|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Torah:||Numbers 15:38 |
and Deuteronomy 22:12
|Babylonian Talmud:||Menachos 39-42|
|Mishneh Torah:||Ahavah (Love): Tzitzit|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Orach Chayim 8-25|
Tzitzit (Hebrew: ?, Modern: tsitsit, Tiberian: ?i?i?, [tsi'tsit]; plural tsitsiyot, Sephardic: ?i?it ; Ashkenazi: tzitzis; Yemenite (Temani): ?i?ith; and Samaritan: ?e?et) are specially knotted ritual fringes, or tassels, worn in antiquity by Israelites and today by observant Jews and Samaritans. Tzitzit are usually attached to the four corners of the tallit gadol, (prayer shawl) usually referred to simply as a tallit or tallis; and tallit katan (everyday undergarment). Through synecdoche, a tallit katan may be referred to as tzitzit.
The word may derive from the Hebrew root ?-?-? [n-ts-h]. Tzitzit shares this root with the Hebrew for 'lock of hair', or 'dreadlock'. For example, in the Book of Ezekiel an angel grabs the prophet "by the tzitzit of [his] head;" he could be said to be "dragged by his hair."
A popular etymological interpretation of tzitzit derives from another word which shares this root. Nitzah ( 'budding flower') may once have referred to floral ornamentation on clothing. One can hear distinct similarities with contemporaneous Akkadian clothing vocabulary: sisiktu ('thread', 'edge', 'loom') or tsitstsatu (a floral ornamentation). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the custom of making fringes from extending the threads of embroidery was common in the ancient Near East as the means of strengthening the fabric. The further analyses of the antique iconography suggest that apart from this pragmatic purpose the tassels could also decorate the cloth and as such be a marker of the social status: the more elaborate and elegant the fringes, the higher the position of the owner. In addition to this and given the unique nature of each of the tassels it could also be used as a personal "signet" for sealing documents. This data has led the scholars to assume that the practice itself is of very ancient origins and evolved into Jewish ritual clothing where it was invested with religious meaning.
The ending -it is the feminine adjectival suffix, used here to form a feminine singular noun. In the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), this noun is used to refer to one or many tassels, but later scholars used the feminine plural tzitziyot. In English-language academic texts on Judaica the term is sometimes translated as show-fringes. The Septuagint translation is tassels (Greek plural Ancient Greek: kraspeda, from singular Ancient Greek: kraspedon).
The Five Books of Moses mentions ritual fringes in two places:
And Hashem said to Moshe saying: Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them [that they must] make for themselves tzitzit upon the corners of the clothes for generations, and on the tzitzit give a string of techelet. And they shall have for themselves tzitzit and they will see them and they will remember all of the commandments of Hashem and they will do them, and they will not stray after their hearts and eyes so that they shall not pursue after them. So that they will remember and adhere to all of my commandments and will remain holy to their God. I am Hashem your God who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a God. I am Hashem your God.
You shall make tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.
Since the Hebrew word kanaph can mean 'corner' or 'border', the specific place of the attachment of the fringes is unclear. Their exact number is also not specified. Lastly, the passage lacks any instructions on the binding of the fringes, save for the obligation to include "a cord of blue" (Heb. ptil tchelet). The lack of detail on these points suggests that the tying of tzitzit was to a great extent Oral Torah until the third to first century BCE with the codifying of the Talmud.
The primary mnemonic purposes of this mitzvah are expressed clearly: wearing tzitzit reminds a daily practitioner to bring God's love into action by practicing all other mitzvot. The paragraph from Numbers is included in daily prayer as the final paragraph of the Shema. Here, tzitzit also remind Jews that they are no longer slaves.
The tallit and tallit katan are four-cornered garments worn by practicing Jews which incorporate tzitzit. The tallit katan garment itself is commonly referred to as tzitzit. The blue thread mentioned in the Torah, tekhelet, is omitted by most Rabbinic Jews due to controversy over the dye-making process.
The medieval rabbis debated the source of the tzitzit obligation for garments made from different types of fabric. All agree that garments made from wool or linen (the typical materials of Biblical garments) require tzitzit by Biblical law. However, they debated whether the requirement is Biblical or rabbinic if the garment is made from any other material. The Shulchan Aruch ruled that this obligation is rabbinic, while the Rema ruled that it is Biblical.
The Torah forbids shatnez ("intertying" wool and linen together). However, unlike other forms of kil'ayim (combinations of various phenomena like planting different types of seed or ploughing with different animals), there is an exception to the rule: shatnez was not only allowed but required in the priestly garments, which combined dyed-wool and linen threads. According to the rabbis, this exemption to shatnez applied only while performing priestly service. Rabbinic Judaism (but not Karaite Judaism or Samaritanism) makes a further exemption to this law for tzitzit, based on the Torah's juxtaposition of the laws for shaatnez and tzitzit in Deuteronomy 22:11-12. Thus, according to rabbinic Judaism, both laymen and priests were supposed to wear mixtures of wool and linen all the time. From this perspective, the shatnez of the layman reflects that of the priest.
