The Mitzvah of Tzitzis

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is one obligated to wear tzitzis?

Discussion: According to Torah law, if one wears a four-cornered garment, he is obligated to have tzitzis attached to it. But there is no requirement, neither from the Torah nor Chazal, to wear a four-cornered garment in the first place.142 Nevertheless, Chazal teach that whoever avoids this mitzvah is liable to suffer consequences in “times of wrath,” i.e., in dangerous times.143 Additionally, the Poskim write that it has become a longstanding custom to wear tzitzis in order to earn the merit of fulfilling this special mitzvah and, in fact, one should not even go four amos without wearing a tzitzis garment.144 One may, however, take off the tallis kattan temporarily if he has reason to do so, as we discuss below.

Question: May one take off the tallis kattan when playing basketball?

Discussion: Since the mandate not to go more than four amos without a tzitzis garment is not a true requirement,145 one may take it off in circumstances where it is difficult to wear one – such as during a sports activity,146 when swimming, and the like. Some Poskim, however, do say that, if possible, one should prefer to wear a tallis kattan even while involved in a sports activity.147

Question: If one took off the tallis kattan to play basketball, and is then ready to put it back on, must he recite a new berachah?

Discussion: As a rule, one who takes of his tallis kattan intending to put it back on shortly afterwards, does not make a new berachah when he puts it back on, since it is considered a continuation of the previous wearing. If one takes off a tallis kattan for a substantial amount of time (or if one had taken it off not intending to put it back on), he must recite a new berachah when putting it back on, since it is considered a new mitzvah. However, there are varying opinions as to how we define a short time – which does not require a new berachah, versus how we define a long time – which does require a new berachah.148

To avoid the doubt, Beiur Halachah (8:14, ד”ה ויש אומרים) suggests that when reciting the berachah in the morning, one should intend for his berachah to be in effect only until he removes the tzitzis, even if he takes it off only briefly. In this case, when he takes it off, the effect of his berachah has clearly ended regardless of how soon he intends to put it back on. Thus, he recites a new berachah when he puts it back on. If one did not have this intent then, since it is unclear whether enough time has passed to recite a new berachah, one should not recite a berachah.149

Note: All of the above applies only if one is putting the same tallis kattan back on that he had worn previously. If one puts on a different tallis kattan, he will always make a new berachah.150 This is because each garment is considered to be a separate fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzitzis; the mitzvah fulfilled by wearing the second tallis kattan is not considered to be a continuation of the first one.

Question: Should one wear the tallis kattan under the shirt, or on top of it?

Discussion: Part of the purpose of this mitzvah is for the tzitzis to be seen and, thus, to remind and inspire the person who is wearing it to perform the mitzvos and refrain from sin.151 This is expressed in the verse (Bamidbar 15:39): וראיתם אתו וזכרתם את כל מצות ה’ ועשיתם אתם ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם אשר אתם זנים אחריהם – “And you shall see [the tzitzis] and you will be reminded of all the mitzvos of Hashem, and you will do them; and you will not stray after your heart nor after your eyes, which you are accustomed to straying after.” Therefore, Shulchan Aruch (8:11, 24:1) states that one should preferably wear the tzitzis garment as one’s outermost garment.

In contrast, Arizal taught (based on Kaballah) that the tallis kattan should not be the outermost garment,152 nor should it be the garment that touches one’s skin.153 Indeed, it is highly uncommon for one to wear his tallis kattan on top of his suit jacket or overcoat. In compliance with this ruling there are many, particularly among Chassidic Jews, who wear their tallis kattan over their shirt while still covered by a jacket or a vest;154 many others, also in compliance with this ruling, will wear it under their shirt, but on top of their undershirt.

Question: Should the tzitzis strings be tucked in or not?

Discussion: As mentioned above, there is spiritual benefit and merit to seeing one’s tzitzis. Therefore, one who wears his tallis kattan under his clothing should at least keep the tzitzis strings out.155 However, if one is among non-Jews and might be mocked, he may tuck them in.156

Question: Why is the tallis kattan worn all day, whereas a tallis gadol is removed after Shacharis?

