Simanim 15-18 Untying the Strings

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion




SHIUR #10: Simanim 15-18

Pages 53 - 58


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



SIMAN 15: Untying the Strings





            Since these se'ifim are not only complex but also somewhat lacking in practical applications, we will confine ourselves to the main points.


            Menachot 41a teaches us:


            "Said R. Yehuda: A tallit that tore - if it was outside         of three [etzba'ot] one may sew it, inside three he may    not."


            The Rishonim debate the meaning of this gemara:


A.  Rashi explains that the tallit was torn at one of its corners.  If the tear is at a distance of more than three etzba'ot [fingers] from the corner of the garment, it may be sewn up.  If, however, the tear is within three etzba'ot of the corner, it is prohibited to sew it up lest a hanging thread from the sewing be mistaken for one of the tzitzit strings.


            According to Rashi, then, even a small tear that is close to the corner may not be sewn.  The Rosh (in Hilkhot Tzitzit) infers that Rashi would, however, permit it to be sewn with thread of a different material (e.g., with cotton thread if the garment is of wool) since, as we have seen (in siman 9), the tzitzit strings must be of the same material as the garment.


B.  Rav Amram (quoted in the Rosh) envisions a different scenario:  A whole strip is torn off the tallit - either widthwise or lengthwise.  If the breadth of this strip is three etzba'ot or more, then it is considered to be a begged (garment) in its own right.  Hence, the tzitziot on it are kosher, and it can then be re-attached to the original garment.  If, however, the strip were less than three etzba'ot across, it loses its status as a begged and cannot  be re-attached.  (There are some who say that this opinion allows for the sewing on of the strip minus the strings, with the strings being re-attached later.)


            With this background information in mind, learn se'if 4 and M.B. 15:17.



Se'if 5:


            If the hole for the tzitzit-strings tears (but not completely), it may be sewn with thread of a different material than the garment (see M.B. 15:20).


            M.B. 15:16 discusses what is generally done to every tallit and pair of tzitzit in order to conform to all the various opinions.  One can do this in case the hole tears completely - see M.B. 15:21 - and then put in new strings.








            We learn in Menachot 40b-41a:


            "A tallit which can cover the head and greater portion of a child, and which an adult would wear on a temporary             basis in public, requires tzitzit."


            There are several issues to be clarified:


1) What age child is meant?  The Rambam asserts that it is a child who can walk about alone in the marketplace; the Sefer Ha-chinukh, that it is one who has reached the "age of educability" (6 or 7);  and the Tur, that a nine-year-old is meant.  See the Shulchan Arukh's ruling.


2) What age adult is meant?  See M.B. 16:3.


3) Nowadays, when an adult is unlikely to wear a child's garment not due to its shortness but rather due to its style, is it considered a begged or not?  See the Bi'ur Halakha s.v. La-shuk.


            Regarding the accepted required size of the garment, see M.B. 16:4 (until the middle, " amma va-chetzi ve-ayyen be-Biur Halakha").


[1 amma = 48cm (19.2 inch) according to the Gra"ch Na'eh or 56 cm (22.5 inch) according to the Chazon Ish.]




            The poskim disagree about the required size of the shoulders:


A.  The Maharil (Ha-chadashot, 4) believes that the shoulders of the garment must be broad.  How broad?  The Chazon Ish (OC 2:9) answers, "The standing [i.e., existing] part must be greater than the open part (omed meruba al ha-parutz)... Accordingly, one must take care that the neckhole not be bigger than either of the shoulders."  The Machatzit Ha-shekel says more simply that the breadth of the shoulders must be such that they are considered a garment and not simply straps.  What is the practical difference between these two opinions as far as the tzitzit-undergarment is concerned?  See M.B. 16:1 where he cites the Maharil, and note the interpretation he provides.


B.  The Ya'avetz (She'eilat Ya'avetz 20) has a drastically different view: the shoulders need not have any specific width.  The required measurement of "the standing part" being "greater than the open part" has relevance only for the laws of eiruvin, not for tzitzit.  The Chatam Sofer (vol. IV, 87) shares this view.


            The Mishna Berura describes two different types of garments, both of which bring to mind the tzitzit-undershirt of today.  Regarding those who wear the first (M.B. 16:4, in the middle - "u-ma she-nohagim ha-ashkenazim... kol medina lefi minhaga"), he remarks scathingly, "And not only do they forfeit the mitzva of tzitzit but they also recite a berakha in vain every day."  However, of those who wear the second (described later in the same se'if katan - "u-ve'eizeh mekomot...") he approves, "and praise be unto them."


            What do you think the problem is with the former garment?  Cf. the Chayei Adam, the source of this Mishna Berura.


            In light of the Chazon Ish's opinion, it appears that one who makes a tzitzit-undergarment should make it, ideally, with sleeves.  However, if it is possible to have sufficient width without them, it is preferable (according to Kabbala) to omit the sleeves.  See M.B. 16:4, towards the end where he quotes the Ari.








