"One who meticulously observes the mitzvah of tzitzit is rewarded with [the resources to afford] a nice wardrobe." -- Talmud Shabbat 23b.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rav Meir Soloveichik on the symbolism of Tekhelet


Rav Meir Soloveichik discusses the idea first suggested by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik regarding the symbolism of Tekhelet and white in the tzitzit. He examines this in the context of the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to its sovereign homeland

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Shulchan Aruch Project Genesis Torah.org

A garment that has four or more square corners on opposite sides (10:1-3,5-9,12) requires fringes (TZITZIS), provided it is big enough to cover most of the body (see 16:1), is primarily used for that purpose (10:10-11;19:1-2), and is owned by Jews (see 14:3,5). TZITZIS are required when the garment is worn during the day, or when it is worn at night if it is normally worn during the day; see 18:1-2. The requirement of TZITZIS applies only to garments made of cloth (see 10:4), and is only rabbinical unless they are made of linen or sheep's wool (9:1); according to some opinions, the garment or the TZITZIS should not be of linen (9:2,6). The TZITZIS may be made either of wool or of the same material as the garment (9:2-4); they may be white or of the same color as the garment (9:5).

The threads used for TZITZIS should be spun and twisted for that purpose by a Jew (11:1-2), and the TZITZIS themselves should be made by a (preferably male) Jew (see 20:1), preferably for that purpose (14:1-2). They should be made of material that is permitted and of good quality; see 11:5-8. They should be at least 12 inches long (11:4, and see the next paragraph). If they become untwisted they remain valid provided they remain partly twisted (see 11:3), but they should be knotted at the ends so they do not become untwisted (11:14). On what to do if some of them break see 12:1-3.

The TZITZIS are passed through holes near the four corners of the garment (see 11:9-11,15) that are farthest apart (10:1). Four TZITZIS are passed through each hole (11:12-13), and the two groups of four ends are double-knotted to each other at the edge of the garment near the hole (11:14,15). One of the TZITZIS is made longer than the others (11:4); the long end of that one is wound around the other seven ends and double- knotted; this is done repeatedly so as to make a total of five double knots separated by four sections of winding, with a total length of at least four inches, leaving free-hanging ends that are twice that long (11:14).

TZITZIS should not be removed from a garment that is used by a person except to insert them in another garment; see 15:1. If a piece of a garment that has TZITZIS in it is attached to another garment, the TZITZIS are not valid (15:2); but if the piece is big enough to wear, TZITZIS may be inserted into its other corners (15:3). On cases where a garment is torn, or a piece is added to it, near a corner see 15:4-6. TZITZIS should be treated with respect even if they are no longer in a garment (see 21:1,4), and so should a garment that has (had) TZITZIS in it (see 21:2-3), but it is permitted to sleep in such a garment or to wear it in the toilet (21:3) or in a cemetery (see 23:1-3).

It is not mandatory to wear a garment that requires TZITZIS, but if a person wears such a garment, he is required to put TZITZIS in it (see 8:17), and it is proper to wear such a garment every day, preferably all day, but especially at prayer times (24:1,6). On borrowing such a garment (or other religious objects) without permission see 14:4. It is proper to wear the garment on top of one's other clothes (8:11;24:1) and to hold the TZITZIS and look at them while reciting SHEMA (see 24:2,4-5 and Ch.6). A blind man should wear TZITZIS even though he cannot see them (17:1), but it is not proper for a woman to wear them (see 17:2). A child should start wearing them when he is old enough to do it properly (17:3), as described in the next paragraph. On giving a garment with TZITZIS to a non-Jew see 20:2.

A garment that has TZITZIS should be put on while standing (8:1). It should be put on the upper body, and preferably (at least briefly) over the head (see 8:2-3); the TZITZIS should hang down in front and back (8:4). Each time such a garment is put on (see 8:12-15), the blessing "...Who commanded us about TZITZIS" is recited (if the garment is big enough: "...to cover ourselves with TZITZIS"); see 8:5-6. [This blessing is not recited when making TZITZIS (19:2), but the blessing "...Who kept us alive..." is recited then or when putting them on for the first time (22:1).] The blessing may be recited after dawn, but preferably when it is light enough to distinguish light from dark threads (18:3). It is recited in the morning even if the TZITZIS were worn all night or put on before dawn (8:16). Before reciting the blessing, a person should look at the TZITZIS (24:3), separate them (8:7), examine them closely to ensure they are intact (8:9), and remember that he is wearing them to be reminded of all the Commandments (8:8).

