Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt | Series: | Level:

Question: Do men have an halachic obligation to wear a tallis katan?

Discussion: According to the Midrash quoted by Rashi in Parashas Noach, the Jewish People were rewarded with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which are attached to a garment, because our forebear, Shem, took pains to preserve the modesty of his drunken father Noach by covering him with a garment. The Talmud[1] states that one who is scrupulous in his observance of the mitzvah of tzitzis will merit “to see the Shechinah.”

But is one halachically required to wear a garment with tzitzis fringes attached to it, or is it merely optional?

Although Biblical law does not require one to put tzitzis on a garment unless the garment that he is wearing has four square corners, which most garments nowadays do not have, it is fitting and proper for every male to wear a tallis katan (a small four-cornered garment) all day and thereby incur the obligation to wear tzitzis. In so doing, he fulfills an important mitzvah, one that serves as a constant reminder of all of the other mitzvos of the Torah.[2] Accordingly, it has become customary for all G-d-fearing men to wear a tallis katan all day[3]. Since this has become the prevalent custom, one may not deviate from it, and nowadays, one is obligated to wear a tallis katan all day long[4]. Indeed, those who are meticulous in their mitzvah observance do not walk four cubits (approximately eight feet) without tzitzis[5].

Question: Which blessing, if any, does one recite over a tallis katan?

Discussion: Married men and those who wear a large tallis during davening need not recite a separate blessing over their tallis katan. Rather, when they recite the proper blessing over the tallis gadol, they should have the tallis katan in mind[6]. Unmarried men who do not wear a tallis gadol recite the blessing of Al mitzvas tzitzis on a tallis katan.[7] If the tallis katan is of questionable size or material, a blessing should not be said[8].

Although all married[9] men should wear a tallis gadol during Shacharis, they should not forgo davening with a minyan if a tallis gadol is unavailable[10]. [In regard to tefillin, however, it is preferable to daven without a minyan than to daven without tefillin.[11] ]

Before the blessing on a tallis gadol or katan is recited, the tzitzis fringes must be separated from one another so that they are not entangled[12]. While some poskim imply that fringes which are entangled invalidate the tzitzis and the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled at all[13], most poskim agree that b’diavad one could fulfill the mitzvah even with entangled tzitzis strings[14]. [All poskim agree that if the fringes are tied (or glued) together, then the mitzvah has not been fulfilled and the blessing said over them is in vain[15]. ] Accordingly, while we are careful to separate the tzitzis whenever possible, we forgo doing so when we cannot. Thus, on Shabbos and Yom Tov one should not separate the tzitzis strings before putting on his tallis, since some poskim maintain that separating severely entangled tzitzis strings is a violation of makeh b’patish[16]. Similarly, if taking time to separate the tzitzis will cause one to miss tefillah b’tzibbur, one should rely on the lenient view and wear the tallis even though the tzitzis strings have not been separated[17].

Often, the chulyos (the top segment of the fringes which is wound and knotted) become unraveled or loosened. If this happens, the fringes should be rewound and knotted. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, this is strictly forbidden. Tightening or knotting tzitzis fringes on Shabbos may even be Biblically prohibited.[18]

Question: May one wear a tallis katan made out of cotton?

Discussion: There is a dispute among the Rishonim as to whether it is a Biblical requirement to attach tzitzis to a four-cornered garment made of cotton, or only to a garment made out of wool or linen. While some Rishonim hold that only woolen and linen garments are Biblically obligated in tzitzis, others include cotton as well. Both views are quoted in the Shulchan Aruch[19], and the Rama rules according to the view that maintains that cotton garments do incur the Biblical obligation of tzitzis. Nevertheless, many poskim advise a G-d-fearing person to wear only a tallis katan made from wool and thereby fulfill the mitzvah according to all views[20]. Other poskim, however, do not insist on a wool garment, and there were eminent Torah scholars[21] who wore a tallis katan made out of cotton.

Question: May women “make tzitzis”—i.e., attach tzitzis strings to a garment (tallis katan or tallis gadol)?

Discussion: The Talmud[22] excludes women from the writing of tefillin since they are not commanded to wear tefillin. Following this line of reasoning, Rabbeinu Tam ruled that since women are not commanded to wear tzitzis, they are also not permitted to attach the tzitzis to the garment[23]. Most Rishonim, however, do not agree with this ruling and allow women to be involved in all phases of tzitzis production. The Shulchan Aruch[24] rules with the majority. Nevertheless, in deference to the minority opinion (and for other reasons as well), the Rama advises that l’chatchilah women should not be allowed to put tzitzis on a garment[25]. Although one should follow the Rama’s directive[26], all poskim agree that after the fact, if the tzitzis were attached by women, the tzitzis are kosher and need not be restrung[27].

Question: May a minor attach tzitzis fringes to a garment?

Discussion: Based on the previously mentioned Rama, some poskim rule that a minor below the age of bar mitzvah should not attach tzitzis to a garment. Other poskim feel that minors are not excluded and may attach tzitzis to a garment even l’chatchilah. Mishnah Berurah recommends that l’chatchilah it is appropriate to be stringent[28].

A minor, however, may prepare tzitzis for himself or for another minor. Even when he becomes bar mitzvah, he does not have to unknot the tzitzis and restring them[29].

There is, however, another issue concerning minors attaching tzitzis to a garment. When tzitzis are placed on a garment, they must be attached with the intention of “l’shem mitzvas tzitzis,” for the sake of the mitzvah of tzitzis. Since a minor may not be mature enough to concentrate properly, he may not attach tzitzis to a garment unless he is under the supervision of an adult. If a minor was not properly supervised, then the tzitzis must be removed and reattached properly[30].

