Siman 10 The Tallit's Corners

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #7:Simanim 10 - 11:3

Pages 34 - 39


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



Siman 10:  The Tallit's Corners



The number of corners (se'if 1):


            The Torah instructs us to put tzitzit "on the FOUR corners of the garment with which you cover yourself" (Devarim 22:12).


            Two contradictory Talmudic sources expound upon this verse.  Menachot 43a teaches, "A tallit with three corners is exempt [from tzitzit]; with five, is obligated."  In contrast, Zevachim 18b (as well as Sifrei Shelach 115) asserts, "'Four' - and not three; 'four' - and not five" (i.e., five is exempt).


            A majority of Rishonim, with the notable exception of R. Eliezer Mi-metz (author of the Sefer Yere'im), agree that a tallit with five corners is obligated in tzitzit.  The Rosh goes so far as to say that this in fact was the intention of the Sifrei, which simply meant to convey that one puts tzitzit on only four of the five corners.


            How did the Shulchan Arukh rule?  Is there nevertheless some practical halakhic significance to the opinion of R. Eliezer Mi-metz?  See M.B. 10:3.


Rounded corners (se'ifim 9 and 3):


            Rishonim rule (based on the Sifrei on the verse "on the four corners of your GARMENT") that a rounded corner is exempt from tzitzit, and so too rules the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 9.


            The significance of this becomes clear when one wishes to exempt certain items from the obligation of tzitzit (suits, certain blankets and the like).  What is considered "rounded?"  The Bi'ur Halakha (s.v. Ve-lo) rejects the notion that a token rounding is sufficient to exempt a garment from tzitzit, but remains undecided about the amount of rounding necessary to exempt the garment.  There are Acharonim, though, who do venture opinions.  The Maharil Diskin (responsa, end) writes that the radius should be three etzba'ot (fingers or thumb-breadths, with an etzba equaling two centimeters according to R. Chaim Na'eh and 2.4 cm according to the Chazon Ish), while the Arukh Ha-shulchan believes that the length of the arc should be 3 tefachim (i.e., the radius should be 1.9 tefachim).  The most likely opinion, however, appears to be that of the Chazon Ish (in Dinim Ve-hanhagot Me-hachazon Ish, vol. II, 3) who says that the determining factor is simply whether it appears round to the eye, and thus even three fingers is not necessary.  [The logic being that the definition of rounded should not be an objective arc, but rather RELATIVE to the object concerned - Ed.]


            One cannot, however, claim this exemption by doubling over or sewing the corner of his garment so that it appears rounded (Menachot 37b).  The reason for this is that such an action, being reversible, is not considered a real change of the corner.  This is codified by the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 3.  What if one sewed it well, as a tailor would, in a manner that is generally considered permanent?  See the Bi'ur Halakha (se'if 3) s.v. Lo Niftera.  [See Arukh Ha-shulchan 10:8.]


Garments that are open on the sides (se'if 7):


            Rabbeinu Simcha (according to the understanding of the Maharik in siman 149) believes that a garment whose sides are mostly closed is considered to have no corners (and is therefore exempt from tzitzit).  But the Mordekhai (again, according to the understanding of the Maharik) asserts that a garment that is even slightly open is indeed obligated.


            How did the Shulchan Arukh rule?  See M.B. 10:25 regarding how one defines "mostly,"  which bears halakhic import for our tzitzit-garments themselves.


            On the subject of the tzitzit-garment, the shoulders also present an issue which must be dealt with, for there are those who say that they must be wide.  We will discuss this later in siman 16 (M.B. 16:3).


            Is it permissible to have buttons on a tzitzit-garment?  See M.B. 10:29.

[Scarfs - see Shulchan Arukh 10:11 and Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Sudar.]


Two tzitziot in front and two in back (se'if 12):


            The Rema rules regarding certain types of clothing at the end of se'if 12, "Since their corners are such that one cannot have two in front and two in back, facing each other, they are exempt."