Project Genesis 2000. Shulchan Aruch. [On-line]. Available HTTP: 
http://www.torah.org/advanced/shulchan-aruch/classes/orachchayim/chapter2.html  
Copyright © Project Genesis.

Parashat Shlach by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

"These shall be your tassels , and when you see them, you shall remember all of G-d's commandments so as to keep them." (Numbers 15, 28)

The mitzvah of tassels, tzitzis, the placing of specially knotted tassels on the corners of a four cornered garment, is one of those commandments that immediately comes to mind when one envisions a very observant Jew. Nowadays fulfilled by placing them on a specially made four cornered garment worn under the shirt, many follow the custom of arranging the tassels so that they hang over their trousers. Easily seen by all, they confirm for any passerby the Orthodox observance of the individual. After all, there are those who today wear kippot and others who sport beards as well, who are not Orthodox. Tassels, tzitzis, worn in the fashion I have described, is in the province of the very devout. The passage I quoted declares that there is something intrinsic to this mitzvah that will vouchsafe one's observance of all the commandments of G-d. What exactly is this mechanism? How does it apply specifically to the wearing of tzitzis?

The Midrash, Tanna D'Bai Eliyahu Rabba, Chapter 26 recounts the following conversation between G-d and Moses. "Said the Holy One Blessed be He to Moses, What it is the cause for this violation of the Shabbat? (referring to the gathering of sticks on the Shabbat mentioned just prior to our passage) He said to Him, 'I don't know." Said the Holy One Blessed be He to him, ' I will tell you, six days of the week the Israelites have tephillin on their heads and arms, they see them and are careful of what they do. But on the Shabbat when they haven't them, they therefore violate the Shabbat. Then The Holy One Blessed be He said to Moses, Go and clarify for them the mitzvah that they will be accustomed to fulfill on Sabbaths and Holy Days, this is the mitzvah of tzitzis." From this Midrash we can deduce that the first element found in tzitzis that aids the Jew in religious observance is the reality that they are worn every day of the year. Tephillin, in contrast, are worn on weekdays only as they are defined as a sign (Hebrew- Os) the same word that is used in defining the Shabbat.

The Rabbis taught that as we have a sign in Shabbat we do not don the tephillin as Shabbat itself serves the purpose of the tephillin, that of an Os (a sign). Are we then to assume that merely wearing the tsitzis will protect us from deviating from G-d's Will? Does regular ritual observance alone guarantee the future of our Jewish People? The Talmud Menachos, 43 states: "We learn in a Braisa, 'And you shall see them, and you shall remember them, and you shall do them' (referring to tzitzis) - Seeing brings you to remembering, and remembering brings you to doing" . The famous Sage of the early part of the twentieth century, the Hafetz Hayim comments, "Through the mitzvah of tzitzis an individual is brought to remembering all the mitzvos of G-d, but this remembrance only works if the individual has prefaced it by learning the rules of the mitzvos of G-d. That individual who has not studied these rules, of what help can this remembrance be? Therefore it is essential that , first and foremost, an individual learn the Torah of G-d and know all the mitzvos, then the remembering of tzitzis will bring a person to the doing of the mitzvos." The idea expressed by the Hafetz Hayim, that remembering must be predicated upon learned concepts, a knowledge of the whys and the wherefores of practical observances, is fundamental to the passing on of our tradition to the next generation.

