what about keeping Kashrut? That only takes place during times of eating, so it's timebound. In fact, I can think of very few Mitzvot that AREN'T timebound. Tzitzit is one of the least timebound Mizvot I can think of since they can be worn at all times when one is not showering or swimming. The Rabbis' opinion here seems inconsistant to me. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman September 7, 2009

for George If I would answer you, that would be encouragement, right? Reply

George 1700, Switzerland September 6, 2009

Tzitzit for women Thank you for your answer...but it opens up another question for me.
You say: "The Shulchan Aruch states that if a woman should nevertheless decide to wear tzitzit, she should be discouraged".
So, that means, she can if she wants? Let's say a women absolutely wants to wear tzitzit because she has the inner urge to do so - does she need to wear different ones? Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman September 4, 2009

Re: Tzitzit for women Tzitzit is one of those mitzvot that is time-bound, and so women are exempt, even if they wear a four cornered garment. The Shulchan Aruch states that if a woman should nevertheless decide to wear tzitzit, she should be discouraged. Since tzitzit are an external symbol (the whole point is that they should be seen), wearing them would be seen as "showing off."

Please also read: Why aren't women and men treated the same in Judaism? and Why I Don't Put On Tefillin. Reply

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