            Should one indeed arrange his tzitziot so that two are in front and two in back?  The answer to this is important both for one who places his tzitziot inside his trousers and for one who leaves them out (i.e., should he leave each pair together at the side or separate it to the front and back?).  See Shulchan Arukh 8:4.


            The Gra maintains that having two in front and two in back is necessary, and even during keriyat shema one should only grasp the two front ones (Ma'aseh Rav 39; She'iltot Le-hagrach Mi-volozhin 6).  To be sure, in Sha'ar Ha-kavanot (Derush Tzitzit 6), it is written that all four should be held during the shema.



Siman 11:  The Tzizit Strings



            The spinning of tzitzit-strings "li-shma" - with the intention of fulfilling the mitzva (se'ifim 1,2):


            The gemara in Sukka 9a interprets, "'Make for YOURSELF fringes' (Devarim 2:12) - for the sake of your obligation."  In other words, the spinning of the strings must be li-shma.  The Shulchan Arukh accepts this as halakha (se'if 1).


            What about machine-made strings?  There are two issues to discuss:

1) "ko'ach gavra" (man-power): The poskim are divided regarding whether actual ko'ach gavra is required for the making of tzitzit.  For those who say it is, it is likely that machine-made tzitzit lack this element.  The reason for this is as follows:

Say a person activates the machine through the pushing of a button.  A circuit is closed when the button is pushed, thus allowing electricity to flow.  Even if the removal of an obstacle (the circuit-breaker) is considered an initiating cause, or "ko'ach rishon" (and many authorities do consider it as such), the rest of the spinning still cannot be attributed to the man-power of the person who started the process.

2) "li-shma": Is it sufficient for the beginning of the spinning to be done with the proper intention, or must the entire process be accomplished in this manner?  If the former, then it appears that machine-made tzitzit are acceptable (provided the machine was started by someone who had the intention of fulfilling the mitzva).


            The various opinions among the poskim reflect their respective opinions on the above issues.  The Minchat Yitzchak (vol. II, 96-99) takes a stringent position consistently.  He requires ko'ach gavra, which is not present here except as ko'ach rishon, plus li-shma throughout.  It is clear, therefore, that he believes one should wear only hand-made tzitzit.


            On the other hand, Rav Kook (Mishpat Kohen 33), the Chazon Ish (Tzitzit 6, s.v. Ve-nir'eh), and the Har Tzvi (OC vol. I, 10) all believe that ko'ach gavra is not necessary for the making of tzitzit, and only the beginning of the spinning must be li-shma.  Hence, machine-made tzitzit are fine according to their opinion.


            The Tzitz Eliezer rules that it is indeed preferable to wear hand-made tzitzit, but that those who choose to be lenient have upon whom to rely (as above).


The twisting of the strings (se'ifim 2,3):


            If one's tzitziot become untwisted (as sometimes happens), are the tzitzit still kosher?


            That the strings must be twisted we learn from the gemara in Eiruvin 96b.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 1:10), interestingly, says, "If one wishes to make them twisted he may do so," implying that it is an optional matter.  However, the Ra'avad (there) and most Rishonim disagree, insisting that it is indeed mandatory.


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule (se'if 2)?


            Now, what if a twisted string became untwisted?  See the Shulchan Arukh, se'if 3, regarding the amount of unraveling which can be tolerated.  In our tzitzit nowadays, though, becoming untwisted is not a concern at all.  Why?  See M.B. 11:17 (in the middle).


            There is, however, another factor which must be taken into account.  If a string becomes untwisted, there will be more than eight strings, which could present a problem of "bal tosif."  See the Bi'ur Halakha on se'if 3, s.v. Ve-na'asu, for two possible solutions.


Tying the ends of the strings (se'if 3):


            Is this a recommended course of action?  See the Rema, and M.B. 11:18.



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)