The operative question of Jewish life of yesteryear, the question of HOW DO I DO SUCH AND SUCH? usually directed to the Rabbi, in today's Jewish world has been replaced by WHY SHOULD I BOTHER? The response to this question must be an intelligent one, justifying observance. Many years ago a very distressed woman came to me. She explained that her son, a medical student in one of the foremost Universities in the United States, had just called to tell her he was going to get married. To her horror he revealed that the bride to be was not Jewish. "Rabbi", she said in a plaintive voice, tears cascading down her face, "I don't understand. I always lit my Shabbat candles, why is this happening to me?" I responded by asking her if her son had ever questioned her about her Shabbat candles. She replied in the affirmative. "What did you tell him?", I inquired. "Why I told him that a Jew must light Shabbat candles", she said. "Did he ask you WHY a Jew must light Shabbat candles?. I responded. "Yes", she answered, continuing, "I told him you must light the candles and that is that." "Couldn't you have at the very least stated that you enjoyed lighting the candles, that their glow for you radiated a Jewish beauty, a Jewish majesty, that you felt them to be your personal connection to our People and its thousands of years of history, that they filled your heart with a sense of serenity?", I asked. She looked at me unable to speak. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that had she been able to offer such an answer this would have insured that her daughter-in-law to be would be Jewish. I am saying that to be able to present reasonable explanations as to why you practice Judaism is essential in providing some credibility for Jewish practice and observance to your own children. Surely even the simple statement of "It makes me feel good" warrants some interest as to why it makes you feel good.

That this ritual makes someone I love, my own parent, feel good de facto provides it with some substance. For many Jews who retain but some of Jewish practical observances, maintained, for the most part as an act of nostalgia, (remembering their youth, perhaps their grandparents), it should be obvious that their feelings are not automatically cxperiencd by their children. Jews have made it in the United States. Along with this tremendous accomplishment comes options. WHY should I continue the practice of Judaism in my own life? Why should I even maintain a parochial connection with the Jewish People? These questions need answers. The most potent answer can be given by the father and mother who can explain the reasons why they continue to observe Jewish practices. Nostalgia, merely utilizing rememberance as the sole rational for my religious practice, as the Hafetz Hayim points out, will not protect Judaism. Knowing WHY I observe, being able to clearly articulate my reasons to my own children and others is the key to the future of our People. Let each of us renew our own commitment to Judaism by seeking reasons for observance. Taking our heritage seriousely, sutdying it, being familiar with its values and priciples, is one way in which we can insure that the golden chain of our People will garner yet another link through the Jewish commitment of our children.

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz. Parashat Shlach. 
Congregation Agudas Achim, Chicago, IL
Quoted with permission from the publisher.

A Deeper Look

by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan Z"L


One of the most obvious points about Tzitzis is the fact that they involve a commandment directly related to clothing. They are not a Mitzvah in their own right as are Tefillin, but one that pertains to the garments we wear. If we are to understand fully the meaning of Tzitzis, we must first explore the significance that clothing plays in human society.

Of all living creatures, man is unique in the fact that he covers his body with clothing. Homo Sapiens is the only species the wears clothing. The reason for this has been the subject of study for philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and ethnologies for many years, and they have come up with some interesting theories. Even more fascinating is the fact that their conclusions often agree with those taught by our great religious sages.

The most obvious reason for wearing clothing might appear to be to provide protection from the elements. However, when anthropologists studied primitive tribes in even the warmest climates, they found that people still wore clothing as a matter of course. The human practice of wearing clothing seems to be universal, even where there is no need for protection from the elements.

What was discovered was that people covered their sexual organs in virtually every human society. Let us now see how this agrees with the Torah view. One of the most intriguing stories in the Torah is that of Adam's sin. We all know the story: How the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge (Etz HaDaath), and, as a result, both Adam and Eve were cursed and driven out of the Garden of Eden. Taken superficially, this is an intriguing story; but on a deeper level, it provides us with a profound insight into human psychology. The existence of a walking, talking serpent might seem difficult to understand, but our sages teach us that it was the very incarnation of evil. In order for man to have free will, at least the possibility of evil had to exist. Before Adam sinned, evil was not part of man, but something external. It was therefore represented by the serpent, an entity external to man. It was only after man sinned that evil became an integral part of his being. From then on, man's battle with evil became as much a battle with himself as one against an external force.

