Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
May 31, 2004 – Number 5764-29
One of the most well known commandments in the Torah is the command to where Tzitzit (fringes) on all our four cornered garments. In ancient days, when our ancestors word toga-like garments, all clothing had four corners and thus all clothing required Tzitzit, a fringe in each corner. The purpose of the Tzitzit was to look at them and remember all the commandments that G-d has commanded us (see Numbers 15:39). Since looking at the Tzitzit is the vital part of the command, it is customary that they are worn during the day. This is why we do not wear Tzitzit when we daven at night (the lone exception is Yom Kippur and then we put the tallit on before Kol Nidre, which must happen before it gets dark.)
The Tzitzit should be made of the same material as the rest of the Tallit with the exception that wool Tzitzit can be used on any garment. They are attached to the garment by a hole an inch or two from the hem in each corner. Four threads are used, three of them the same size and the fourth is longer. This longer thread was once dyed blue (as mentioned in Numbers) when the cost of the blue dye became high and the dye rare, the requirement for a blue thread was relaxed. Today, in most cases, all four threads are the same color. The ends of all four are pushed through the hole doubling the number of threads to eight. Seven are to be the same length and the eighth longer. This longer thread is called the Shamash (helper). A double knot is made with the two groups of four threads. After the knot, the Shamash is wound around the other seven threads seven times. Another double knot is made and the Shamash is now wound around the other seven thread eight times. Another double knot is tied and then the Shamash is wound around the other seven knots eleven times. Another double knot is made and the Shamash is now wound around the other threads thirteen times and a fifth double knot is then tied. When finished the threads should be the length of 18 finger-breadths with the knots making up one third of the length. If a thread should be missing, the Tzitzit can not be used. The word Tzitzit in Hebrew, has the numerical equivalent of 600. Add to that the eight threads and the five knots and you get 613, the number of Mitzvot in the Torah.
There are two types of Tzitzit. The Tallit is worn usually only during the morning service. The Arbah Kanfot, or Tallit Katan can be worn all day every day, under our clothing. The Tallit Katan is just a rectangular piece of cloth with a hole cut in the middle for the head. Those who wear it put it on just after they get washed in the morning. There is a special blessing when it is put on. Those who wear the Tallit Katan often have the custom of not wearing the Tallit until they are married. Otherwise the Tallit is worn by all Male Jews after they become Bar Mitzvah. The Tallit is worn during morning services. Women are not required to wear the Tallit but they may do so if they wish. Tzitzit should be white (or with one blue thread) and not other colors. The cloth they are attached to can be any color whatsoever.
To put on the Tallit, one holds it in both hands and recites the blessing. The Tallit is then wrapped around the head. The Ashkenazic Jews then drape it on their shoulders and cover their back. During services there are times when the Tzitzit are collected and kissed in the morning service. The most well known is during the reading of the last paragraph of the Shema. The Tzitzit are collected before the Shema and in the third paragraph, when the word “Tzitzit” are recited in the third paragraph, the fringes are kissed. In addition the Tzitzit are kissed at the end of Baruch Sheamar and in the blessing right after the Shema.
Everyone should have their own Tallit but it is a big Mitzvah to share one with someone in need. If the Tallit is removed for a temporary reason, one does not recite the blessing again. Today a Tallit comes with Tzitzit and it is permitted to remove them and move them to a new Tallit. The old one is not thrown away but buried in a geniza along with old books. A tallit with one fringe missing is placed on the shoulders of a deceased male before the casket is closed.
Next week: Tephillin