Parashas Shelach concludes with a section familiar to us all as the third paragraph of Krias Shema, which presents the mitzvah of tzitzis.

The particulars of the mitzvah of tzitzis are many, and address the types of garment that are obligated in tzitzis, the way in which the strings are made and hung on the garment, and the laws of wearing the garment. Today, moreover, we must add the detailed discussion of techeles, whose use has become common in recent times.

In this week’s article we will focus on the types of garments that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to. Please G-d, we will address the other aspects of the mitzvah in future articles.

Wool and Linen Garments

The Torah requires that one affix tzitzis to his four-cornered garments. According to the strict halachah, one must wear tzitzis only if one actually wears a four-cornered garment; there is no obligation to specifically purchase a four-cornered garment for this purpose. 

Nevertheless, as we will see below, the practice has developed – to the extent that it has become mandatory – to wear a four-cornered garment and hence bring upon oneself the obligation of tzitzis. It is of course important to clarify which garments need tzitzis strings, and which do not.

The Gemara in (Menachos 39b) cites an important dispute between Rava and Rav Nachman as to which garments require tzitzis. Rav Nachman (based on the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael) maintains that the mitzvah applies to garments made of wool or linen – and not to garments made of other materials. This is derived from the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of tzitzis with the prohibition of sha’atnez – the combination of wool and linen.

Though accepting the association, Rava reaches a different conclusion. According to his opinion, the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to all garments. However, whereas generally a garment requires tzitzis made from the same material as the garment itself, strings made from wool and linen may be used as tzitzis for garments of all materials.

Thus, according to Rav Nachman, the Torah does not obligate one to affix tzitzis to a cotton or silk garment. He agrees, however, that these materials require tzitzis by rabbinic enactment.

Wearing Wool or Cotton

This debate is of great practical import for, as noted, the custom has developed to specifically obligate ourselves in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

The origin of this custom is the Talmudic teaching, which relates (Menachos 41a) that Rav Katina wore special clothes in order to avoid wearing a four-cornered garment, and was rebuked for this practice. When he responded, “Is there a punishment for not fulfilling a mitzvas asei?” he was told that it is improper to maneuver in such a way so as not to perform a mitzva. Moreover, in a period of Divine anger, one is punished for intentionally avoiding a mitzvas asei by not wearing a four-cornered garment. Therefore, we are careful to fulfill the mitzvah by wearing a four-cornered garment, and the question thus arises: What material should the garment be made of?

Many rishonim follow the opinion of Rav Nachman, according to which only garments made of either wool or linen are obligated in tzitzis, according to Torah law. This view is adopted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 9:1). The Rema, however, cites Rava’s position, obligating all garments on the level of Torah law (this is based on the ruling of Tosafos, Menachos 39b, and a number of rishonim).

Therefore, many authorities strongly recommend wearing a woolen garment with tzitzis, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah on a Torah level. Indeed, the Radbaz (3:607) writes that this was the prevalent custom in his time. More recently, the practice was recommended by poskim such as the Chayei Adam and Ben Ish Chai, and this ruling is noted by the Mishna Berura (9:5). Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe 2:1) writes that this is proper practice even in the hot summer months, when cotton is far more comfortable.

Yet, according to the Rema, the Torah mitzvah is fulfilled with all garments, and it is noteworthy that two prominent poskim, the Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav 17) and the Chazon Ish (Sefer Dinim U-minhagim), ruled leniently in this regard and themselves wore garments made of other materials for the mitzvah of tzitzis.  

In the choice between cotton and silk, Shut Torah Lishmah (4) writes that cotton should be preferred, because silk was excluded from the Mishkan, on account of its derivation from an impure creature.

Garments Made of Synthetic Materials

Not all materials are suitable for tzitzis garments. The Gemara (Menachos 40b) writes that garments made of leather are not obligated in tzitzis, a halachah ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (10:4) and by subsequent authorities (Mishna Berurah 10:11, Levush 10:4, Chayei Adam 11:6).

An important question is the status of nylon and other synthetic materials for tzitzis garments. This question is subject to considerable debate among contemporary halachic authorities, which came to the fore concerning mesh-like garments made for comfort during the summer months.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (loc. cit.) was opposed to the use of this type of garment, ruling that a garment made of nylon (or other synthetic material) is not obligated in tzitzis at all. The reason for this is that even though fibers can be made from nylon, the fact that a nylon garment can be made without fibers, as one piece, excludes nylon from the halachic definition of garments.

However, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi 1:9) ruled that garments made of synthetic threads are obligated in tzitzis. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 12:3) writes that although the halachic leaning is that the garment is obligated in tzitzis, one should not make a berachah over it (on account of the doubt involved), and therefore it is not proper to wear the garment.

A Four-Cornered Garment

A garment is obligated in tzitzis only if it has four or more corners (Shulchan Aruch 10:1). A three-cornered garment is therefore exempt from tzitzis, but a five-cornered garment is obligated in tzitzis, and the strings should be affixed to the corners most distant from one another (Shulchan Aruch).

The Mishna Berurah (10:5) records a debate as to whether this requirement is mandated by Torah law, or is intended simply to ensure maximum visibility of the tzitzis. He concludes that one may rely on the more lenient position, and thus if he realizes that the tzitzis are not placed on the four corners most distant from one another and he has no time before davening to change them, he may wear the tallis.

It is noteworthy that although the Shulchan Aruch rules that a garment with more than four corners requires tzitzis on four of the corners, the Mishna Berurah (10:3) records that other authorities exempt such a garment from tzitzis. The Mishna Berurah therefore recommends avoiding this debate by refraining from wearing a garment with five or more corners. A four-cornered tallis is thus far preferable to a five-cornered tallis.

As noted, most modern-day garments do not have four corners, and therefore do not require tzitzis. A possible exception is a long winter coat, where a slit runs down the backside of the coat – or a rabbinic coat with a similar slit. If the slit extends halfway up the garment, it would require tzitzis on the four corners, and the Mishnah Berurah (10:36) therefore recommends rounding off one of the corners, since rounded edges are not corners with respect to the obligation of tzitzis.

Some argue that jackets and coats are not obligated in tzitzis, even if a slit forms four corners, because they are worn “around” the body, and the corners are therefore not considered to be “two in front and two behind.” As noted, the Mishnah Berurah is stringent in this regard.

Pajamas and Night Garments

The Gemara (Menachos 43a) cites the teaching of Rabbi Shimon, who expounded on the words “and you shall see them”: “This excludes night garments.” The meaning of this halachic ruling is disputed by rishonim.

The Rambam (Tzitzis 3:7) explains that the time of wearing is the determining factor: during the day, all garments require tzitzis (even pajamas), while at night even regular clothing is exempt. The Rosh (Hilchos Tzitzis 1), in contrast, maintains that the type of garment is the determining factor. Garments designated for nighttime wear are exempt even during the day, whereas daytime or round-the-clock clothing requires tzitzis even at night.

The halachah follows both opinions (Shulchan Aruch 18:1), and therefore one must affix tzitzis to a nighttime garment worn during the day (to satisfy the Rambam’s position; Mishnah Berurah 18:2), but a berachah is not recited because of the doubt in the matter. Similarly, if a daytime (four-cornered) garment is worn at night, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.

Wearing Tzitzis at Night

The general custom is not to be particular about wearing tzitzis throughout the night. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch (21:3) mentions a custom whereby “one should not sleep with tzitzis,” because this is considered disrespectful to the mitzvah. The Magen Avraham (2) writes of this custom (citing the Beis Yosef) that “we have not heard of anybody who is particular in this,” and cites the Arizal that one should sleep with tzitzis – though he defers the proof that the Arizal suggested.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger cites the Magen Avraham that a person must be careful to wear tztizis when reciting the Shema, understanding that this applies even to the nighttime Shema (this is not the conventional understanding), and therefore writes that one should not take off tzitzis until the Shema is recited. The Iggros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah Vol. II, 137) concludes concerning this matter that even if somebody has taken off his tzitzis at night, he is permitted to wear them again, but doing so is not required.

Summary:

  • ·         Although the Torah obligation of tzitzis is to affix tzitzis strings to a garment with four corners – so that somebody who does not wear such a garment is exempt – one must ensure that one wears a four-cornered garment with tzitzis during the daytime.
  • ·         According to some opinions, the mitzvah applies on a Torah level to wool and linen garments alone. Therefore, many authorities rule that it is preferable to wear woolen garments (linen is not worn since one may not affix woolen tzitzis because of sha’atnez).
  • ·         Nylon should preferably not be worn, and if it is worn, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.
  • ·         For four-cornered pajamas worn during the day, and for daytime clothing worn at night, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.
  • ·         There is no obligation to take off one’s tzitzis at night. After taking it off, there is no mitzvah of putting it back on, but it is permitted to do so.