Before Adam sinned, the Torah says of him, "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed" (Genesis 2.25). Our sages comment that they were not ashamed because they had no sexual desire. Sex was as natural a body function as eating and drinking. It was something completely under man's control. Sexual pleasure may have been something that they could enjoy, but it was not the overwhelming passion that it is today, where it drives people to foolish and even destructive acts. Sex, like the serpent, was something external to man. Man could enjoy it when he wanted to, but he was not driven by it.

Since sexual desire was not an integral part of man's nature, there was no shame in exposing the sexual organs. They were no different than his eyes, ears, hands or feet. They were not something that could arouse another individual, or in any way make one feel like a sex object. Indeed, so innocent and natural was the sexual act, that Adam and Eve did not even feel compelled to perform it in private.

The external incarnation that led them to sin was represented be the serpent. It is a well-known fact that in almost every culture the serpent represents some sort of phallic symbol. To a large degree then, the serpent represents sexual temptation. Our sages teach us that the main temptation the serpent used to lure Eve was that of sex. As soon as man sinned, he began to have an Evil Urge or Yetzer HaRa. Evil was no longer something outside of himself, but an integral part of his being. It was now a force that man could overcome only with the greatest difficulty.

Our sages teach us that, "The Evil Urge exists mainly in the area of sex." Very often, it is sexual temptation that leads a person away from religion and godliness in other areas. It is often the strongest barrier standing in the way of an individual's spiritual perfection.

On the other hand, the individual who can completely control his sexual desires is counted as one who can control all his emotions. Here again, our sages teach us that a person is only called a Tzadik or saint when he can control his sexual passions. The main path to holiness is through self-mastery, and the most difficult area for such mastery is sex. To achieve such self-mastery takes great internal strength, to which our sages allude when they say, "Who is strong? He who overcomes his passions."

As soon as man sinned, his sexuality was aroused. Immediately after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of Knowledge, the Torah tells us, "The eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves and made themselves loincloths" (Gernesis 3:7). The major commentators explain that now their sexual desires were aroused, they were ashamed to stand naked. They had begun to view others as sex objects, and were themselves ashamed to be seen in that light.

It is interesting to note how closely the opinions of social scientists parallel the Torah. Where science seeks with an unprejudiced eye, it is merely another way of approaching truth. In this particular area, honest investigation had discovered a truth revealed in the Torah thousands of years ago. Even more interesting is the fact that some of these concepts are indicated by the very etymology of the Hebrew language. Hebrew is called the "Holy Tongue" (Lashon HaKodesh), and as such, even its grammatical and etymological rules teach us important lessons. In the area under discussion, we see an important case in point. First of all, The Hebrew word for "garment" is Le-bhush. This comes from the word Bush, which means "to be ashamed." The very structure of the Hebrew language indicates that clothing is worn because of shame.

Another Hebrew word for garment is BeGed. This has the same root as the word BaGad, meaning "to rebel." This indicates that man wears clothing because he originally rebelled against G-d. Before man sinned and rebelled, he was perfectly content and unashamed of being nude.

G-d also understood that in his fallen state man had a need for clothing. The Torah states that before ejecting man from the Garden of Eden, "G-d made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them" (Genesis 3:21).

From all this, we see that the main function of human clothing is to act as barrier against sexual desires. As such, it is particularly related to the sense of sight. The purpose of clothing is to cover the body in order that it not be visible as a source of sexual arousal. We can now understand the purpose of Tzitzis. Here again, we can actually see this in the etymological structure of the word. The word Tzitzis has the same root as the word Tzutz, meaning "to look." Tzitzis are therefore something to look at. The torah says of the Tzitzis, "You shall see them, and not stray after your heart and after your eyes, which have led you to immorality." The Talmud explains that the injunction not to stray "after your eyes" refers to visual sexual stimulation. Clothing in general acts as a natural barrier to such arousal, and the Tzitzis serve to reinforce this barrier.


None of this, however, is meant to imply that sex is something dirty of evil. To the contrary, Judaism looks upon sex as something beautiful and pleasurable. The Torah views sexual relations between husband and wife as something normal, desirable, and the one act that does the most to strengthen the bond of love between them. But at the same time, the Torah realizes that when misused, sex can be a most destructive and debilitating force. Historians tell us of entire civilizations that have fallen as a result of sexual corruption, and here again, this view is reflected in our Torah's teachings. The type of sex that the Torah proscribes is that which is irresponsible, exploitative and destructive. The commandment of Tzitzis was given as a safeguard against such activity.

