Do Tzitzit Require Both Braided Strings and Loose Strings?

  • Rav Moshe Taragin



By Rav Moshe Taragin



This shiur is dedicated in honor of Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
and all the Ramim of Yeshivat Har Etzion – by Rav Dovid Gottlieb



Shiur #01:  Do Tzitzit Require Both Braided Strings and Loose Strings?



            The gemara in Menachot (39b) notes an interesting "contradiction" in the manner in which the mitzva of tzitzit is described. Parashat Shelach describes a mitzva of “petil tekhelet," alluding to a free-standing string of tekhelet. In contrast, Parashat Ki Tetzei describes "gedilim," which alludes to a braided set of strings. Rav resolves the problem of the dual description of a petil (free-standing string) and a gedil (interlaced string) by asserting that the independent strings of the tzitzit should "emerge" from the interwoven unit. Before citing Rav's solution, the gemara cites a dissenting opinion of Rabba bar Bar Chana, who argues that there are actually two options in forming the tzitzit: The tzitzit may EITHER be fully free-standing (without any gedil – or braided/knotted elements) or the tzitzit may be gedil (braided strings without any free standing strings). In this shiur, we will examine Rabba bar Bar Chana's strange position regarding tzitzit.


            Did Rabba bar Bar Chana actually identify two DIFFERENT tracks of tzitzit based on the variant descriptions? If this were true, there are TWO MODELS of tzitzit, and each parasha presents a valid model. Alternatively, perhaps Rabba bar Bar Chana viewed these two words (petil vs. gedil) as OFFSETTING. By asserting two different images, the Torah basically eliminates any SPECIFIC requirement for the structure of tzitzit. As long as SOME strings emerge from the clothing, it makes little difference whether they are braided or free-standing.


            This second approach – that Rabba bar Bar Chana did not demand one of two specific options for the strings, but was rather abolishing any specific requirement for these strings – may help solve a recurring question posed by Tosafot. The words gedil and petil are employed elsewhere in Shas for halakhic derivation. For example, Tosafot (Menachot 38a) assert that the "tzitzit set" requires two strings of tekhelet based on their reading of “petil tekhelet” as a plural description. If petil is employed by Rabba bar Bar Chana to allow completely "non-braided" models of tzitzit, it cannot be additionally employed as a source for the requirement of two strings of tekhelet. This question is posed by Tosafot in Menachot (39b) s.v. Oh.


Similarly, the gemara (39b) ultimately derives the TOTAL number of required tzitzit strings (four, which are then folded into eight) from the plural word "gedilim." If, according to Rabba bar Bar Chana, the phrase "gedilim" is meant to validate a purely braided form of tzitzit, how can it also inform as to the number of required strings?


            Presumably, our second understanding of Rabba bar Bar Chana’s position avoids these problems. Neither word – petil or gedilim – establishes a definite/required option for tzitzit. Instead, the CLASH BETWEEN the words teaches us that the FORM is INSIGNIFICANT; as long as SOMETHING extends from the clothing, the tzitzit are valid. It is the DISCREPANCY between the words that eliminates any specific requirement, not the words themselves, and the words are therefore “available” to generate other halakhic details.


            An interesting comment of Tosafot (Menachot 38b) refers to a scenario in which part of the braided tzitzit (gedil) unravels and remains as a free-standing tzitzit (petil). Tosafot imply that this would be valid even according to Rabba bar Bar Chana. Many Acharonim question this ruling. After all, tzitzit must be ACTIVELY manufactured in a halakhically viable state; if they are manufactured in a halakhically unacceptable manner and subsequently become kosher "on their own," the tzitzit are pasul based upon the ruling of “ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asuy." In Tosafot’s scenario, the tzitzit were manufactured as gedilim and independently unraveled to become petil. Shouldn’t this represent a situation of ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asuy, which should be invalid?


            Our second approach to Rabba bar Bar Chana’s position neutralizes this question. Rabba bar Bar Chana was not describing two different categories of tzitzit, one a braided form and one a free-standing form. If this were true, perhaps the question would be compelling; if the tzitzit were actively fashioned as ONE category and independently evolved into a SECOND MODEL, perhaps they are considered ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asuy. However, if Rabba was merely stating that tzitzit do not demand ANY PARTICULAR shape or structure, in transforming from braided tzitzit into free-standing tzitzit, no REAL CHANGE has occurred, and the ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asuy principle has not been violated.


            This second approach – that Rabba bar Bar Chana was not asserting two models of tzitzit, but rather claiming that the exact form is immaterial as long as SOMETHING extends out of the garment – may reflect a more general "position" or "logic" regarding the structure of tzitzit. Should the fringes merely be attached to the garment, or should they literally emanate and be seen as an extension of the garment? This question is addressed – in different ways – in several interesting positions of the Rishonim. For example, Rashi discusses a gemara in Menachot 41b which asserts that only the same “type” of fabric as the garment may be used as fringes. Most Rishonim interpret this as requiring the actual fabric of the garment. Rashi, however, claims that the fringes must be the exact COLOR of the garment. By demanding such exact symmetry, Rashi may have been defining the fringes as a direct extension of the garment. Only if the color is similar can the fringes be seen as this extension.


            A similar position may be implied by the Rambam. Most of the “knots” of the tzitzit play secondary roles (and are not necessary me-de'oraita). The gemara (39a) claims, however, that the kesher elyon (literally, the “highest” knot) is fundamental and de-o'raita. Rashi claims that the kesher elyon refers to the FIRST knot CLOSEST to the garment. For some reason, the Rambam claims that this critical knot is the knot closest to the BOTTOM of the fringes. The Rav zt"l explained that the Rambam voided the uppermost knot because it would create a chatziza or division between the garment and the strings. Viewing the fringes as DIRECT extensions of the garment might demand the elimination of any "upper" knot separating the garment from the fringes.


            Rabba bar Bar Chana's statement may be in accord with this view of tzitzit. Since the strings are meant to be DIRECT extensions of the garment, their form is not crucial – as long as the garment EXTENDS IN SOME FASHION, valid tzitzit have been created. Obviously, this is a radical version of the aforementioned logic. One could easily agree that the fringes are extensions (as Rashi and the Rambam imply) while still demanding a distinct form to the tzitzit- against the logic I posed in Rabba bar Bar Chana.