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Tzitzis Shot.JPG

The tzitzit of one corner of a tallit

Halakhic sources*
Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:
Bible: Numbers 15:38
and Deuteronomy 22:12
Babylonian Talmud: Menachot 39-42
Mishneh Torah: Ahavah (Love): Tzitzit
Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chayim 8-25
* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, customs or Torah based.

Tzitzit or tzitzis (Hebrew: Biblical ציצת Modern ציצית) are "fringes" or "tassels" worn by observant Jews on the corners of four-cornered garments, including the tallit (prayer shawl) and tallit katan. Since they are considered by Orthodox tradition to be a time-bound commandment, they are worn only by men; Masorti (Conservative) Judaism agrees that the commandment is time-bound but regards women as exempt from wearing tzitzit, not as prohibited.


Origin and practice

The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread."

Wearing the tzitzit (plural: tzitzyot) is also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12, which says: "You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."

Tzitzyot are attached today only to Jewish religious garments, such as a tallit gadol ("large prayer shawl"). This is because today's clothes do not have four corners, and thus the fringes are not necessary. Traditional Jewish men wear a tallit katan ("small prayer shawl") constantly in order to fulfill this commandment at their own volition, and some consider it a transgression to miss a commandment that one has the ability to fulfill. The tallit katan is also commonly referred to as "tzitzit," though this name technically refers to each of the fringes only.

Various reasons are given for the commandment. The Torah itself states: "So that you will remember to do the commandments". In addition, it serves as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 15:40). The Talmud equates its observance with that of all the mitzvot. Rambam (Comm. Pirkei Avot 2:1) includes it as a major mitzvah along with brit milah ("circumcision") and the korban pesah ("Paschal lamb").

Threads and knots

The fringe (tzitzit) on each corner is made of four strands, each of which 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 fringe. 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 to 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 poskim ("decisors of Jewish law") have varyingly interpreted this requirement.[1] The Talmud described tying assuming the use of tekhelet dye, however, following the loss of the source of the dye, various customs of tying were introduced to compensate for the lack of this primary element.

Though many methods exist, the one that gained the widest acceptance can be described as follows:

The four strands of the tzitzit are passed through holes near the four corners of the garment (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 11:9-11,15) that are farthest apart (10:1). Four tzitzyot are passed through each hole (11:12-13), and the two groups of four ends are double-knotted to each other at the edge of the garment near the hole (11:14,15). One of the tzitzit is made longer than the others (11:4); the long end of that one 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 (11:14).[2]

Before tying begins, a Hebrew blessing is said (it's more of a "declaration of intent"): L'Shem Mitzvat Tzitzit ("for the sake of the commandment of tzitzit").

Blue and white tzitzit knotted in the Sephardi style, the all white is Ashkenazi. Note the difference between the 7-8-11-13 scheme and uninterrupted windings (between the knots) on the Ashkenazi, vs. the 10-5-6-5 scheme and ridged winding on the Sfaradhi tzitzit.

The two sets of stands are knotted together twice, and then the shamash (a longer strand) is wound around the remaining seven strands a number of times (see below). The two sets are then knotted again twice. This procedure is repeated three times, such that there are a total of five knots, the four intervening spaces being taken up by windings numbering 7-8-11-13, 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 (one of God's names).

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, totalling 13. The sum of all numbers is 613, traditionally the number of mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah. This reflects the concept that donning a garment with tzitzyot reminds its wearer of all Torah commandments.

Nachmanides disagrees with Rashi, pointing out that the Biblical spelling of the word tzitzit has only one yod rather than two, thus adding up to the total number of 603 rather than 613. He points out that in the Biblical quote "you shall see it and remember them", the singular form "it" can refer only to the "p'til" ("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.

Color of the strings



A set of tzitzit with blue tekhelet thread

Tekhelet (תכלת) is color dye which the Hebrew Bible commands the Jews to use for one, two, or four of the eight half-strings hanging down. At some point in Jewish history, the source of the dye was lost and since then, Jews have worn plain white tzitzyot without any dyes. Tekhelet, which appears 48 times in the Tanakh - translated by the Septuagint as iakinthinos (Greek: ὑακίνθινος, blue) - is a specific blue dye produced from a creature referred to as a chilazon, other blue dyes being unacceptable (Tosefta). Some explain the black stripes found on many traditional prayer shawls as representing the loss of this dye.

Where tekhelet is used, only one thread in each fringe is dyed with it, the rest being left white or self-coloured. The dyed thread is always made of wool, regardless of the material of the garment or the other threads.

The other threads

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.

Karaite tzitzit

A karaite pair of tzitzit

Karaites wear tzitzyot with blue threads in them. In contrast to Rabbinic Judaism, they believe that the tekhelet (the "blue"), does not refer to a specific dye. The traditions of Rabbinic Judaism used in the knotting of the tzitzit are not followed, so the appearance of Karaite tzitzit can be quite different from that of Rabbanite tzitzit. Contrary to some claims, Karaites do not hang tzitzit on their walls.

Ebionite tzitzit

The modern Ebionite Movement distinguishes between tzitziyot (fringe) and p'tiylot (strings, cords) the latter being all tekhelet, or sky-blue derived from any source containing dibromoindigo. Any shade or variation from greenish blue, to turquoise, and darker, or a range naturally occurring in the dyeing is acceptable. Any style of knots and windings is allowable however most use the most typical 7-8-11-13 configuration. Garments must have both fringe and cords to satisfy the commandment as interpreted by Ebionites. In addition to the talit or talit katan, the p'tiylot might be tied into a long black scarf.

Rainbow (multi-colored) tzitzit

A pair of rainbow colored tzitzit

Rainbow tzitzit are tzitzit with multi-colored strings. There are many opinions in the Halakha as to what color the strings of the tzitzit should be. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 9:5) records a view requiring that the garment and Tzitzit be the same color, and recommends abiding by this stringency. The Mishna Berura explains that the reason for this is either to beautify the mitzvah, or because the tzitzit must be similar to the garment. The Rama (ad loc) says that the minhag of Ashkenazim is not to wear colored tzitzit, and that one should abide by that minhag. [3] Some people around the world have started wearing rainbow-colored tzitzit, but the validity of using colored strings (aside from tekhelet)is very questionable because colors may only be used if the garment is the color of the strings. Those who chose the rainbow colored tzitzit are known as "frescavenas" because this act was recognized as such be the macedocians who called them this around this new era.

In archaeology and secular scholarship

Some archaeologists and non-traditional secular Biblical scholars speculate as to the source of the tradition. 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 and hence they date to around the late 8th century BCE and late 7th century BCE respectively, some time after the practice began to be in use[4]. 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[5]. 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[6].


External links

  • - A group that promotes the Razyner Rebbe's view that the lost hillazon to be the common cuttlefish
  • Beged Ivri- A society which studies ancient Israeli customs takes on Ptil Tekhelet.
Comparison of all three methods


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