Copyright © Kaplan, A. 1984. Tzitzith, A THREAD OF LIGHT. 
New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), 
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. 
Quoted with permission from the publisher.

Torah Insights, Shabbat Shlach

by Rabbi Yaacov Haber

While the Israelites were in the desert, they found a man "mekoshesh" ("gathering", or possibly "cutting" or "piling") sticks on the Sabbath day.

And they ... brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation. And they put him in ward, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. And the L-rd said to Moses: The man should surely die, the whole congregation should stone him outside the camp." And that is what happened. (Num. 15:32-36).

According to the commentators, Moses actually organized patrols to search for violators of the Sabbath. In this case, according to Rashi, the men who found the mekoshesh first warned him that he was committing a capital offence, and if he did not stop he would be arrested and sentenced to death. They only arrested him after he ignored their warning, and (according to the Orech Chaim) so brazen was he that he came before Moses and Aaron with the sticks over his shoulder.

The very next passage of the parsha deals with the mitzva of wearing Tzitzis (fringes) on the corners of one's garments, with, on each corner, a fringe of "Tcheles" (a blue-green dye from a sea creature). "And you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the L-rd, and do them, and not follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, which lead you astray, that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d" (Num. 15:39-40).

The Ramban links this commandment with the previous passage on the "mekoshesh", by explaining that G-d, seeing how the mekoshesh had strayed into an aveira (transgression), gave the people the device of tzitzis so as to help them in keeping the mitzvos. Presumably, if the mekoshesh had been wearing tzitzis, he would not have committed this aveira.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 1:2) explains how this would work: the thread of Tcheles would remind one, by its color, of the sea, which would remind one of grass, which would remind one in turn of the sky, which would remind one in turn of G-d's Throne. So it would seem that a long mental chain of association would be necessary for the fringes to do their work!

Two problems arise, in connection with this idea.

First, must we suppose that the mekoshesh, who was not dissuaded from his action by threats of death, would be made to cease by looking at his tzitzis, which would make him think in turn of the sea, the grass, the sky and G-d's throne?

Secondly, why not short-circuit this action of the tzitzis, by requiring instead that anyone who was about to commit an aveira should quickly look up at the sky?

The answer to both these questions is this: the tzitzis are not designed to be useful when one already has the idea of committing an aveira. If the mekoshesh had looked at his tzitzis after having started his gathering, they would probably have been ineffective. Similarly, someone who tries to derive inspiration from the sky after having thought about an aveira will probably not get much help this way.

The whole point of wearing tzitzis is not to work some magical effect on someone who is on his way to commit a sin. It is to prevent the situation, and the temptation, from arising altogether!

Some people pride themselves on setting up situations where they are subject to temptation, so that they can (hopefully!) resist this temptation.

But this is nonsense. It is wrong, according to the Torah, to subject oneself to temptation at all. The idea of tzitzis is to encourage the wearer to set up a Torah environment for himself, in which his lifestyle, activities and choice of friends are such that these opportunities for sinning do not even arise.

It is my prayer that all of you may, by such a process, live good, clean lives free of the opportunity or the temptation for evil.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Haber is the OU's National Director of Jewish Education and the spiritual leader of the OU's Pardes Program

Haber, Rabbi Yaacov 1987. Shabbat Shlach. [On-line]. Available HTTP: 
http://www.ou.org/torah/haber/shlach47.html 
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. 
Quoted with permission from the publisher.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to gain some meta-physical "fringe" benefits

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons 
http://www.aish.com/jl/m/mm/Tzitzit.html 

Tzitzit are tassels that hang down from the four corners of a rectangular garment, as the Torah says: "You shall put fringes on your four-cornered garment."1

Why do we wear Tzitzit? The Torah explains that by doing so, "you will see it and remember all the mitzvot."2

How do the tzitzit remind us of the mitzvot? On the simple level, Tzitzit serve as the colloquial string-around-the-finger reminder.3 As we go about our daily chores, whether at work or at a ball game, Tzitzit give us an anchor to the world of spirituality.