Discussion: We wear the tallis kattan as a practical way of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis throughout the entire day. However, the mitzvah is enhanced through the tallis gadol, which envelopes the person entirely in the mitzvah.157 Furthermore, the tallis gadol fulfills the mitzvah most optimally in terms of its size, whereas the tallis kattan can sometimes be questionable in this respect.158 It has therefore become customary to wear the tallis gadol at least while davening,159 which is especially appropriate, since the mitzvah of tzitzis takes on extra significance during davening.160 This is expressed in a Midrash, in which King David takes pride in himself for praising Hashem with his entire body enveloped in mitzvos – namely, the tallis and tefillin.161 This especially applies during Kerias Shema, when one actually recites the passages of tzitzis.162

Question: Is a person required to cover his head with the tallis gadol?

Discussion: Essentially, one fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzis when he wears the garment even without covering his head.163 However, the Poskim strongly commend people who wear the tallis over their head all the while they are wearing it – namely, all throughout the davening – as it enhances one’s yiras Shamayim and sense of submission to Hashem. However, one should not completely cover the tefillin shel rosh with the tallis.164

142 Shulchan Aruch 24:1

143 See Menachos 41a

144 See Shulchan Aruch 24:1; Mishnah Berurah 8:1. R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim, IV:4) stresses that wearing a tallis kattan is a binding custom.

145 Yados Hamishnah, Yad Harachavah 8:2:3 proves that the mandate to refrain from going four amos without tzitzis is merely a pious and praiseworthy practice, not a true requirement.

146 Teshuvos Harav Harashi (R’ Mordechai Eliyahu) p. 489. He adds that it is actually demeaning to the tallis kattan to wear it when exercising.

147 Az Nidberu II:55

148 See Sefer Tzitzis, Chapter 8, Halachah Pesukah 72 and fn. 113.

149 Mishnah Berurah 8:38

150 Kaf Hachaim 8:55. Thus, for example, a person changing his tallis kattan before Shabbos would make a berachah on it.

151 Mishnah Berurah 8:26

152 Mishnah Berurah ibid.

153 Minchas David III 59:12; Sefer Tzitzis 8, Halachah Pesukah 53.

154 See Hilchos Yom B’yom, Tefillah I, 10:10; Piskei Teshuvos 10, fn. 198; Metzuvah Ve’oseh (Freidman) p. 363. Halichos Vehalachos Imrei Sofer (p. 17, fn. 5) relates that R’ Shimon Sofer (author of Hisorerus Teshuva and the son of Ksav Sofer) would wear two tallis kattans, one under his clothes (in deference to Arizal) and one over his clothes (in deference to Shulchan Aruch).

155 Vayashav Hayam II:3 proves at length that this is acceptable even according to Arizal. Yalkut Yosef 8:42 disagrees, and it is therefore the practice of some Sephardic Jews to keep their tzitzis tucked in.

156 Mishnah Berurah 8:26 warns against tucking the tzitzis into one’s pants, even if one is among non-Jews. However, Salmas Chaim (28) explains that Mishnah Berurah referred only to tucking them into one’s pants in a way that, in doing so, they would come in contact with one’s bare legs, since that is a dishonor to the mitzvah. In another vein, Kuntress Hatzitzis (Leibowitz) proves at length that Mishnah Berurah referred only to one who wears his tallis kattan over his clothing, whereas one who in any event wears it under his clothes may similarly have the strings naturally tucked into his pants (he cites the practice of many great Talmidei Chachamim who did, indeed, tuck their tzitzis into their pants). Aruch Hashulchan (8:17), as well, allows tucking the tzitzis strings into the pants when one is among non-Jews.

157 See Darkei Moshe, 8:1.

158 See Mishnah Berurah 24:3.

159 Darchei Moshe 8:3.

160 See Shulchan Aruch 24:1.

161 Midrash Shochar Tov, cited by Hagahos Maimoni (end of Hilchos Tzitzis), and quoted by Beis Yosef, 24:2.

162 See Perishah 24:1; Mishnah Berurah 24:3.

163 Shulchan Aruch 8:2.

164 Mishnah Berurah 8:4.