            In Menachot 43a we find,


            "The Rabbis taught: Everyone is obligated to wear tzitzit - kohanim, levi'im, yisra'eilim... women... R. Shimon             exempts women, since it is a time-bound positive             commandment... as it is written, "And you shall see them"             (Bemidbar 15:39) - this excludes night garments."


            R. Shimon's opinion is the one which is accepted as halakha.  May women nevertheless choose to wear tzitzit?


            See the Targum Yonatan on the verse, "No male article shall be on a woman" (Devarim 22:5).  On the other hand, the gemara in Eiruvin 96a states that Michal, the daughter of King Sha'ul, wore tefillin - and the Rishonim there do not seem to accept the ruling of R. Yonatan ben Uziel (Igrot Moshe OC vol. IV, 49).


            The poskim are divided regarding this issue.  Among the Acharonim, we find that the Minchat Yitzchak (vol. VIII, 108) forbids it, while the Igrot Moshe (OC vol. IV, 49 and 75) permits it in theory but warns that those women who do it solely as a protest (against being exempted from positive time-bound mitzvot) are committing a transgression rather than a mitzva.


            May women recite a berakha on positive time-bound mitzvot?  See Tosafot in Kiddushin 31a,  s.v. De-lo and s.v. Ve-od.  In contrast, see the Rambam, Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9.





            The gemara in Sukka 42a informs us,


            "A child who can robe himself is obligated to wear          tzitzit; one who can safeguard his tefillin - his father             should buy him tefillin."


            From what age should a child be dressed in tzitzit?


            The Shulchan Arukh does not specify an age.  The Bach sets it at the "age of educability" - six or seven.  Tosafot in Erkhin 2b assert that it is an individual matter since each child learns to robe himself at his own pace.  It appears, though, that for a tallit katan it is quite an early age.  Yechaveh Da'at (vol. IV, 2) recommends beginning to teach this at age six, while there are those who begin at three.


            The Arukh Ha-shulchan writes (17:5, quoting the Sha'arei Teshuva), "And our custom is to dress a three-year-old child in tzitzit, as hinted by the verse, 'Three years it shall be for you as uncircumcised (areilim)' [Vayikra 19:23, referring to fruit trees], since man is compared to the tree of the field; and so we accustom him to the letters of Torah."


            The Kitzur Shla goes further and says that ideally a child should wear tzitzit from the moment he begins to talk so that "due to this he will merit from his babyhood a lofty and exalted soul, and the spirit of holiness will rest upon him..."


            The Responsa Meishiv Davar (vol. I, 41) goes the furthest of all and interprets the gemara as referring to the age that a father should teach his son how to make his own tzitzit!





            In obedience to a widespread minhag, many Ashkenazim do not wear a tallit until they are married.  This custom is mentioned already in the Maharil (Hilkhot Nisu'in), in the Tashbetz Katan (462), and elsewhere.  "And thus are those of the kingdom of Ashkenaz accustomed to act, and they have Scriptural support from 'Make for yourself fringes on the four corners' (Devarim 22:12) which is adjacent to 'If a man take a wife' (Devarim 22:13)."


            However, there are many who are puzzled by this minhag.  "It is a very perplexing thing - that until one takes a wife he should refrain from fulfilling the mitzva of tzitzit?" (Shiyarei Knesset Ha-gadol 17:2, cited in Ba'er Heiteiv 17:4).  In response, some gave practical reasons for this custom (e.g., early marriage, lack of money).


            One could bring a support for this minhag from Kiddushin 29b: "He saw of him that he did  not spread a cloth..."  To be sure, the gemara may be explained in a number of other ways.  See the Ba'er Heiteiv 17:4 - how did the Magen Avraham understand this gemara?  How else may it be explained?


            In any case, even those who do adhere to this minhag do so only with regards to tallit, not with regards to tallit katan (Elia Rabba 17:3, and others), which deflects the criticism that one who does so is neglecting the mitzva of tzitzit.


            There are those who would like to uproot this minhag (Yechaveh Da'at vol. IV, 2), while on the other hand there are many who vote to perpetuate it, under the banner, "The minhag of Israel is Torah" (Bnei Yissakhar, Tishrei, 13, 12;  Leket Ha-kemach Ha-chadash 17:19;  Ketzot Ha-shulchan, 7:7).








            We find in Menachot 43a that R. Simon expounds, "and you shall see them" - this excludes night garments.  His opinion is accepted as halakha.


            What does this mean?


            The Rambam (3:7) explains that time is the determining factor; i.e., during the day all garments require tzitzit (even pajamas), while at night even regular clothing is exempt.


            The Rosh (Hilkhot Tzitzit 1), in contrast, maintains that the garment is the determining factor.  Garments designated for nighttime wear are exempt even during the day; round-the-clock clothing requires tzitzit even at night.