Question: Is it permitted to attach tzitzis fringes to a garment at night?

Discussion: Some poskim recommend not doing so[31]. Their reasoning is based on the halachic principle of ta’aseh (you should make) v’lo min ha-asui (it should not be automatically done): Since one is not obligated to wear tzitzis at night[32], it follows that one cannot produce kosher tzitzis at night, either. The vast majority of poskim, however, reject this argument[33]. The Mishnah Berurah does not discuss this issue, but the Chafetz Chayim is quoted[34] as permitting tzitzis to be attached at night. The Chazon Ish is reported[35] as having asked that tzitzis be prepared for him at night.

1. Menachos 43b, quoted in O.C. 24:6.

2. Bamidbar 15:39 (quoted in O.C. 24:1): “That you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them.” In addition, the Talmud (Menachos 41a) says that wearing a tallis katan protects a person from Hashem’s wrath.

3. Aruch ha-Shulchan 8:2; Rav Y.E. Henkin (Eidus l’Yisrael, pg. 114); Tzitz Eliezer 8:4; Yechaveh Da’as 4:2.

4. Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:4. See also Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:20-25.

5. Mishnah Berurah 8:1. See Halichos Shelomo 1:3-16, Devar Halachah 25, and Tzitz Eliezer 14:49, who say that the tallis katan should be left on even if one is suffering from the heat. See The Daily Halachah Discussion, pgs. 58-60, for an elaboration.

6. Mishnah Berurah 8:24, 30; Aruch ha-Shulchan 8:16. Some poskim rule that if there will be a “long break” until the tallis gadol is put on, a blessing should be said on the tallis katan. See The Daily Halachah Discussion, pgs. 307-311, for the various views.

7. Rama, O.C. 8:6.

8. Mishnah Berurah 8:17. See The Daily Halachah Discussion, pgs. 306-307, for the proper dimensions of a tallis katan.

9. The Sephardic and German custom is that unmarried men wear a tallis gadol, too.

10. Mor u’Ketziah 25; Imrei Yosher 2:201-2. See Halichos Shelomo 1:3-3 who debates this issue.

11. Mishnah Berurah 66:40. See, however, Minchas Yitzchak 2:107.

12. O.C. 8:7. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, the tzitzis should not be separated from one another; Halichos Shelomo 1:3-5.

13. See Artzos ha-Chayim and Beiur Halachah 8:7, s.v. tzarich.

14. Aruch ha-Shulchan 8:13; Chazon Ish, O.C. 3:9.

15. Chazon Ish, O.C. 3:9.

16. See Sha’arei Teshuvah 8:9; Mateh Efrayim (Elef le-Mateh) 584:9; Kaf ha-Chayim 8:30; Halichos Shelomo 1:3-5.

17. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 9:7; Mishnah Berurah 8:18; Aruch ha-Shulchan, 8:13.

18. Ketzos ha-Shulchan (Badei ha-Shulchan 123:4); Az Nidberu 3:22; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 15:53.

19. O.C. 9:1.

20. Chayei Adam 11:5; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 9:4; Mishnah Berurah 9:5; Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:2; 2:1; 3:1; 3:52. In Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:20-25, Rav Feinstein adds that one who suffers from the heat is not required to wear a wool tallis katan, although he himself was particular to do so.

21. Chazon Ish (quoted in Shoneh Halachos 9:1) and Rav Y.Y. Kanievsky (quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu 3:188) based on the ruling of the Gra (Ma’asei Rav 17). There are several reasons given as to why the Gra ruled so; see Tzitzis-Halachah Pesukah, pg. 77.

22. Gittin 45b.

23. Many poskim add that other mitzvos (i.e. placing sechach) are included in this prohibition as well. See, however, Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:40-3.

24. O.C. 14:1.

25. The Rama’s restriction, however, applies specifically to inserting the strings through the hole and knotting the first set of chulyos and the double knot immediately following; all the rest may be done by women l’chatchilah; Mishnah Berurah 14:1.

26. Aruch ha-Shulchan 14:7 refers to this stringency as a chumra b’alma.

27. Mishnah Berurah 14:5.

28. In 14:4 he quotes both views without a decision. In Beiur Halachah, s.v. l’hatzrich, he rules that it is appropriate to be stringent.

29. Beiur Halachah 14:1, s.v. l’hatzrich, since we view that situation as a b’diavad, and b’diavad the tzitzis are valid according to all views. See Even Yisrael 9:63 and Chanoch l’Na’ar 9, note 16, who question this leniency.

30. Mishnah Berurah 14:4.

31. Peri Megadim (Mishbetzos) 18:1; Tosefos Chayim on Chayei Adam 11:1; Halichos Yisrael 1:7, quoting Rav Y.Z. Gustman.

32. The Talmud (Menachos 43a) derives from the verse “and you should see them” that there is no mitzvah of tzitzis at night.

33. Da’as Torah 18:1; Tehillah l’David 18:4; Aruch ha-Shulchan 14:7; Kaf ha-Chayim 18:2; Minchas Yitzchak 9:8; Halichos Shelomo 1:3-23; Yabia Omer 8:3.

34. Rivevos Efrayim, O.C. 3:27; Teshuvos v’Hanhagos 2:13.

35. Dinim v’Hanhagos (Chazon Ish) 2:11; Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 3, pg. 188.

Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and

Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at [email protected]