Further, the numerical value of "Tzitzit" is 600. Add to that the 8 strings and 5 knots on each corner, and you get 613 -- the number of mitzvot in the Torah.4

Let's delve a bit deeper into the verse: "You will see it and remember all the mitzvot." If there are four strings on each corner, why does the Torah use the singular form "it"?

"It" refers to the single blue thread on each corner prescribed by the Torah.5The color blue is similar to the sea, which is like the clear blue sky, which is the color of the God's "heavenly throne."6

Our challenge is to make spirituality a part of daily reality. In seeing the Tzitzit, we have a tangible reminder of an incorporeal God.7 Seeing God in our lives is a progression -- from recognizing his presence in mundane things like a garment, all the way to the spiritual realms ("heavenly throne").

In this way, Tzitzit has a meta-physical "fringe" benefit (pun intended), in helping to safeguard one from temptation.8 The Torah tells us: "And you will see them, and remember not to follow after your heart and eyes, that you stray after them."9 Tzitzit remind us that God is watching, and our actions should reflect that realization.

The Talmud10 tells of a man who was intensely addicted to a dangerous vice and was willing to spend any amount of money to satisfy that desire. One time he traveled across the world, and at the moment before the forbidden activity, the man's Tzitzit "slapped him in the face." The commentators11 explain that the Tzitzit struck him not literally, but psychologically -- with the four corners appearing as witnesses against him.

The Strings

On each corner, four strings are looped through a hole, and drape down on both sides, giving the appearance of eight tassels per corner.12 The upper one-third of the tassels are a series of five double-knots, separated one from another with four sets of windings. Below the bottom knot, the remaining two-thirds of each string hangs loosely.13

Each section of knots-and-windings should be approximately one inch (2.5 cm.) -- for a total of 4 inches of knots-and-windings, and 8 inches of loose hanging strings.

The hole on each corner should be about two inches from the edge,14 to fulfill the biblical requirement that it be on the garment's "corner." If the corner tears, it can usually be repaired.15

The strings must be made either from wool, or from the same material from which the garment is made.16 Each string actually consists of two threads twisted together, and must be spun especially for the sake of Tzitzit.17 Therefore one should buy Tzitzit that carry a proper rabbinic supervision.

Once you've purchased the strings, it's not so difficult to attach them yourself. It's fun and meaningful. The process of putting Tzitzit on the garment is as follows:

· use four strings, one which is longer, to wrap around the others
· tie the four ends together,18 to ensure that each string will end up with one end on each side.
· insert the strings into the hole, and be sure to say "Le'shem mitzvat Tzitzit."
· tie a double-knot
· wind the longer string around the others 7 times
· tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 8 times
· tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 11 times
· tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 13 times
· tie a (fifth and final) double-knot

Why are the strings wound with 7, 8, 11, and 13 windings?
· Seven represents the perfection of the physical world, which was created in seven days.
· Eight is the number of transcendence that goes beyond nature.
· Eleven is the numerical value of vav-hey, the last two letters of God's Name.
· Thirteen is the numerical value of echad -- one.19

Although a Tallit Katan is worn underneath the shirt, there are different customs as to whether or not the tassels should be left hanging out and visible.20 Given the purpose of Tzitzit, it is considered better to wear them "untucked" so that we can look at them often and use them as an anchor. However, if this would cause embarrassment or dissent when living amongst non-Jews, it is acceptable to have the strings tucked in.21

Broken Strings

What if one or more of the strings break?

Our custom is that each string, when originally inserted, should be a length of 24-28.8 cm.22 If thereafter a string should be cut or broken, then it will depend: If the break is within the section of knots-and-windings, then according to most opinions the Tzitzit are invalid.23

If the break is in the part where the strings hang loosely, then even if there is a break all the way up to the windings, it is still kosher.

If there are two breaks, then we must determine whether or not these are two ends of the same string, given that each string was initially inserted into the hole and doubled over. How can we know whether or not these are two ends of the same string?

