Monday, May 7, 2012

The Great Tzitzit Controversy

The Great Tzitzit Controversy

There is a small but growing number of people in the very messy Messianic movement that have begun tying tzitzit on the belt loops? [1]
"Hanging tzitzit from belt loops (which may seem ‘cool’ or ‘hip’) is no fulfillment of the commandment according to its plain meaning and therefore is an idle act." 

The Great Tzitzit Controversy

By Philip Crossan

Hear I go again writing about yet another touchy subject. But it is a subject worth addressing. There is a small but growing number of people in the very messy Messianic movement that have begun tying tzitzit on the belt loops of their pants and wearing them on Sabbath. Maybe that is alright if one really feels that this is something they should be doing. I do respect my friends who do this and I likewise appreciate their willingness to obey the Scriptures. But I’m not so sure they grasp the entire commandment. I suppose what really got the ball rolling around in my head concerning this issue is when being confronted by those who feel their personal interpretation of the commandment is something to split fellowship over. In this study we will be looking at what the Bible says and attempting to decipher how we can apply it.

Numbers 15:38-40
(38) Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
(39) And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
  1. That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.

Numbers 15:38 "Speak to the people of Isra'el, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot on the corners of their garments, and to put with the tzitzit on each corner a blue thread.
39 It is to be a tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of ADONAI's mitzvot and obey them, so that you won't go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves;
40 but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your God. CJB

First off in verse 38 we are presented with the word fringes, ציצת Tzitzit, a literal translation of the word is ‘fringe’ or ‘feather like’. But is the modern rabbinic tzitzit ‘feather like’? No not at all. Is the modern rabbinic tzitzit what is being described in the verse? I doubt it. Actually the modern rabbinic tzitzit came from what was developed in the late second temple period. The truth is that we do not know what the tzitzit from the time of Moses to the second temple actually looked like. We also don’t know what Yeshua’s tzitzit looked like. So your guess is as good as mine and anyone else’s. Am I downplaying the modern tzitzit or telling you it is irrelevant? No not in any way. I wear them to you know and I don’t want to look like a big contradiction. I’m simply pointing out that the modern rabbinic tzitzit is probably not what the ancient Israelites wore. So don’t try to split theological hairs about it. But if this is not exactly what ancient Israel wore then why would we wear it. Simple, because it is the closest thing we have and it is generally accepted by the people of Israel. For those readers who do not realize that there are other forms of tzitzit then I suggest doing an internet search. For one example look up Karaite tzitzit for an interesting and different interpretation.

Our second point, also in verse 38, “in the borders of their garments”. Borders? ףנכ kanaf, literally means ‘corners’. The verse is actually referring to a ‘four cornered garment’. So there is to be four tzitzit and four corners upon which to tie them. Are belt loops corners? Do pants have corners? No and no again. The historic interpretation of this verse is the katan, a type of tunic or long shirt having four corners. Another innovation of the late second temple period is the tallit. Just a side note, based on my own research, I believe that part of the issue that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 11 is actually a misuse of the tallit which continues today in men covering their heads with them. The tallit appears to have been developed primarily by Jews outside of the land of Israel as an alternative to the traditional katan. The purpose of the tallit may have been that the garment can be put on or taken off anytime without changing ones actual outer garment unlike the katan. One last comment on the four corners, if a garment does not have four corners then it does not have to have tzitzit tied upon it, and probably should not.

Point number three “a ribband of blue”. The verse does not say what shade of blue nor how to make the specific dye. It is irrelevant, obeying the commandment with what is available is much more important than knowing the exact coloring process used by ancient Israel. If the exact process is available then glory be to HaShem (blessed be His name) and use it but the commandment is simply to use a ribband of blue. Therefore use what you have available.

Also take note that the verses do not say that the four cornered garment cannot be tucked into your pants. It likewise does not indicate length or thickness of the tzitzit, and says nothing about tzitzit and skin contact.

Let’s review what the commandment actually communicates. We are to wear a feather like fringe with a cord of blue on the corners of a four cornered garment. It is a sign for us to look upon not necessarily for others to look upon. This will serve as a reminder of the commandments.

