QUESTION: How long should the tzitzis strings [on a tallis gadol
or katan] be? Is a tallis kosher if one or more strings tears either
partially or completely?
DISCUSSION: Once the tzitzis strings are looped through the hole on
the corner of the garment and knotted, the length of the strings - from
the top of the first knot to the end of the string(1) - should be no less
than 11.4 inches.(2) The first third, approximately, is the gedil, the top
segment which is composed of wound and knotted strings, and the lower two
thirds, where the strings hang loose, is the anaf.(3)
But the strings need to be no less than 11.4 inches in length only when
they are attached initially to the garment. Attaching strings that are
shorter than the prescribed length onto the garment renders the tallis
pasul. If, however, the strings were the proper length when attached to
the garment, but only later were cut or shrunk, the tallis is still kosher
as long as the anaf is at least 1.9 inches(4) long.
The following rules apply to tzitzis strings that fall short of the
* If one - but not more - of the eight strings snaps off completely and
loses its anaf entirely, the tallis remains kosher l'chatchilah and the
proper berachah is recited when it is donned.(5)
* If more than one of the eight strings snaps off completely, or even if
more than one string is less than 1.9 inches long, the tallis should no
longer be worn.(6)
* If one or two of the eight strings shrank but is still at least 1.9
inches long, the tallis remains kosher l'chatchilah and the proper
berachah is recited over it.
* If three or more [or even all eight] strings shrank but are still at
least 1.9 inches long, the tallis remains kosher, but it should be
replaced or repaired. If, however, this is the only tallis available, it
may be worn and a berachah recited over it.(7)
Note: Our discussion pertains to strings that were cut, got torn or shrank
in the anaf portion of the string. If, however, even one string was
severed at the point where the tzitzis are attached to the garment [until
after the first knot], the tallis is pasul.(8)
QUESTION: What are the correct dimensions for a tallis katan?
DISCUSSION: There is a wide range of views in the poskim regarding
the proper length and width of a tallis katan: Some hold that there is no
minimum at all and a tallis katan of any length or width is acceptable,(9)
while others require an extremely long tallis katan, one that will reach
below the knees.(10)
The view of most poskim, however, falls somewhere in between these two
extremes. The general consensus(11) is that it is appropriate for a G-d
fearing individual to wear a tallis katan which is two amos long and one
amah wide. Using the middle-of-the-road view as to the exact length of an
amah, it follows that the preferred tallis katan is at least 42.5 inches
long [front to back ,(12)] and 21.3 inches wide.(13)
While this is the preferred size, Mishnah Berurah(14) rules that one may
wear a tallis katan which is only an amah-and-half long by three-quarters
of an amah wide - 32 inches long by 16 inches wide.(15)
Note: Chazon Ish(16) rules that each side (shoulder) of the tallis katan
by itself must be wider than the opening for the neck. If, for instance,
the opening is 15 inches wide, then each side of the tallis must be at
least 15 inches wide for a total of 30 inches. Most other poskim do not
mention this requirement.
QUESTION: Should men recite the blessing of al mitzvas tzitzis when
they put on their tallis katan in the morning or not?
DISCUSSION: In order to understand the different rulings on this
issue, the following background information will be helpful:
In past generations, the widely accepted practice was not to recite a
berachah on a tallis katan at all; instead, the berachah that was said on
the tallis gadol - which was put on later - was intended to retroactively
cover the tallis katan as well. While the concept of a berachah
retroactively "covering" a mitzvah is quite unusual, the custom developed
(17) because many poskim were hesitant about reciting a berachah over a
tallis katan. In order to avoid the risk of a berachah levatalah, they
advised that the berachah over the tallis gadol include the tallis katan
as well. The reasons for their reluctance to recite a berachah over a
tallis katan were:
* Often, the tallis katan was of questionable size or material.(18)
* The tallis gadol was usually donned at home (before going to shul),
right after the tallis katan was put on.(19) The poskim felt that reciting
two berachos [over the same mitzvah] one right after the other is akin to
reciting a berachah she'inah tzrichah, an unnecessary blessing.(20)
* Many people go to sleep in their tallis katan.(21) When that happens, it
is questionable whether or not a berachah may be recited over the tallis
katan the next morning upon arising.(22)
* Sometimes the tallis katan is put on either before daybreak, before
using the bathroom or before washing the morning netilas yadayim. If so,
the berachah is not recited at that time.(23)
* Because of these and other reasons,(24) the blessing of Al mitzvas
tzitzis over the tallis katan was hardly ever recited.(25) Nowadays,
however, conditions have changed and several of the reasons mentioned
above no longer apply. Contemporary poskim debate whether we should
continue a custom which was established long ago, or if the present
circumstances warrant changing the custom and reciting a berachah over the
tallis katan under the right conditions.(26)
Harav S.Z. Auerbach(27) opined that the custom should not be changed, and
those who wear a tallis gadol should have in mind the tallis katan when
they recite the berachah over the tallis gadol. Obviously, all those who
do not wear a tallis gadol should recite the berachah over the tallis
katan at the first possible moment.