Firstly, when initially tying the knots on the Tzitzit, one should ensure that the two ends of any given string are always on opposite sides of the knot. Thus in the event that two strings break:

· If the two broken strings are on the same side of the knot, one may rely that these are of two different strings. This is still kosher, even if the two strings are broken all the way up to the windings.
· If the two broken strings are on opposite sides, then one of the broken strings will require a length of ki'day aniva -- "enough of a string that it could be tied."24The length of ki'day aniva is minimally 4-4.8 cm.
If there are three broken strings, then ki'day aniva is not sufficient. Rather, you will need a full-length string, since we require at least two complete strings, and there is a concern that these three ends may be of three different strings, leaving only one complete string.25

Women and Tzitzit
Women have traditionally not worn Tzitzit. Here's why:
There are five mitzvot in the Torah that are "positive time-bound mitzvot." For example, waving a lulav is done during the time period of Sukkot. Tzitzit is also a time-bound mitzvah since the mitzvah applies only during the daytime (as implied by the verse "you shall see it" -- which excludes Tzitzit at night).53 As with all positive time-bound mitzvot, only men are required to perform this mitzvah.54See Women and Mitzvot for more perspective on this.

The Blue Thread

The Torah says that of the four threads at each corner, one should be of "techeilet."55 Techeilet is a blue dye made from the blood of the chilazon,56 a sea creature found on the coast of northern Israel.

Why don't we use the blue thread today? This particular blue dye was very precious and because of its value, the Romans (who conquered Israel in 63 BCE) decreed that only "blue-blooded" royalty could wear the color techeilet. This caused the Jewish dyers to go underground. By 639 CE, at the time of the Arab conquest, the secret of techeilet was lost all together.

It is interesting that the series of stripes (usually black or blue) on just about every Tallit Gadol may have their origin as a reminder of the "strand of techeilet" once worn as part of the Tzitzit.57

In the late 19th century, a massive international search was made to rediscover the original chilazon, the snail used to make techeilet. Since then, several species of snails have been suggested by researchers, but much controversy remains about the matter. Today, while some scholars advocate the wearing of "techeilet strings" from these snails, most scholars remain unconvinced. Consequently, most observant Jews wear only white Tzitzit.58 The Tzitzit are still fit for use, even if they are all white, without the blue string.59

1. Numbers 15:37
2. Numbers 15:39
3. Alshich - Numbers 15:39
4. Rashi - Numbers 15:39
5. Numbers 15:38
6. Talmud - Menachot 43b
7. This idea is evident from a verse in Song of Songs, where the word 'hatzitz means "to peak."
8. See Brachot 13a; Menachot 44a
9. Numbers 15:39
10. Menachot 44a
11. Alshich - Numbers 15:41
12. Menachot 39b, Orach Chaim 11:12
13. based on Ezekiel 8:3, where the word tzitzit refers to a [freely-hanging] lock of hair (Talmud - Menachot 42a; Rema - Orach Chaim 11:14)
14. Orach Chaim 11:9
15. Orach Chaim 16:4-5
16. Orach Chaim 9:2-3
17. Orach Chaim 11:1
18. Orach Chaim 12:1
19. Tzitzit by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 214
20. See Mishnah Berurah 8:25, Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 8:3, 8:5
21. Mishnah Berurah 8:25-6, based on Tosfot - Brachot 18a
22. Orach Chaim 11:13
23. Orach Chaim 12:3
24. Orach Chaim 12:1
25. Orach Chaim 12:1 with Biur Halacha
26. Orach Chaim 10:1
27. Orach Chaim 24:1; see Abarbanel - Numbers 15:38
28. See Mishnah Berurah 8:17
29. Orach Chaim 18:1
30. Mishnah Berurah 8:24
31. Rema - Orach Chaim 8:6
32. Orach Chaim 17:3; Sha'arei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 17:2)
33. See Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 9:6) and Ta'amei HaMinahgim 15
34. Mishnah Berurah 9:16
35. Orach Chaim 8:4
36. Orach Chaim 10:11
37. See Mishnah Berurah 16:4
38. Orach Chaim 25:1
39. Orach Chaim 8:7
40. Orach Chaim 8:9
41. Orach Chaim 8:5
42. Orach Chaim 8:1
43. Mishnah Berurah 8:24
44. Orach Chaim 8:8
45. Radvaz 3:571, quoting Rav Sa'adya Gaon (Bo)
46. Orach Chaim 8:4
47. Mishnah Berurah 8:4
48. Mishnah Berurah 21:14
49. Orach Chaim 21:4
50. Mishnah Berurah 21:14
51. Orach Chaim 21:3
52. Mishnah Berurah 17:10
53. Orach Chaim18:1
54. Orach Chaim 17:2; Halichot Shlomo (vol. I, pg. 35)
55. Numbers 15:38
56. Tosefta - Menachot 9:6
57. Legend says that the blue stripes on the Israeli flag are based on the stripes of the tallit.
58. Kaplan (pp. 218-222)
59. Talmud - Menachot 4:1