Here are some serious considerations about the practicality of wearing tzitzit all the time or on the outside of clothing regularly. How about working with equipment? Think about the dangers of operating a drill press or table saw and getting religiously long tzitzit caught in the machine. How about a chainsaw, tractor, or tiller? More simply what about when weeding the garden or working on the vehicle. I’ll add to that the difficulty in cleaning them and making new ones so often. And here’s a real simple problem that everyone men and women face; how about using the toilet. The fact is long tzitzit might go where they should not. Let’s keep this simple brothers and sisters. HaShem (blessed be His name) did not give us burdensome commandments. He meant them to be good for us. There are many times that tzitzit are simply impractical, so don’t wear them at those times.

The majority of the people in the Messianic movement only wear tzitzit on their tallit. I’m not opposed to this either. The tallit is often treated with more respect and only used for set apart times and not profane or common use. For myself I also like the idea of wearing tzitzit on a tunic or long shirt, as long as it has four corners, but you will not find me tying long tzitzit for this.

Editors Note: The name has been edited in italics above.

Because the Transcendent Name is so Sacred Jews traditionally use one of two titles rather than write or pronounce the Name needlessly. This is done to honor the Sacred Name (not out of superstition against using it as some critics imagine).

Temple and Yeshiva Beth HaShem is unique. We honor and respect Gods Sacred Name.

שמע ישראל ה 'הוא האלוהים שלנו הוא אחד

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad
"Hear Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One"

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons 

How to gain some meta-physical "fringe" benefits.