            How did the Shulchan Arukh rule?  The Rema?





            The Bach (cited in the Magen Avraham 18:1) forbids this.


            The Igrot Moshe (YD vol. II, 137) questions this Bach, wondering what prohibition is involved.  Only tefillin are forbidden to be donned at night; for tzitzit one would think that it is actually preferable for them to be worn at night in order to conform to the Rosh's opinion (above).  Therefore, says the Igrot Moshe, it appears that the Bach was referring only to a tallit gadol, not a tallit katan.  The Igrot Moshe concludes, then, that it is permissible to don tzitzit at night, but in light of this Bach, that it is not highly commendable.





            The Peri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 18:1, and also the Minchat Chinukh 423) is uncertain whether tzitzit which were made at night are valid.  The rationale behind the suggested stringency is that according to the Rambam, night is a time when the mitzva of tzitzit is not in effect, and therefore it is possible that with the coming of dawn the tzitzit will suffer from a lack of "ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asu'i" -  "You must make it and not take that which was previously made."  Nevertheless, the Peri Megadim inclines toward leniency.


            Rav Kook (Da'at Kohen YD 182) permits it as well, explaining that the requirement of "ta'aseh ve-lo min ha-asu'i" applies only when the original manufacture was defective or the obligation was not in effect - and the item now needs some act in order to rectify the situation.  Here, where no action need be performed on the tzitzit but rather the validating element (daybreak) will arrive regardless of human intervention, this problem does not exist.


            There are those who prohibit it le-khat'chila (Afikei Meginim 11, Biurim 18:13, and others).   Still, it remains permissible according to the consensus of Acharonim (Arukh Ha-shulchan 14:7; Tehilla Le-david 4; the Chazon Ish in Hanhagot 4:11, and many more).





            The Rosh writes (at the end of Hilkhot Tzitzit), "Sheets which are slept on in the morning are nevertheless used primarily during the night and are therefore called night garments."  Hence, they are exempt.


            The Hagahot Maimoniot (Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:7) in the name of R. Eliahu maintains that sheets which are slept on during the day require tzitzit according to the Rambam (who believes that nightwear requires tzitzit when worn during the day).


            The Shulchan Arukh rules that sheets, even when slept on during the day, are exempt.


            This lenient ruling caused the Acharonim some surprise, for did he not rule that one must take both the opinion of the Rosh and that of the Rambam into account?


            One possible explanation is found in the Mordekhai (Halakhot Ketanot 941), who wrote that sheets are exempt because the obligation applies only to garments which are actually worn.  The Olat Tamid (18:6) finds it likely that this ruling is the basis of the Shulchan Arukh's leniency.


            Elia Rabba (18:4) suggests instead that if the beginning of usage is at night, it cannot be considered to have daytime use at all.


            The Magen Avraham (18:3) and the Mishna Berura (18:8) rule stringently about this point.  However, they are lenient regarding non-woolen sheets due to the combination of three uncertainties:


1) It is possible that the Torah obligates only wool;


2) it is possible that the obligation applies only to daytime garments; and


3) it is possible that only actual wearing (and not covering oneself with a blanket) requires tzitzit.


            Accordingly, if one has a wool blanket which is used during the daytime, he should round one of its corners.


            However, see the Arukh Ha-shulchan (18:8) who agrees with the Mordekhai, and Shoneh Halakhot (18:12) in the name of the Chazon Ish.




            The gemara is silent regarding the question of from when one may recite the berakha over tzitzit.


            The Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:8) rules that one may do so starting from when it is possible to distinguish ("yakir") the tekhelet from the white (the Kesef Mishneh points out that this is extrapolated from the time for tefillin).


            The Mordekhai (Megilla 801) asserts that one may begin at alot ha-shachar - dawn.  Only mitzvot about which the Torah uses the word "day" require that one wait until he is able to distinguish colors, whereas for tzitzit it says simply "and you shall see them."  (See Igrot Moshe OC vol. IV, 6 - how he rebuts the opinion of the Mordekhai.)


            How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?  The Rema?  The Mishna Berura (in the name of the Gra)?


            In practice, our calendars, following the opinion of the Gra, list the hour of "yakir" as the time for tzitzit and tefillin.  [The time of "yakir" is not formulated into a specific measurement of time by Chazal; therefore, experimentation and observation is used by the poskim.  There are minhagim of 40, 52, 60 and 72 minutes.  The more accepted time is between 11-12 grades of the sun below the horizon (which varies from date to date from 50-60 minutes). - M.F.]





            One who puts on his tallit before the time of obligation begins (for selichot and the like) should not recite the berakha (see the Rema for what he should do).  The Taz (581:2) writes that in such a case it is preferable to borrow a tallit (see our discussion above, siman 14).  The Mishna Berura (581:6) prefers the suggestion of the Taz, but if one cannot do so, he may follow the Rema (Sha'arei Tzi'un 581:5).



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)