The Size of the Tzitzis Garment
Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah
Question: What is the required size of the tzitzis garment?
Discussion: The Gemara (Menachos 40b) teaches that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to a garment “that covers most of the body of a minor (that is, a nine year old173) along with his head, and that an adult would go out wearing on occasion.” The reason for this measurement is that the Torah states that tzitzis must be made for “your garment with which you cover yourself,” and Chazal determined that only a garment that can at least cover most of a child’s body along with his head – or which an adult would go out wearing on occasion – meets the definition of “a garment with which one covers himself.”174
Regarding these two definitions – covering most of a child’s body, and that an adult would go out wearing on occasion – the Rishonim differ as to whether the second one is a separate requirement, or whether is it merely an explanation of the first meaning: the reason why “covering most of the body of a minor” is valid, is because it is a size that an adult would go out wearing on occasion. Furthermore, the Poskim disagree as to what the precise measurement is.
In practice, Chazon Ish (3:31) states that according to strict halachah, a garment of an amah by an amah suffices. Mishnah Berurah (16:4) states that the garment should be at least three quarters of an amah in front and in back. However, both write that the meticulous will wear a tzitzis garment that has an amah by an amah both in the front and in the back.175 This measurement also has basis in Kabbalah.176
The measure of an amah is famously debated by the Poskim. Chazon Ish held that an amah is 60 cm, whereas R’ Chaim Na’eh held that it is 48 cm. Therefore, one who wishes to have a tallis kattan that meets that most optimal specifications should make sure that the garment is at least 60 by 60 cm both in front and in back.177 And even if the tallis kattan folds a bit when one wears it, the garment is still considered as having its original size.178
Question: Do the above measurements include the hole for the head in the tallis kattan?
Discussion: Mishnah Berurah (16:4) rules that the area of the garment where the hole is should not be included when measuring the garment. However, Chazon Ish179 writes that as long as the straps of material on the sides of the hole are each wider than the hole, then the part of the garment containing the hole is included in the size of the garment. Therefore, while the tallis kattan should preferably be measured without the hole, there is room to be lenient when the hole meets the above specifications.180
Sometimes the tallis kattan will have a hole for the head with an additional slit, which gives more room for the head to fit through. The length of the slit may certainly be included in the measure.181
Question: If a tallis kattan that meets the more stringent requirements is too large on a person, should he wear it anyway?
Discussion: If an amah by an amah in front and in back – according to Chazon Ish’s more stringent measure – is too large, one should indeed wear a tallis kattan that has this size according to the measure of R’ Chaim Na’eh.182 If even this size is too big, there is room to be lenient as long as it is ¾ amah long on each side, and an amah wide.183