The Tallit Katan by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

In proclaiming the commandment of Tzitzit (or Tzitzis), the Torah says, "You shall make tassels (Gedilim) on the four corners of your garments…" From this we learn that Tzitzit are only required on a four-cornered garment. In ancient times, many garments were four-cornered. Clothing was not tailored as it is today, but most often consisted of a simple rectangle of cloth, direct from the loom, which was worn as a shawl, cape, tunic or toga. As late as the classical Greek period, the standard garments consisted of chiton and himation, which were essentially rectangles of cloth, draped and fastened around the body. Similar garments were worn in Talmudic times. Since everyone wore four-cornered clothing, they fulfilled the commandment of Tzitzith merely by placing them on their regular garb.

Because we no longer regularly wear four-cornered clothing, we wear a special garment in order to fulfill this most important commandment. One of the most important Jewish commentators, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, stated that this is the reason why the Torah states that we must "make Tzitzith… for all generations." Even though a time would come when four-cornered garments would not normally be worn, we must continue to wear a special garment in order to fulfill the commandment of Tzitzit.

This special garment is the Tallith Katan-the "small Tallith." It is also sometimes called an Arba Kanfoth-literally "four corners"-or simply "Tzitzit." In Yiddish it was often referred as Lahbsi-deckel, or "body cover."

The Tallith Katan consists of a simple rectangle of cloth, with a hole for the neck. The Tallith Katan should be at least a cubit (or Amah) square on each side. According to our discussion on measurements, this would be between 18 and 24 inches. If possible, it is best to wear the larger size, and thus be covered according to even the stricter opinion.

You should wear the Tallith Katan all day long. It is worn under your shirt, preferably over an undershirt, and is put on the first thing in the morning.

If you do not wear a Tallith in the synagogue, you should say the following blessing before putting on the Tallith Katan:

Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech haolam asher kid'shaha-nu be-mitzvo-thav ve-tziva-nu al Mitzvath Tzitzith.

Blessed are You G-d, our L-rd, King of the world, who has made us holy with His commandments and gave us the Mitzvah of Tzitzith.
If you put the Tallith Katan before washing your hands, you can defer the blessing until later, taking hold the Tzitzit when you recite it.

If you normally wear a Tallith, according to most authorities, it is best not to say the blessing over the Tallith Katan at all. Instead, you should have in mind to include it when you say the blessing over the Tallith.

The Tallith Katan should be worn all day long. Some people also wear it to sleep. It is also a custom for some people to keep their Tzitzith exposed, in order that they constantly fulfill the injunction, "and you shall see them." This, however, is not a strict requirement, and the Tzitzit may be worn completely under one's clothing.

Since the Tallith Katan is always worn, the Mitzvah if Tzitzit is one Mitzvah that is observed most constantly. It is the first commandment that we observe in the morning, and continues throughout the day. As such, it is a constant reminder of our obligation as Jews, and of our allegiance to G-d.

Through the Tallith Katan, the Mitzvah of Tzitzit is one of the very first observances that we teach a child. In many communities, is a custom to present a child with his first Tallith Katan on his third birthday; from then on, it is constantly worn.

The Tallith Katan is also one of the least expensive ritual objects that you can purchase. Its cost is negligible, and yet, its spiritual benefits can be priceless.

 
1 Copyright © Kaplan, A. 1984. Tzitzith, A THREAD OF LIGHT. New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Quoted with permission from the publisher.