The tassel (tzitzit) on each corner is made of four strands, which must be made with intent. These strands are then threaded and hang down, appearing to be eight. (It is customary that each of the four strands is made of eight fine threads, known as kaful shemoneh). The four strands are passed through a hole (or according to some: two holes) 1-2 inches (25 to 50 mm) away from the corner of the cloth. There are numerous customs as to how to tie the tassels. The Talmud explains that the Bible requires an upper knot (kesher elyon) and one wrapping of three winds (hulya). The Talmud enjoined that between 7 and 13 hulyot be tied, and that "one must start and end with the color of the garment". As for the making of knots in between the hulyot, the Talmud is inconclusive, and as such later poskim have interpreted this requirement in various ways. The Talmud described tying assuming the use of tekhelet dye. Following the loss of the source of the dye, various customs of tying were introduced to compensate for the lack of this primary element.
The tying method which gained the widest acceptance can be described as follows: The four strands of the tzitzit are passed through a hole near the garment's corner. The two groups of four ends are double-knotted to each other at the edge of the garment near the hole. One of the four strands (known as the shamash) is made longer than the others. The long end of the shamash is wound around the other seven ends and double-knotted; this is done repeatedly so as to make a total of five double knots separated by four sections of winding, with a total length of at least four inches, leaving free-hanging ends that are twice that long  This tying procedure is used for each of the garment's four corners; if it has more than four corners, the four that are farthest apart are used.
In Ashkenazi custom, the four sections of winding number 7-8-11-13 winds, respectively. The total number of winds comes to 39, which is the same number of winds if one were to tie according to the Talmud's instruction of 13 hulyot of 3 winds each. Furthermore, the number 39 is found to be significant in that it is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the words: "The Lord is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4). Others, especially Sephardi Jews, use 10-5-6-5 as the number of windings, a combination that represents directly the spelling of the Tetragrammaton (whose numerical value is 26).
Before tying begins, declaration of intent is recited: L'Shem Mitzvat Tzitzit ("for the sake of the commandment of tzitzit").
Rashi, a prominent Jewish commentator, bases the number of knots on a gematria: the word tzitzit (in its Mishnaic spelling, ) has the value 600. Each tassel has eight threads (when doubled over) and five sets of knots, totaling 13. The sum of all numbers is 613, traditionally the number of commandments in the Torah. This reflects the concept that donning a garment with tzitzyot reminds its wearer of all Torah commandments, as specified in Numbers 15:39. (Rashi knots are worn by the majority of Ashkenazic Eastern European Jews.)
Nachmanides disagrees with Rashi, pointing out that the Biblical spelling of the word tzitzit (?) has the gematria of 590 rather than 600, which upends Rashi's proposed gematria. He points out that in the Biblical quote "you shall see it and remember them", the singular form "it" can refer only to the thread of tekhelet. The tekhelet strand serves this purpose, explains the Talmud, for the blue color of tekhelet resembles the ocean, which in turn resembles the sky, which in turn is said to resemble God's holy throne - thus reminding all of the divine mission to fulfill His commandments. (Nachmanides knots are worn by the majority of Sephardic Jews and Teimani Jews)
Modern Biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom notes than in ancient Middle Eastern societies, the corner of the garment was often elaboratedly decorated to "ma[k]e an important social statement", functioning as an "symbolic extension of the owner himself". He also notes that the Torah requires tekhelet, normally a royal and priestly color, to be used by all Jews:
The tzitzit are the epitome of the democratic thrust within Judaism, which equalizes not by leveling but by elevating. All of Israel is enjoined to become a nation of priests... tzitzit is not restricted to Israel's leaders, be they kings, rabbis or scholars. It is the uniform of all Israel...
Tekhelet (?) is a color dye which the Hebrew Bible commands the Jews to use for one, two, or four of the eight half-strings hanging down (as interpreted in Rabbinic Judaism), or a number of cords ranging from one up to the same number of threads as the non-tekhelet threads (according to opinions in Karaite Judaism). At some point following the destruction of the Second Temple, the knowledge and tradition about the correct method of the dye was lost for Rabbinic Judaism in Israel and since then, most rabbinic diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews as well have worn plain white tzitziyot without any dyes. Tekhelet, which appears 48 times in the Tanakh - translated by the Septuagint as iakinthinos (Greek: ?, blue) - is a specific blue-violet dye produced, according to the rabbis, from a creature referred to as a ?illazon, other blue dyes being unacceptable. Some explain the black stripes found on many traditional prayer shawls as representing the loss of this dye.
While there is no prohibition on wearing blue dye from another source, the rabbis maintain that other kinds of tekhelet do not fulfill the mitzvah of tekhelet, and thus all the strings have been traditionally kept un-dyed (i. e., white) for many centuries. In recent times, with the (debated) re-discovery of the ?illazon in the Murex trunculus mollusk, some have noted that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit without the tekhelet strand. This position, however, has been strongly disputed. Others have disputed whether the coloring that comes from the Murex trunculus is the same as the biblical tekhelet, based on the fact that according to traditional Jewish sources tekhelet is supposed to be a dark shade of blue, while wool that was discovered in archaeological excavations and was found to have been colored with Murex dye is violet.
