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Laws of Tzitzit

Laws of Tzitzit

Parshat Shelach

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Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and that they shall affix a thread of sky-blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner.

This shall be tzitzit [fringes] for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G‑d to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.

So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments, and you shall be holy to your L‑rd.

Numbers 15:38–40

We are told that the mitzvah of tzitzit is equivalent to all the mitzvot, because it reminds us of all of them.1 As Rashi explains,2 the gematria (numerical value) of the word tzitzit (ציצית) is 600. Six hundred, plus the five knots and the eight strands, equals 613, which is the number of the mitzvot.

Our sages say that one who fulfills this mitzvah properly merits to have a wife and children.3 He is also protected from sin,4 and in that merit he is assured that he will see the face of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).5

This mitzvah is not an obligatory one. Only when one is wearing a garment of four (or more) corners is he is required to affix tzitzit to the corners. If he is not wearing such a garment, he does not transgress by not wearing tzitzit.

Despite this, an angel taught Rabbi Ketina6 that at times of divine wrath, G‑d punishes people for not assiduously pursuing mitzvot, even those who choose not to wear a four-cornered garment in order to exempt themselves of this special mitzvah. For this reason, it is proper that men and boys wear a four-cornered garment, with tzitzit affixed to it, every day. This garment is called a tallit katan (“small shawl”), or simply tzitzit.

In fact, according to the master Kabbalist the Arizal, it is proper to wear the tallit katan at all times, even at night7—although halachically a “night garment” is exempt from tzitzit.8

As the laws of tzitzit are quite extensive, this article will focus on some of the more common issues. In addition, we will address the laws of the tallit katan rather than the laws of the tallit gadol (the larger tallit worn only for prayers).9

The Garment

In order for a garment to require tzitzit, it must have four corners. It must be a garment for the body and not just the head (such as a shawl).10 But, unlike an ordinary shirt, the four corners must include two in the front and two in the back.11

If the front and the back of the garment are connected at the sides, a clear majority must still be disconnected.12 According to R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi,13 the tallit katan should be completely open on both sides, and not be attached with any stitches or clasps. Certainly, the garment should not have sleeves. The garment must be of a woven material,14 and preferably, it should be made of wool and be white.15

The Tzitzit

It is very important to buy tzitzit that are certified by a reliable supervising agencyThe strings of the tzitzit need to be spun specifically for the sake of the mitzvah of tzitzit. For this reason, the spinning has to be done (or at least overseen) by a Jew over the age of bar mitzvah.16 It is therefore very important to buy tzitzit that are certified by a reliable supervising agency. Otherwise, one may mistakenly wear a pair of tzitzit that is not halachically acceptable.

If the strings tear, the laws are as follows:

  • If one of the eight strings is ripped off entirely, the tzitzit are still kosher.
  • If a second one is ripped completely off, the tzitzit may or may not be kosher, depending on various factors.
  • If three strands rip, it may not be kosher even if they are not ripped off completely.17

Techelet

In recent years there have been several attempts to revive the mitzvah of dyeing one strand of the tzitzit with techeilet.

True techeilet is a special blue dye made from the blood of a fish (or sea creature) called the chilazon. In ancient times, one of the strings of the tzitzit was dyed with this dye. The color was to remind us of the heavens, and thus of the throne of divine glory. We have lost the tradition as to the identity of this creature. Nevertheless, based on various sources and discoveries, there are many people who use the blood of a sea snail called murex trunculus.

However, R. Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, the fifth Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe, and many other Torah giants do not agree that this is the true chilazon mentioned in the Torah. They believe that the chilazon will re-emerge only with the coming of Moshiach.18

Putting on the Tallit

Before donning the tallit katan or tallit gadol, one should separate the strands of the tzitzit and ensure that all of the strands are in order.19 (But if doing so will cause him to miss the minyan, he may don the tallit without doing this.20)

If one slept in his tallit katan, he may not recite a blessing on it in the morning. Rather, he should keep the tallit katan in mind when he recites the blessing on the tallit gadol.21

When putting on the tallit katan or tallit gadol, one should keep in mind that he is wrapping himself in tzitzit in order to remember and fulfill all the commandments, as the verse says: “You will see them, and remember all the commandments of G‑d.”22