Parashas Shelach concludes with a section familiar to us all as the third paragraph of Krias Shema, which presents the mitzvah of tzitzis.

The particulars of the mitzvah of tzitzis are many, and address the types of garment that are obligated in tzitzis, the way in which the strings are made and hung on the garment, and the laws of wearing the garment. Today, moreover, we must add the detailed discussion of techeles, whose use has become common in recent times.

In this week’s article we will focus on the types of garments that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to. Please G-d, we will address the other aspects of the mitzvah in future articles.

Wool and Linen Garments

The Torah requires that one affix tzitzis to his four-cornered garments. According to the strict halachah, one must wear tzitzis only if one actually wears a four-cornered garment; there is no obligation to specifically purchase a four-cornered garment for this purpose. 

Nevertheless, as we will see below, the practice has developed – to the extent that it has become mandatory – to wear a four-cornered garment and hence bring upon oneself the obligation of tzitzis. It is of course important to clarify which garments need tzitzis strings, and which do not.

The Gemara in (Menachos 39b) cites an important dispute between Rava and Rav Nachman as to which garments require tzitzis. Rav Nachman (based on the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael) maintains that the mitzvah applies to garments made of wool or linen – and not to garments made of other materials. This is derived from the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of tzitzis with the prohibition of sha’atnez – the combination of wool and linen.

Though accepting the association, Rava reaches a different conclusion. According to his opinion, the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to all garments. However, whereas generally a garment requires tzitzis made from the same material as the garment itself, strings made from wool and linen may be used as tzitzis for garments of all materials.

Thus, according to Rav Nachman, the Torah does not obligate one to affix tzitzis to a cotton or silk garment. He agrees, however, that these materials require tzitzis by rabbinic enactment.

Wearing Wool or Cotton

This debate is of great practical import for, as noted, the custom has developed to specifically obligate ourselves in the mitzvah of tzitzis.

The origin of this custom is the Talmudic teaching, which relates (Menachos 41a) that Rav Katina wore special clothes in order to avoid wearing a four-cornered garment, and was rebuked for this practice. When he responded, “Is there a punishment for not fulfilling a mitzvas asei?” he was told that it is improper to maneuver in such a way so as not to perform a mitzva. Moreover, in a period of Divine anger, one is punished for intentionally avoiding a mitzvas asei by not wearing a four-cornered garment. Therefore, we are careful to fulfill the mitzvah by wearing a four-cornered garment, and the question thus arises: What material should the garment be made of?

Many rishonim follow the opinion of Rav Nachman, according to which only garments made of either wool or linen are obligated in tzitzis, according to Torah law. This view is adopted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 9:1). The Rema, however, cites Rava’s position, obligating all garments on the level of Torah law (this is based on the ruling of Tosafos, Menachos 39b, and a number of rishonim).

Therefore, many authorities strongly recommend wearing a woolen garment with tzitzis, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah on a Torah level. Indeed, the Radbaz (3:607) writes that this was the prevalent custom in his time. More recently, the practice was recommended by poskim such as the Chayei Adam and Ben Ish Chai, and this ruling is noted by the Mishna Berura (9:5). Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe 2:1) writes that this is proper practice even in the hot summer months, when cotton is far more comfortable.

Yet, according to the Rema, the Torah mitzvah is fulfilled with all garments, and it is noteworthy that two prominent poskim, the Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav 17) and the Chazon Ish (Sefer Dinim U-minhagim), ruled leniently in this regard and themselves wore garments made of other materials for the mitzvah of tzitzis.  

In the choice between cotton and silk, Shut Torah Lishmah (4) writes that cotton should be preferred, because silk was excluded from the Mishkan, on account of its derivation from an impure creature.

Garments Made of Synthetic Materials

Not all materials are suitable for tzitzis garments. The Gemara (Menachos 40b) writes that garments made of leather are not obligated in tzitzis, a halachah ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (10:4) and by subsequent authorities (Mishna Berurah 10:11, Levush 10:4, Chayei Adam 11:6).

An important question is the status of nylon and other synthetic materials for tzitzis garments. This question is subject to considerable debate among contemporary halachic authorities, which came to the fore concerning mesh-like garments made for comfort during the summer months.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (loc. cit.) was opposed to the use of this type of garment, ruling that a garment made of nylon (or other synthetic material) is not obligated in tzitzis at all. The reason for this is that even though fibers can be made from nylon, the fact that a nylon garment can be made without fibers, as one piece, excludes nylon from the halachic definition of garments.

However, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi 1:9) ruled that garments made of synthetic threads are obligated in tzitzis. Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 12:3) writes that although the halachic leaning is that the garment is obligated in tzitzis, one should not make a berachah over it (on account of the doubt involved), and therefore it is not proper to wear the garment.

A Four-Cornered Garment

A garment is obligated in tzitzis only if it has four or more corners (Shulchan Aruch 10:1). A three-cornered garment is therefore exempt from tzitzis, but a five-cornered garment is obligated in tzitzis, and the strings should be affixed to the corners most distant from one another (Shulchan Aruch).

The Mishna Berurah (10:5) records a debate as to whether this requirement is mandated by Torah law, or is intended simply to ensure maximum visibility of the tzitzis. He concludes that one may rely on the more lenient position, and thus if he realizes that the tzitzis are not placed on the four corners most distant from one another and he has no time before davening to change them, he may wear the tallis.

It is noteworthy that although the Shulchan Aruch rules that a garment with more than four corners requires tzitzis on four of the corners, the Mishna Berurah (10:3) records that other authorities exempt such a garment from tzitzis. The Mishna Berurah therefore recommends avoiding this debate by refraining from wearing a garment with five or more corners. A four-cornered tallis is thus far preferable to a five-cornered tallis.

As noted, most modern-day garments do not have four corners, and therefore do not require tzitzis. A possible exception is a long winter coat, where a slit runs down the backside of the coat – or a rabbinic coat with a similar slit. If the slit extends halfway up the garment, it would require tzitzis on the four corners, and the Mishnah Berurah (10:36) therefore recommends rounding off one of the corners, since rounded edges are not corners with respect to the obligation of tzitzis.

Some argue that jackets and coats are not obligated in tzitzis, even if a slit forms four corners, because they are worn “around” the body, and the corners are therefore not considered to be “two in front and two behind.” As noted, the Mishnah Berurah is stringent in this regard.

Pajamas and Night Garments

The Gemara (Menachos 43a) cites the teaching of Rabbi Shimon, who expounded on the words “and you shall see them”: “This excludes night garments.” The meaning of this halachic ruling is disputed by rishonim.

The Rambam (Tzitzis 3:7) explains that the time of wearing is the determining factor: during the day, all garments require tzitzis (even pajamas), while at night even regular clothing is exempt. The Rosh (Hilchos Tzitzis 1), in contrast, maintains that the type of garment is the determining factor. Garments designated for nighttime wear are exempt even during the day, whereas daytime or round-the-clock clothing requires tzitzis even at night.

The halachah follows both opinions (Shulchan Aruch 18:1), and therefore one must affix tzitzis to a nighttime garment worn during the day (to satisfy the Rambam’s position; Mishnah Berurah 18:2), but a berachah is not recited because of the doubt in the matter. Similarly, if a daytime (four-cornered) garment is worn at night, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.

Wearing Tzitzis at Night

The general custom is not to be particular about wearing tzitzis throughout the night. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch (21:3) mentions a custom whereby “one should not sleep with tzitzis,” because this is considered disrespectful to the mitzvah. The Magen Avraham (2) writes of this custom (citing the Beis Yosef) that “we have not heard of anybody who is particular in this,” and cites the Arizal that one should sleep with tzitzis – though he defers the proof that the Arizal suggested.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger cites the Magen Avraham that a person must be careful to wear tztizis when reciting the Shema, understanding that this applies even to the nighttime Shema (this is not the conventional understanding), and therefore writes that one should not take off tzitzis until the Shema is recited. The Iggros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah Vol. II, 137) concludes concerning this matter that even if somebody has taken off his tzitzis at night, he is permitted to wear them again, but doing so is not required.

Summary:

  • Although the Torah obligation of tzitzis is to affix tzitzis strings to a garment with four corners – so that somebody who does not wear such a garment is exempt – one must ensure that one wears a four-cornered garment with tzitzis during the daytime.
  • According to some opinions, the mitzvah applies on a Torah level to wool and linen garments alone. Therefore, many authorities rule that it is preferable to wear woolen garments (linen is not worn since one may not affix woolen tzitzis because of sha’atnez).
  • Nylon should preferably not be worn, and if it is worn, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.
  • For four-cornered pajamas worn during the day, and for daytime clothing worn at night, tzitzis must be affixed, but a berachah is not recited.
  • There is no obligation to take off one’s tzitzis at night. After taking it off, there is no mitzvah of putting it back on, but it is permitted to do so.

Tags: parshas shavua Shelach Tzitzis

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