The Steipler Gaon, Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky,(28) however, made a distinction
between those who go to shul to daven Shacharis as soon as they are
dressed and ready, and those who who rise early to learn [or recite
selichos, etc.] before davening. The first group should not recite a
berachah over their tallis katan, since they are going to be reciting the
other berachah in short order. The second group, however, who are not
going to recite the berachah on the tallis gadol for quite some time,
should recite the berachah over the tallis katan.
It seems that the opinion of Harav M. Feinstein was even more inclined
toward reciting the berachah over a tallis katan. When asked whether or
not to recite a berachah over a tallis katan if there will be a break of
twenty minutes between donning the tallis katan and donning the tallis
gadol, he answered in the affirmative.(29)
But whichever opinion one follows, a berachah over the tallis katan cannot
be recited before misheyakir, which is approximately 45 minutes(30) before
sunrise.(31) Nor can the berchaha be recited if one has not used the
bathroom and washed his hands for the morning netilas yadayim.(32)
In the event that the tallis katan is put on before misheyakir or before
using the bathroom and washing the hands, the berachah is deferred(33)
until the appropriate time. At that time, there is no need to remove and
put on the garment again; simply looking at the strings(34) and touching
them(35) is sufficient.
1 The section of string between the hole and the first knot does not count
towards the minimum length of the tzitzis strings.
2 O.C. 11:4, based on the measurements of the Chazon Ish. According to the
calculations of Harav A.C. Naeh, the length may be no less than 9.5 inches.
3 O.C. 11:14. See Shiurin shel Torah, 6, that the third to two thirds
ratio need not be exact.
4 According to the measurements of the Chazon Ish. According to Harav A.C.
Naeh, it is about 1.6 inches.
5 O.C. 12:1. It is a Middas chassidus, however, to repair such strings
immediately; Eishel Avraham O.C. 12 and Kaf ha-Chayim 12:12. See also
Mishnah Berurah 15:3.
6 Depending on the exact method used for attaching the tzitzis to the
garment, it is possible that a tallis will remain kosher even if more than
one [or even four] string snapped off completely. We refer here to the
case where the method is unknown, e.g., a tallis that was bought with the
tzitzis already attached to the garment.
7 Mishnah Berurah 12:11;13 and Beiur Halachah s.v. v'halchah.
8 Mishnah Berurah 12:13; Chazon Ish O.C. 3:6, 13.
9 Aruch ha-Shulchan 16:5; Hisorerus Teshuvah 3:38. See Igros Moshe Y.D.
3:52-2 for an elaboration.
10 The view of the Gaon of Vilna, as quoted by his disciples; see Keser
Rosh 4, and Da'as Torah 16:1. See also Kaf ha-Chayim 16:2 quoting the
11 See Mishnah Berurah 16:3; Chazon Ish O.C. 2:9; 3:31.
12 Whether or not the neck opening is included in the minimum size is
disputed by the poskim. Mishnah Berurah (8:17; 16:4) holds that it does
not count, while Chazon Ish (O.C. 3:30) rules that it does, and that there
is no need for stringency on this issue.
13 We have calculated the amah according to the measurements of Igros
Moshe O.C. 1:136. According to Chazon Ish, the preferred size is 48 by 24
inches, while according to Harav A.C. Naeh, 38 by 19 inches will suffice.
14 8:17; 16:4.
15 According to Harav A.C. Naeh, the minimum size would be 30 by 15 inches.
16 O.C. 2:9; 3:31. See also Igros Chazon Ish 1:10.
17 Dating back (at least) to the days of the Rama; see Darkei Moshe 8:3.
It went on to become universally practiced, both by Ashkenazim and
18 Mishnah Berurah 8:24.
19 Rama O.C. 25:2 and Mishnah Berurah 11.
20 Mishnah Berurah 8:24; 8:30.
21 As recommended by the Arizal, quoted by Mishnah Berurah 21:15.
22 Mishnah Berurah 8:42.
23 Aruch ha-Shulchan 8:16.
24 See Mishnah Berurah 8:7 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 8:16.
25 See Tzitzis-Halachah Pesukah 8, note 122, that the Chazon Ish did not
recite a berachah over the tallis katan even on Friday afternoon when he
put on a fresh tallis katan in honor of Shabbos.
26 See Siyach Halachah 8:47,5-6 for an elaboration of this debate.
27 Halichos Shelomo, Tefillah, 3:10. This is also the opinion of Yechaveh
Da'as 5:2, based (in part) on the view of the Eishel Avraham (Tanyana 16)
and other poskim who hold that nowadays no berachah is recited over a
tallis katan no matter what its size, since adults are embarrassed to be
seen in the street wearing such a garment; see Rama 16:1 and Peri Megadim,
28 Quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 1, 48.
29 Oral ruling heard by Rabbi B. Hirschfeld.
30 There are several views among contemporary poskim as to when, exactly,
misheyakir occurs, ranging from 60 to 35 minutes before sunrise.
31 Mishnah Berurah 18:10.
32 Mishnah Berurah 4:60.
33 Alternatively, those who put on a tallis gadol can wait until that time
to include the tallis katan.