It is proper to wear the tzitzit strands in a visible way, so that they remind one of the mitzvotThe blessing on the tzitzit must be said while standing.23 If one is sick or weak, he may make the blessing while sitting.24

Wearing the Tallit Katan

It is proper to wear the tzitzit strands in a visible way, so that they remind one of the mitzvot, as the verse says: “You will see them and remember all the mitzvot of G‑d.” If one is afraid of being mocked in public, he may tuck them into his clothes.25 The custom of the Arizal was to keep the tallit katan completely covered,26 but this is not proper for the average person, who should rather keep the actual tzitzit uncovered.27

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Menachot 43b, and Rashi ibid.

3.

Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei.

4.

See Talmud, Menachot 44a.

5.

Ibid. 43b.

6.

Ibid. 41a.

7.

Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar Hatzitzit 1.

8.

A “night garment” is defined as any garment one may be wearing during nighttime hours (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tzitzit 3:7–8), or a garment designated for nighttime use (Rosh, Laws of Tzitzit 1). See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 18 for more on this topic.

9.

For more information, please see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 11–24.

10.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 10:20.

11.

Ibid. 10:22.

12.

Ibid. 10:18.

13.

In the Siddur, Laws of Tzitzit.

14.

Ibid. 10:7.

15.

Ibid. 9:4.

16.

Ibid. 11:3–4.

17.

See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 12 for more information.

18.

See Piskei Teshuvot 8, note 2, for many sources on this discussion.

19.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 8:12–13.

20.

Ibid. 8:14.

21.

Ibid. 8:27.

22.

Ibid. 8:17.

23.

Ibid. 8:1.

24.

Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 8:3.

25.

Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 8:18–19.

26.

Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar Hatzitzit 1.

27.

Shaarei Halacha Uminhag, vol. 1, p. 59.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Anonymous Pittsburgh November 11, 2016

tzitzit color I always see the commandment to wear tzitzit with one thread of blue, but I have yet to see any mention of what color for all the other threads. Of course, I usually see nothing but all white tzitzit, but what is the halachic, or kosher, color for the remaining threads? And is a color other than white still correct, or incorrect? Reply

Conrad Adelman Frederick, MD September 6, 2016

Disposing of tzitzit The garment to which my Tzitzi are attached has become frayed; what is the proper way to dispose of it and the tzitzis? Shall I just cut the tzitzi from the garment and bury the tzitzi as we do with a holy book? Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside March 6, 2014

There is no special ritual when it comes to removing the tzitzit and Tallit. But one should be careful to not allow the tzitzit strings to drag on the floor when removing and folding up one's Tallit as this is not considered respectful.
All the best. Reply

Steve Montreal March 5, 2014

Question Is there any ritual with removing tzitzit, as with tefillin? Reply

Anonymous February 10, 2014

SO helpful! This is SO helpful, especially what to do if strings rip. Thanks for posting! Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside January 17, 2013

Against the skin You may wear the tzitzit garment against your skin if you wish. For practical purposes, it is better to wear it above an undershirt as it is not easy to wash the tzitzit in a manner that does not tangle the strings. ( Hand-washing works fine.) Reply

Anonymous London January 16, 2013

Wearing the Tzitzit Hi I have just bought a Tallit Katan and would like to wear it but I am not sure if this can be worn directly against the skin? Can someone please clarify

Many Thanks Reply

Bentzy Brooklyn, NY June 17, 2012

Grammar If three strands rip, it may not be kosher even if they do not rip off completely

Thanks a for great article, as always. Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside , Fl June 28, 2011

Menachot 41a See Tosfot D.H. Hachi Ka'amar that even according to the final analysis of the Gemara, G-d does punish one for not wearing Tzitzit at a time of wrath. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem June 27, 2011

Menachot 41a It seems to me that your reading of the Talmud in Menachos is incorrect. Could you double check, perhaps I have it wrong. Reply

izzy n June 13, 2011

i love these halcha articles! Keep em' coming! Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl May 1, 2011

