Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 9
December 5, 2005
Mitzvah 10: To put fringes on the corners of our garments
It is a positive commandment to make fringes at the corner of their garments.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments” (Numbers 15:28). It must be a garment worn by day, which has four corners or more and it is large enough for a small boy who is old enough to walk in the street without someone to watch over him. It should be able to cover the head and most of the body and it should be made of wool or linen. Then it requires the fringes on the corners according to the Torah. The Sages expand this law to include garments made of other kinds of cloth. A child who knows how to wear the garment, that is, with two fringes in the front and two in the back, has this obligation to wear fringes. Scripture makes this commandment the equal of all the other commandments when it says; “you shall see it and remember all the commandments of G-d”. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for men but not for women.
Clearly the Hafetz Hayim is talking about a Tallit, a four-cornered garment that has special fringes on the corner. He is also talking about what is called a “Tallit Katan” or a small Tallit, usually worn under the shirt all day every day, including Shabbat and Holidays. Some wear it with the fringes hanging out; others wear it with the fringes inside. All boys old enough to know how to wear it wear the Tallit Katan. The Tallit is often only worn by adult males (older than 13 years old). There is also an old custom that the Tallit should only be worn by adult males who are already married.
The key to the garment are the fringes. These fringes are the symbol of the commitment to all of the Mitzvot. How is this done? The fringe itself is four white threads (sometimes one of these is ½ blue) One of the threads is much longer than the other three. (If there is a blue thread, this will be the long one) The ends are pushed through the hole in the corner of the garment and the ends are all put together, the bundle is folded so that seven ends are all equal. The longer thread is then wound around the bundle. First there is a double knot, then the cord is wound around the bundle 7 times, another double knot, then it is wound eight times, another double knot, then it is wound around 11 times, another double knot and then it is wound 13 times around the bundle and is finished with a final double knot. The double knots are tied with all four strings. This leaves you with eight fringes (only one of which is blue) and five double knots. The word for “fringes” in Hebrew is “Tzitzit”; it is spelled with a tzadik, yod, tzadik, yod, and tav. Each Hebrew letter stands for a number. The tzadik is 90, the yod is 10, and the tav equals 400. Add them all together (90 + 10 + 90 + 10 + 400 = 600) add to this the five knots and the eight strings and the total is 613, the traditional number of Mitzvot in the Torah.
Fringes are only worn during daylight hours, this is because you have to see the fringe to remember the Mitzvot, and you can’t see them at night. The only time a Tallit is worn at night is at Kol Nidre services since the Yom Kippur service is considered one long service, so the Tallit is put on before sunset and left on all night, then put on again in the morning and left on all day. There is a blessing that is recited when the Tallit or Tallit Katan is put on. You only have to say it once a day as long as you intend to put it back on when you take it off (for example, to go to the bathroom, where it would not be proper to wear a Tallit). Some people wrap the Tallit around their heads while reciting the blessing, to fully wrap themselves in the Mitzvot. Some also use that time, enwrapped in the Tallit for personal meditation and prayer.
Next week: Mitzvah 11: Reciting the Shema twice a day