Simanim 12-14 Defective Tzitzit

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #9: Simanim 12 - 14

Pages 45 - 52


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



Siman 12:  Defective Tzitzit




If the tzitzit strings tore (se'if 1):


Note:  The tzitzit are composed of four strings which are doubled over to form eight.  Henceforth, "string" will refer to one of these four.  When half a string (or one-eighth the total) is meant, this will be designated as a "segment."


            In Menachot 35b we learn that "the remnants of (gardomei) tekhelet are valid tzitzit."  In other words, if the tzitzit's strings are cut off but there is a bit left, the tzitzit are kosher.  (The length of twelve gudlin or thumb-breadths discussed in the previous siman is required only at the time of the manufacture of the tzitzit.)


            How long must these leftover pieces be?


            A preliminary answer is found in Menachot 38b: "What is the length of remnants? ... In order to tie a loop around them."


            There is a debate among the Rishonim regarding the meaning of the phrase "remnants of tekhelet," i.e., how many of the strings may be torn before the tzitzit are considered invalid.


            The Rosh understood "gardomei tekhelet" to mean all the strings of the tzitzit, "tekhelet" being simply an alternate way to say tzitzit.  According to this, even if every string of the tzitzit is cut, as long as there is enough left on each string to tie a loop (kedei aniva), the tzitzit are fine.  (For each string, only one of its halves need have this length left.)


            Rabbeinu Tam, in contrast, took the word "tekhelet" literally (according to R. Tam there are two strings of tekhelet at each corner and two white strings).  The two white strings, he maintains, must be fully intact.  It is only the two tekhelet ones which may be torn if one wants his tzitzit to remain valid (assuming, of course, that enough for a loop is left on each string).  Nowadays when all the strings are white, the same rule applies - two must be whole and two may be torn.


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?


            The Rosh's opinion may, in fact, be a significant leniency in a case of emergency.  See M.B. 12:11 regarding the recital of a berakha on tzitzit in which only "enough to tie a loop" remains on each string, and M.B. 12:13 until the words "mi-tefilla be-tzibbur" regarding when one may follow this leniency.


            What is the precise meaning of  "enough to tie a loop?"  See the Biur Halakha s.v. Im Nifseku (on se'if 1), particularly the end where he issues a ruling.


            A practical problem presents itself in this matter: If two segments of string are completely cut off, how is one to be sure that they are not in fact two halves of one string (in which case there is not even "enough to tie a loop" left and the tzitzit are certainly invalid)?  One way to eliminate this problem is to make sure from the start that the halves of the strings on each side never become mixed up.  The simplest way to accomplish this is to tie up one of the two groups while the tzitzit are being made (it is easier to tie the group without the long shamash).


            [Is it permitted to tie an actual knot and then to untie it?  See S.A. 11:13.  Despite this, the Har Tzvi (OC vol. I, 15) ruled that the tzitzit are kosher because, among other reasons, only one side was knotted.  However, it is better to use a slip knot.]


            The following halakhic conclusion can be drawn:


            If one segment is completely cut off, the tzitzit are certainly valid.


            If, in addition, another segment is cut so that "enough to tie a loop" is left, the tzitzit are still fine because no whole string is completely cut, which fulfills the Rosh's requirement, and two strings are still left whole, which fulfills Rabbeinu Tam's.


            If two segments of string from the same side are completely torn but the two groups were kept separate during the manufacture of the tzitzit, the tzitzit are valid.  If, however, the groups were not kept separate or the two torn strings are on different sides, then the tzitzit are disqualified (because it is quite likely that one string is now completely missing).


            If each and every segment is torn but enough remains to tie a loop (approximately four cm), then the Rosh would accept these tzitzit (as he would even if on one side all the segments were fully cut off, assuming a separation had been maintained during manufacture), while Rabbeinu Tam would disqualify it for not having at least two complete strings.  In practice, if one cannot easily find other tzitzit, he may wear such these and recite a berakha over them (M.B 12:11,13).


Tying a torn string (se'if 1):


            If a string is torn, may one retie it?  See M.B. 12:7 (from the words "She'eila: Chutei ha-tzitzit") for a surprising approach.