Tzitzit are tassels that hang down from the four corners of a rectangular garment, as the Torah says: "You shall put fringes on your four-cornered garment."1
Why do we wear Tzitzit? The Torah explains that by doing so, "you will see it and remember all the mitzvot."2
How do the tzitzit remind us of the mitzvot? On the simple level, Tzitzit serve as the colloquial string-around-the-finger reminder.3 As we go about our daily chores, whether at work or at a ball game, Tzitzit give us an anchor to the world of spirituality.
Further, the numerical value of "Tzitzit" is 600. Add to that the 8 strings and 5 knots on each corner, and you get 613 -- the number of mitzvot in the Torah.4
Let's delve a bit deeper into the verse: "You will see it and remember all the mitzvot." If there are four strings on each corner, why does the Torah use the singular form "it"?
"It" refers to the single blue thread on each corner prescribed by the Torah.5 The color blue is similar to the sea, which is like the clear blue sky, which is the color of the God's "heavenly throne."6
Our challenge is to make spirituality a part of daily reality. In seeing the Tzitzit, we have a tangible reminder of an incorporeal God.7 Seeing God in our lives is a progression -- from recognizing his presence in mundane things like a garment, all the way to the spiritual realms ("heavenly throne").
In this way, Tzitzit has a meta-physical "fringe" benefit (pun intended), in helping to safeguard one from temptation.8 The Torah tells us: "And you will see them, and remember not to follow after your heart and eyes, that you stray after them."9 Tzitzit remind us that God is watching, and our actions should reflect that realization.
The Talmud10 tells of a man who was intensely addicted to a dangerous vice and was willing to spend any amount of money to satisfy that desire. One time he traveled across the world, and at the moment before the forbidden activity, the man's Tzitzit "slapped him in the face." The commentators11 explain that the Tzitzit struck him not literally, but psychologically -- with the four corners appearing as witnesses against him.
The Strings
On each corner, four strings are looped through a hole, and drape down on both sides, giving the appearance of eight tassels per corner.12 The upper one-third of the tassels are a series of five double-knots, separated one from another with four sets of windings. Below the bottom knot, the remaining two-thirds of each string hangs loosely.13
Each section of knots-and-windings should be approximately one inch (2.5 cm.) -- for a total of 4 inches of knots-and-windings, and 8 inches of loose hanging strings.
The hole on each corner should be about two inches from the edge,14 to fulfill the biblical requirement that it be on the garment's "corner." If the corner tears, it can usually be repaired.15
The strings must be made either from wool, or from the same material from which the garment is made.16 Each string actually consists of two threads twisted together, and must be spun especially for the sake of Tzitzit.17 Therefore one should buy Tzitzit that carry a proper rabbinic supervision.
Once you've purchased the strings, it's not so difficult to attach them yourself. It's fun and meaningful. The process of putting Tzitzit on the garment is as follows:
  • use four strings, one which is longer, to wrap around the others
  • tie the four ends together,18 to ensure that each string will end up with one end on each side.
  • insert the strings into the hole, and be sure to say "Le'shem mitzvat Tzitzit."
  • tie a double-knot
  • wind the longer string around the others 7 times
  • tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 8 times
  • tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 11 times
  • tie a double-knot, and wind the longer string around the others 13 times
  • tie a (fifth and final) double-knot
Watch an instructional video: "How to Tie Your Own Tzitzit."
Why are the strings wound with 7, 8, 11, and 13 windings?
  • Seven represents the perfection of the physical world, which was created in seven days.
  • Eight is the number of transcendence that goes beyond nature.
  • Eleven is the numerical value of vav-hey, the last two letters of God's Name.
  • Thirteen is the numerical value of echad -- one.19
Although a Tallit Katan is worn underneath the shirt, there are different customs as to whether or not the tassels should be left hanging out and visible.20 Given the purpose of Tzitzit, it is considered better to wear them "untucked" so that we can look at them often and use them as an anchor. However, if this would cause embarrassment or dissent when living amongst non-Jews, it is acceptable to have the strings tucked in.21
Broken Strings
What if one or more of the strings break?
Our custom is that each string, when originally inserted, should be a length of 24-28.8 cm.22 If thereafter a string should be cut or broken, then it will depend:
If the break is within the section of knots-and-windings, then according to most opinions the Tzitzit are invalid.23
If the break is in the part where the strings hang loosely, then even if there is a break all the way up to the windings, it is still kosher.
If there are two breaks, then we must determine whether or not these are two ends of the same string, given that each string was initially inserted into the hole and doubled over.
How can we know whether or not these are two ends of the same string?
Firstly, when initially tying the knots on the Tzitzit, one should ensure that the two ends of any given string are always on opposite sides of the knot. Thus in the event that two strings break:
  • If the two broken strings are on the same side of the knot, one may rely that these are of two different strings. This is still kosher, even if the two strings are broken all the way up to the windings.
  • If the two broken strings are on opposite sides, then one of the broken strings will require a length of ki'day aniva -- "enough of a string that it could be tied."24 The length of ki'day aniva is minimally 4-4.8 cm.
If there are three broken strings, then ki'day aniva is not sufficient. Rather, you will need a full-length string, since we require at least two complete strings, and there is a concern that these three ends may be of three different strings, leaving only one complete string.25
View a slideshow: "Common Cases of Broken Strings in Tzitzit."
The Garment
Only a four-cornered garment is required to have Tzitzit.26 A poncho, for example, requires Tzitzit. A regular button-down dress shirt does not require Tzitzit, because it only has two "corners" (in the front). Similarly, a t-shirt does not require Tzitzit, as it has no corners. However, if one would cut a slit up the sides of the t-shirt (so that a majority of the side is "open"), that would in effect create "four corners," and the t-shirt would require Tzitzit.
Today, since four-cornered garments are not so common, we go out of our way to wear a four-cornered garment, in order to perform this important mitzvah.27
Two articles of clothing are made for this purpose: the Tallit Katan (the small cloak) and the Tallit Gadol (the large cloak).
The Tallit Katan
The Tallit Katan usually consists of a simple, white rectangular garment with a hole in the middle for the head. For an adult, this should be at least 18 inches long on each side (i.e. 18 x 36 when unfolded).28 It is kept on all day long, and is generally worn underneath one's regular shirt. It need not be worn at night.29

Those who will not be wearing a Tallit Gadol later30 (see below), should recite the following blessing upon putting on the Tallit Katan:31

Blessing for Tallit Katan
When a Jewish boy turns three, he should be presented with his own Tallit Katan.32 This way, he will become accustomed to this important mitzvah from an early age.
The Tallit Gadol