When tekhelet is used, there are varying opinions in rabbinic literature as to how many of the strands are to be dyed: one of eight (Rambam), two of eight (Raavad), four of eight (Tosafot). While the white threads are to be made of the material of the garment, rabbinic law instructs that the tekhelet-dyed thread must be made of wool.
According to several rabbinic sages, blue is the color of God's Glory. Staring at this color aids in meditation, bringing us a glimpse of the "pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity", which is a likeness of the Throne of God. Many items in the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the wilderness, such as the Menorah, many of the vessels, and the Ark of the Covenant, were covered with a blue-violet cloth when transported from place to place.
The other threads in the tzitzit (all the threads, where tekhelet is not used) are described as "white". This may be interpreted either literally (by Rama) or as meaning the same colour as the main garment (Rambam). Normally, the garment itself is white so that the divergence does not arise. Similarly the threads may be made either of wool or of the same fabric as the garment; again many authorities recommend using a woollen garment so that all views are satisfied.
In rabbinic law, tzitzit is considered a "time-dependent positive commandment", as the Torah (Numbers 15:39) mentions "seeing" one's tzitzit, and one could not see them in the darkness of night, but rather only in daytime. In general, women are not required to perform time-dependent positive commandments, but may perform them if they choose to. Therefore, many Rishonim permitted women to wear tzitzit (including Isaac ibn Ghiyyat, Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, Baal HaMaor, Rambam, Raaviyah, Rashba, and Ra'ah). Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch rules that women may wear garments with tzitzit. Opinions differ on whether women may make the blessing on such "optional" commandments; in general Ashkenazi women make the blessing, and Sephardic women do not.
At the same time, other Rishonim hold that women should not wear tzitzit for various reasons, beginning with R' Meir of Rothenburg. The Rema states that while women are technically allowed to don a tallit, doing so would appear to be an act of arrogance (yuhara). The Maharil and the Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel view a garment with tzitzit as a "male garment", and thus forbidden to women as cross-dressing. Some other sources mention concern for shaatnez or carrying on shabbat.
The vast majority of contemporary Orthodox authorities forbid the donning of a tallit by women, although Moshe Feinstein, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Eliezer Melamed approve women wearing tzitzit in private, if their motivation is "for God's sake" rather than motivated by external movements such as feminism. When the Satmar Rebbe's wife died, she was found to be wearing tzitzit (a tallit kattan) under her clothes.
Women in Conservative Judaism have revived the wearing of the tallit since the 1970s, usually using colors and fabrics distinct from the traditional garment worn by men. The Rabbinical Assembly has since formally approved the wearing and tying of tzitzit by women. It has become common in Reform and other non-Orthodox streams for girls to receive a tallit at their bat mitzvah, although some do not subsequently wear it on a regular basis. Other women have adopted the tallit later in life, to connect with their communities, embody egalitarian values, or create a personalized connection to Judaism. It is rare for women to wear a tallit katan.
Karaites tzitziyot have blue-violet threads (tekhelet) in them. In contrast to rabbinic Jews, Karaites believe that the tekhelet source can be any dye, except those produced from impure (a definition mostly overlapping "un-kosher") species, such as the molluscs used by Rabbinic Jews. Instead, Karaites propose that the source of the dye was indigo or woad (Isatis tinctoria). Karaites also consider synthetic blue or blue-violet to be acceptable for tekhelet. Contrary to some claims, Karaites do not hang tzitziyot on their walls.
In the Samaritan tradition, the tallit is a gown worn over their clothes during most holy days, and the tzitzit are considered the 22 "buttons" on the right lapel of the gown, and the corresponding loops on its left lapel. The tzitziyot are always in the same color as the gown, which is usually white.
Another version of Samaritan tzitzit is the simple fringes on the sides of the very large white tallit worn by the priests when carrying a Torah scroll.
Similarly to most Orthodox rabbinic Jews, the Samaritans hold that the blue-violet tekhelet thread for their tzitziyot was produced from a specific dye, and claim that the tradition for producing it was lost.
According to the modern documentary hypothesis, the reference to tzitzit in Numbers comes from the Priestly Code, while that from Deuteronomy comes from the Deuteronomic Code. They are believed to date to around the late 8th century BCE and late 7th century BCE, respectively, some time after the practice became part of regular ritual. The custom however, clearly predates these codes, and was not limited to Israel. Images of the custom have been found on several ancient Near East inscriptions in contexts suggesting that it was practiced across the Near East. Some scholars believe that the practice among ancients originated due to the wearing of animal skins, which have legs at each corner, and that later fabrics symbolized the presence of such legs, first by the use of amulets, and later by tzitzit.
While Numbers 15:37-41 uses the Heb. tzitzit, Deuteronomy 22:12 employs the plural form of gadil, which is an Akkadian loanword for a "cord" or "string". The reason for this lexical change is open to speculation, yet, the scholars are inclined to assume that in the times when Deuteronomy was composed, the meaning of the tzitzit of Numbers 15:37 had been lost and the gedîlîm is a dynamic translation of an unusual term.