"Enough to tie a loop" - from where is this measured? (se'if 3)


            We have seen that if a string is torn but enough is left to tie a loop, the tzitzit remain valid.  Must this amount be left from the anaf (the string that comes after all the knots) or can the gedil (the segment with all the knots) count too?  Rashi and the Ri debate this point.  How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?  When is it permissible to rely upon the Ri, and with what limitations?  See M.B. 12:13.


            See the Bi'ur Halakha, s.v. Yesh Lismokh Al Ri, for an interesting solution in case all the strings are cut off until the gedil (this even accords with Rashi's opinion).



Siman 13:  Tzitzit on Shabbat



            Are the strings of the four corners interdependent? (se'if 1)


            In the mishna on Menachot 28a, we find the following disagreement: Tana kama asserts that the four [corners of] tzitziot are one mitzva and are interdependent - if one is missing, the whole is disqualified.  R. Yishmael, in contrast, believes that each is a separate mitzva.  If, for example, there are strings on two of the corners, two mitzvot are fulfilled.


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?  What ramification does this have for wearing invalid tzitzit outdoors on Shabbat?  The problem is that if one goes out with invalid tzitzit on Shabbat he is considered to be carrying - not wearing - the disqualified strings (which is forbidden if there is no eruv).


Personal dignity (se'if 3):


            See the two stories on Menachot 37b-38a about Ravina and Mar bar Rav Ashi.


            Learn the Mishna Berura and distinguish between Shabbat and weekdays, and between a tallit gadol and a tallit katan.  The rule of thumb is found at the end of M.B. 13:12.  This also has ramifications for a chazan who takes a tallit and finds it to be invalid.  And see also the Bi'ur Halakha, s.v. Ve-davka, who brings a case in which one should certainly be lenient and refrain from removing his tallit.



Siman 14:  Tzitzit Made by a Woman, or Borrowed



Tzitzit tied by a woman (se'if 1):


            In Gittin 45b we read, "Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot written by ... a woman or a minor are invalid, as it is written, 'and you shall tie' [adjacent to] 'and you shall write' ... "  What if a woman put tzitzit on a garment?  See Tosafot s.v. Kol.


            How did the Shulchan Arukh rule?  The Rama?


Tying the tzitziot without the proper intention (se'if 2):


            Tzitzit which were tied without the proper kavana (intention) are kosher according to the Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 1:12) but invalid according to Rashi (Menachot 42a) and the Rosh (Hilkhot Tzitzit, 14).


            How did the Shulchan Arukh rule?


            It is clear that a person who is making tzitzit almost invariably does so li-shma (for the sake of the mitzva of tzitzit), even according to Rashi and the Rosh (Meishiv Davar vol. I, 3).  This is especially true of our tzitzit nowadays in which the garment is worn specifically for the sake of the tzitzit (Bi'ur Halakha s.v. Lo Yevarekh Alav).  Nevertheless, one should, ideally, say the words "le-shem mitzvat tzitzit" - preferably before inserting the strings into the hole but at least before tying the first knot (Bi'ur Halakha).


A borrowed tallit (se'if 3):


            Chullin 136a teaches, "'On the four corners of YOUR garment' - why must it say 'your' garment?  For [that which is taught by] R. Yehuda who said, 'A borrowed tallit is exempt from tzitzit a full thirty days.'"


            Tosafot (Chullin 110b s.v. Tallit) explain that even after thirty days have passed one need not, strictly speaking, put tzitzit on it; the Sages required it only because by that time it looks as if it is his.


            May one recite a berakha on a borrowed tallit?


            Tosafot (ibid.) say that even though it is true that a woman may recite a berakha on time-bound mitzvot (from which she is exempt), one still may not do so over a borrowed tallit (which is also exempt) because this exemption centers on the garment, not the person.  Nevertheless, conclude the Tosafot, one who does recite such a berakha is not held culpable.


            The Rosh (siman 26) draws the following distinction: If a four-cornered garment was borrowed without tzitzit on it, it is exempt; if it was borrowed already fitted out with strings, one should recite the berakha.  (We assume that the garment's owner intended the borrower to make this berakha and therefore must have given it to him not as a loan but as a present that will later be returned - "matana al menat le-hachzir.")


