Siman 11:4 - 11:15 The Tzitzit Strings

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #8:Siman 11:4 - 11:15

Pages 39 - 45


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



Siman 11:  The Tzizit Strings (continued)



The length of the strings (se'if 4):


            Tzitziot, after they are tied, can be divided into three sections:

1) from the hole in the garment until the beginning of the knots;

2) from the first knot until the last one (the "gedil"); and

3) the remainder of the string (the "anaf").


            When measuring length, only the latter two are taken into account.  The gedil should be one-third the total length and the anaf, two-thirds (Menachot 39a).


            What must the total length be?  The gemara in Menachot 41b teaches that the string should equal four gudlin (i.e., etzba'ot, with an etzba equaling 2 cm. according to R. Chaim Na'eh and 2.4 cm. according to the Chazon Ish).  But there is some disagreement about which length the gemara is referring to:

The Rambam maintains that the total length (the gedil plus the anaf) should be four gudlin; Rashi, that the anaf alone should be four gudlin (hence, the gedil would be two gudlin and the total, six gudlin); and Tosafot, that the gedil should be four (so that the anaf is eight and the total, twelve).


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?


            Is the prescribed length of the strings biblically or rabbinically mandated?  See Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Ein Pachot.


            Does Rashi's opinion bear any halakhic significance for us nowadays?  See Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Yakhol le-katzro, eight lines from the end (beginning with the words "Ve-da od de-im").


            The location of the hole in the corner - kanaf (se'ifim 9, 10):


            In the gemara (Menachot 41b - 42a), R. Papa limits the distance of the hole from the edge of the garment to no more than three gudlin, or six cm, while R. Yaakov in the name of R. Yochanan asserts that it must be no less than the length of "till the joint of the thumb" (some say this is 1.5 thumb-breadths, or three cm, and some say this is two thumb-breadths, or four cm).


            It is therefore customary to have the hole at a distance of five cm (or four), which is acceptable according to all opinions, including that of the Chazon Ish (who believes that a thumb-breadth is 2.4 cm).


            If the hole is placed at the proper distance from the edge, is it then permissible to tie the strings tightly in such a fashion that the corner is bunched up and the knots are adjacent to the hole?  See M.B. 11:41, from the words "Ve-khen im asa."


            Are these distances to be taken into account only with regards to the length of the garment, or also with regards to its width?  See the Shulchan Arukh, end of se'if 10.


            What if the hole started out at the proper distance at the time the tzitzit was made, but with the passage of time it lengthened and extended in the direction of the edge of the garment?  See the Shulchan Arukh se'if 10 (based on the gemara in Menachot 42a).


            Of course, if the hole tore completely, new tzitzit must be inserted after it is sewn up; it is not sufficient to simply sew up the hole as is with the strings still in place, due to the requirement of "You must make it and not take that which was previously made" ("ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asu'i").  How far is the permitted to tear?  See Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Ad She-Lo Nish'ar Bo Ke-shiur.


How to make tzitzit (se'if 14):


            Take four strings and insert them into the hole halfway, so that there now are eight.  One of the strings (the shamash) should be longer than the rest and that one should be wound  around the others to form the gedil.  What if the shamash's length is insufficient - may one of the other strings be used to complete the winding?  See M.B. 11:22.


            The Shulchan Arukh writes that there should be five double knots (with four wound segments, or chuliot, between them).  Our custom is to have seven circles in the first segment, eight in the second, eleven in the third, and thirteen in the fourth (the Shulchan Arukh says nine in the second, but the Mishna Berura says eight).


            The biblical commandment is fulfilled by merely having two knots with at least three wound circles between them (in other words, one short segment).  See M.B. 11:66 to learn when this becomes halakhically relevant.


            [In the next siman we will add one more detail involved in the making of tzitzit which would be useful in case the strings come off.]


Tzitzit must hang over the corner - keren (se'if 15):


            The gemara in Menachot 42a states that tzitzit must "hang over the keren of the garment (i.e., the point or the tip, not to be confused with the kanaf, which is an area of several square centimeters at the corner of the garment).  A bit later, the gemara teaches that the hole for the strings must be at least the length of the top section of the thumb away from the edge of the garment.


            Some connect these two specifications by pointing out that this minimal distance causes the tzitzit to hang down over part of the corner-area of the garment (i.e., what we have been calling the kanaf).  But the Yerei'im explains instead that the gemara means that the strings must touch the very tip (keren) of the garment as they hang downward due to gravity.  In order to accomplish this, they must be pulled out to the side of the hole instead of down (try this on your tallit katan!).


            See M.B. 11:73 to learn whether omitting this requirement would invalidate the mitzva.


(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)