The Tallit Gadol (often called tallit, for short) is a large white cloth with no hole in it. It is made to be worn specifically during morning prayers (hence the term "prayer shawl"). The idea of wearing a special tallit during prayer is because we mention the Torah commandment of Tzitzit during a focal point of the prayers, the Shema.
The cloth usually has black, white or blue stripes.33 Ideally, it should be made from pure wool.34 The tallit is worn draped over the shoulders, with two corners in the front and two in back.35 An average size tallit is 4x6 feet.
[A scarf does not require Tzitzit, because it does not have the minimum size.36 Similarly, the small, fringed scarves that people sometimes wear around their necks do not qualify as a tallit and are not a fulfillment of the mitzvah.37]
On days when tefillin are also worn, the tallit is put on first.38
Before donning the Tallit Gadol, one should check the strings to see that they are not tangled39 or torn.40
For the Tallit Gadol, the following blessing is recited41 while standing.42 One should have in mind to include the Tallit Katan in the blessing.43 One should also intend that the wearing of Tzitzit is to remind us of all the mitzvot.44

Blessing for Tallit Gadol
Immediately after reciting the blessing, the Tallit Gadol should be draped over the shoulders and then temporarily wrapped around the head while its end is thrown over the left shoulder. The reason for throwing to the left is because we want the tzitzit to protect us against the desires of the heart, which is tilted to the left, as is written in Numbers 15:39.45
We then straighten out the tallit, so that two tzitzit are in the front and two in the back; two on the right and two on the left. We are thus surrounded by the mitzvah of tzitzit.46 Since the blessing is "to be wrapped in tzitzit," this would not be fulfilled by wearing it like a scarf.
Afterwards, the tallit may be left resting just on the shoulders in a cape-like fashion. Some people keep it over their head for parts of the morning prayers,47 as a way to increase concentration and to give a feeling of being enveloped by God's presence.
Watch a short video: "How to Put on a Tallit."
The tallit must be treated with respect.48 Therefore, one should try not to allow the strings to drag on the floor.49 Also, since the Tallit Gadol is designated for prayer services, it should be taken off before entering the bathroom.50 It is permitted to wear a Tallit Katan in the bathroom.51
After the morning prayers are complete, the Tallit Gadol is removed.
There are different opinions as to when a boy should begin to wear a Tallit Gadol. In some communities, boys begin at age 13; in other communities, they begin upon getting married.52 Everyone should follow the customs of his community.
Women and Tzitzit
Women have traditionally not worn Tzitzit. Here's why:
There are five mitzvot in the Torah that are "positive time-bound mitzvot." For example, waving a lulav is done during the time period of Sukkot. Tzitzit is also a time-bound mitzvah since the mitzvah applies only during the daytime (as implied by the verse "you shall see it" -- which excludes Tzitzit at night).53 As with all positive time-bound mitzvot, only men are required to perform this mitzvah.54 See Women and Mitzvot for more perspective on this.
The Blue Thread
The Torah says that of the four threads at each corner, one should be of "techeilet."55 Techeilet is a blue dye made from the blood of the chilazon,56 a sea creature found on the coast of northern Israel.
Why don't we use the blue thread today? This particular blue dye was very precious and because of its value, the Romans (who conquered Israel in 63 BCE) decreed that only "blue-blooded" royalty could wear the color techeilet. This caused the Jewish dyers to go underground. By 639 CE, at the time of the Arab conquest, the secret of techeilet was lost all together.
It is interesting that the series of stripes (usually black or blue) on just about every Tallit Gadol may have their origin as a reminder of the "strand of techeilet" once worn as part of the Tzitzit.57
In the late 19th century, a massive international search was made to rediscover the original chilazon, the snail used to make techeilet. Since then, several species of snails have been suggested by researchers, but much controversy remains about the matter. Today, while some scholars advocate the wearing of "techeilet strings" from these snails, most scholars remain unconvinced. Consequently, most observant Jews wear only white Tzitzit.58 The Tzitzit are still fit for use, even if they are all white, without the blue string.59
Finally, let's end with a joke:
Shlomie decided to try out the new Chinese cleaners in town. He brought in his tallit to be cleaned. When the time came to pick it up, he was stunned see a bill for $105 dollars."Why so much?!" Shlomie exclaimed.
"Five dollars to clean the garment," said the man, "and 100 dollars to get out all those knots!"
For further study:
Photos courtesy of Oter Israel -