Exempt Technically one is not obligated to wear a four cornered garment that has tzitzit. It is only mandatory to wear tzitzit if one is already wearing a four cornered garment. Nevertheles, it is praiseworthy not to pass up an opportunity to do a mitzvah and it is therefor proper to wear a four cornered garment (talit katan) with tzitzit whenever practical. When this is impossible (e.g. while swimming or bathing), then one does not wear it. As far as excercising and running, if one can buy a comfortable, light, washable, talit katan (perhaps cotton) it is preferable (although not obligatory) to wear it. Reply

Aiden Kashi Marlboro, Nj April 28, 2011

Exempt When are you exempt from wearing them? Running exersizing and other? Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl July 5, 2010

Reward and Punishment Certainly when the Moshiach comes (as well as in the afterlife), each and every person will be rewarded (&/or punished) for each and every one of their actions. With the exception of someone who regrets one's good deeds, G-d does not cancel out anyone's good deeds because of other negative deeds s/he may have done. Every good deed deserves a reward and for every negative action there is a punishment.
So the fact that the Tziztzit wearer is generally a wicked man and deserves punishment will not diminish from the reward which he will recieve for wearing those Tzitzit, while the non Tzizit wearer will have missed out on the reward that is particular to this Mitzvah, although he will certainly be amply rewarded in other ways.
I hope this addresses your questions. Reply

Norman Alexander Markethill, Armagh July 3, 2010

TZITZIT When Messiah comes do you believe that He will favour those who wear the Tzitzit and do not conform to its principles or those who coform to its principles without wearing a Tzitzit?

Thanks again for your time Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl July 1, 2010

Purpose The purpose of wearing the tzitzit is to remind us of the commandments. The purpose of all of the commandments is in order to engender a fear of G-d within us (Deut. 7, 24). This is accomplished firstly by the mere fact that we're obeying his command, whether or not we understand it. And secondly, each specific commandment reminds us of the need to be devoted to him in a particular way.
The clothing we wear says alot about who we are. Wearing the tzitzit is a a statement that we are devoted to G-d not only in our hearts and minds, not only in our homes and syanagogues, but at all times and wherever we may be.
With blessings, Reply

Norman Alexander Markethill, Armagh June 30, 2010

Tzitzit The more I read of the intricacies of these laws of the Tzitzit the more I feel that the Creator never intended them to be the way to fellowship with Him.
When the He introduced the Tabernacle through Moses the way of approach was clearly seen and an animal sacrifice substitute cleared the way to the inner sanctuary to the dwelling place of the Creator.
The Mercy Seat covered the law in the Ark and mercy was granted to a repentant Israel on the Day of Atonement.
It still is not clear to me how clothing could change and make the wearer meritorious.
Thanks for your correspondence Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl June 18, 2010

Purpose of Tzitzit The purpose of the tzitzit is stated in the verse: In order that you should remember and keep all of the commandments and be holy onto your G-d.
The purpose of the Commandments in general are twofold;
1) In order to infuence our hearts, we need to do appropriate actions.
2) Having good thoughts in the heart is meaningful for the individual having those thoughts. But the commandments were intended to elevate the entire world. For this reason, most Commandments are "action Commandments," in order that we elevate & spiritualize the entire world that we live in.
All the best, Reply

Anonymous Markethill, Armagh June 9, 2010

Tzitzit It seems strange that wearing a particular garment with certain words could influence the Creator to remit sin and prepare one for His presence.
Does not the Psalmist say that for this to happen it is the dedication of the heart that is required? Reply

Aryeh Citron (Author) Surfside, Fl June 3, 2010

To Binyamin - Colored tzitzit This is a good question.

To rephrase the question: Even if these animals are not the chilazon, using their colors to dye the tzitzit does not invalidate the tzitzit. So why not use these dyes just in case? If they're the correct ones, good. And if not, nothing is lost.

My understanding of this matter is: Since the Arizal said that techeilet will not return until Mashiach comes, we do not consider it to be even a doubtful techeilet. That being the case, we prefer to keep the color white in keeping with the custom to have white tziitzit.

(The reason for this custom is that the tzitzit should be the same color as the Tallit. And the Tallit of G-d is white - so to speak [See Daniel 7, 9]. So we want our Tallit to resemble this. Thus we keep the Tallit and the tzitzit white.) Reply

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