            The Yam Shel Shlomo (Chullin 8:53) disagrees, believing that one should not recite the berakha even on a tallit that was borrowed with tzitzit on it already.  These who say that the berakha should be made, he claims, mean this only in a case in which it was borrowed for the sake of tefilla, not for the sake of an honor (such as being the chazan or getting an aliya).


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?


            See M.B. 14:11 who says that if he borrowed it for tefilla, he should say a berakha; for an honor, he should not.  The reason for this is that if he borrowed it only for an honorary purpose then we assume that the lender did not mean to "give" it to him but only to lend it to him.


            There are two ways in which a borrower can deal with this matter:

1) He can intend to acquire the tallit as a gift to be returned, ideally letting the owner know, or

2) he can intend NOT to acquire ownership of the tallit.


            See the Mishna Berura to learn which situations call for which intention.  In any case, even if he did not tell the owner he was taking it as a gift to be returned, or conversely, did not have in mind not to acquire it as such, the halakha is as above - if he borrowed it for tefilla he should say a berakha, if he borrowed it for an honor, he should not.


A communal tallit (based on se'ifim 3 and 5):


            There are two possible reasons to make a berakha on the community's tallit:

1) The Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham, 6) and Elia Rabba (6) learn this from the law of a tallit owned by partners (tallit ha-shutafin).  The gemara in Chullin 136a says that a tallit owned by partners is obligated to have tzitzit, and this is how the Shulchan Arukh rules (se'if 5).

2) Derekh Ha-chayim says that the reason is that such a tallit was bought for this exact purpose - so that all who wear it can acquire temporary ownership of it and say the berakha.


            The practical differences that arise from these two approaches are as follows:

1) A stranger to the synagogue would not make a berakha according to the first reason, but would according to the second.

2) One who expressly intends not to acquire ownership of the garment in order to be exempt from the berakha would find his plan effective according to the second reason, but not according to the first (and so indeed rules the Peri Megadim in siman 581, Eshel Avraham 3).


            The Bi'ur Halakha s.v. She'eila deals with this issue but leaves unresolved the question of whether to make a berakha on a communal tallit that was borrowed to wear during an honorary calling-up (like an aliya).  However, in the Mishna Berura (14:11 from the words "ve-khol zeh be-tallitot") he says that one does make the berakha, and the same conclusion is reached in the Bi'ur Halakha elsewhere (8:9 s.v. Kodem She-yevarekh).  Also, see the Bi'ur Halakha there (8:8) regarding whether one is even permitted to wear it without a berakha.


            In one's own synagogue, there seems to be a consensus that he may recite the berakha, since both reasons mentioned above apply.  However, he should still have in mind that his donning of it is for the sake of the mitzva of tzitzit (cf. the Biur Halakha on siman 14).


            In any case of uncertainty about this berakha (and similarly if one dons the tallit at a time when the obligation might not be in force - for example, early in the morning before there is visibility by natural light), it is preferable to refrain from using a communal tallit, and to intend not to acquire ownership of it (cf. the commentaries on siman 581).


Using a tallit without permission (se'if 4):


            The gemara in Bava Metzia 29b makes the following assumption: "The average person would like to have a mitzva done with his belongings."


            On the other hand, we learn in Bava Batra that "One who borrows without permission is a thief."


            It is therefore permitted to borrow religious items without asking - but only under specific conditions (which indicate that the owner would like the item to be used).  These are detailed in the Shulchan Arukh se'if 4 and the Mishna Berura 14:13 and 16.


            In Tzitz Eliezer (12:7) it is written that a sick person should not borrow a tallit or the like since it is likely that the owner would object because of the germs.


            An additional problem presents itself in this situation: If the owner did not transfer the tallit to his possession, how can he make a berakha on it?  See the opinion of Tosafot cited above in connection with one who borrows a tallit; you will then be able to explain the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh the way the Magen Avraham did (se'if 8).  In contrast, the Taz disagrees with the Shulchan Arukh, as does the Yam Shel Shlomo (also brought above).  See M.B. 14:14.  How does the Mishna Berura rule?



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)