  1. Numbers 15:37
  2. Numbers 15:39
  3. Alshich - Numbers 15:39
  4. Rashi - Numbers 15:39
  5. Numbers 15:38
  6. Talmud - Menachot 43b
  7. This idea is evident from a verse in Song of Songs, where the word 'hatzitz means "to peak."
  8. See Brachot 13a; Menachot 44a
  9. Numbers 15:39
  10. Menachot 44a
  11. Alshich - Numbers 15:41
  12. Menachot 39b, Orach Chaim 11:12
  13. based on Ezekiel 8:3, where the word tzitzit refers to a [freely-hanging] lock of hair (Talmud - Menachot 42a; Rema - Orach Chaim 11:14)
  14. Orach Chaim 11:9
  15. Orach Chaim 16:4-5
  16. Orach Chaim 9:2-3
  17. Orach Chaim 11:1
  18. Orach Chaim 12:1
  19. Tzitzit by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, p. 214
  20. See Mishnah Berurah 8:25, Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 8:3, 8:5
  21. Mishnah Berurah 8:25-6, based on Tosfot - Brachot 18a
  22. Orach Chaim 11:13
  23. Orach Chaim 12:3
  24. Orach Chaim 12:1
  25. Orach Chaim 12:1 with Biur Halacha
  26. Orach Chaim 10:1
  27. Orach Chaim 24:1; see Abarbanel - Numbers 15:38
  28. See Mishnah Berurah 8:17
  29. Orach Chaim 18:1
  30. Mishnah Berurah 8:24
  31. Rema - Orach Chaim 8:6
  32. Orach Chaim 17:3; Sha'arei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 17:2)
  33. See Pri Megadim (Mishbetzot Zahav 9:6) and Ta'amei HaMinahgim 15
  34. Mishnah Berurah 9:16
  35. Orach Chaim 8:4
  36. Orach Chaim 10:11
  37. See Mishnah Berurah 16:4
  38. Orach Chaim 25:1
  39. Orach Chaim 8:7
  40. Orach Chaim 8:9
  41. Orach Chaim 8:5
  42. Orach Chaim 8:1
  43. Mishnah Berurah 8:24
  44. Orach Chaim 8:8
  45. Radvaz 3:571, quoting Rav Sa'adya Gaon (Bo)
  46. Orach Chaim 8:4
  47. Mishnah Berurah 8:4
  48. Mishnah Berurah 21:14
  49. Orach Chaim 21:4
  50. Mishnah Berurah 21:14
  51. Orach Chaim 21:3
  52. Mishnah Berurah 17:10
  53. Orach Chaim18:1
  54. Orach Chaim 17:2; Halichot Shlomo (vol. I, pg. 35)
  55. Numbers 15:38
  56. Tosefta - Menachot 9:6
  57. Legend says that the blue stripes on the Israeli flag are based on the stripes of the tallit.
  58. Kaplan (pp. 218-222)
  59. Talmud - Menachot 4:1
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Watch this short video explaining the Jewish understanding of Isaiah 53.


Chosen People Ministries has focused on Isaiah 53 because it believes this passage is one of its most powerful proof-texts. When read out-of-context and mistranslated, Isaiah 53 gives the impression of a prophecy describing the suffering and death of the messiah, specifically Jesus dying for our sins.
This Christian interpretation is absolutely incorrect for several good reasons. Isaiah commonly uses familiar metaphors and often speaks of the people of Israel as a single individual referred to as the Servant of God. Moreover in nine previous  passages, Isaiah identifies the Servant to be  Israel, as we see in Isaiah 41:8  “Israel is my Servant…” and Isaiah 43:10 “You are My witnesses says the Lord, and My Servant whom I have chosen…”
Chapters 52-53 describe the reaction of the nations of the world when they witness the future and ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.
Initially, the nations viewed the Jewish people scornfully and considered them to be rejected by God and deserving of suffering and His divine punishment. Isaiah states that in the future, the nations will be shocked and dumbfounded when they witness God’s unexpected and glorious redemption of the Jewish people.
The nations will then contrast their new realization of Israel’s grandeur with their previous beliefs. Ultimately, they will conclude that the Jews were not rejected by God, but in fact, they suffered from the unjustified and disproportionate persecution inflicted upon them by the nations of the world.
To validate their biased misinterpretation, missionaries intentionally avoid mention of a critical fact. In Isaiah 53:5, they deliberately mistranslate the word “from” as“for”, andthereby claim that the Servant will suffer for the sins of the Jewish people. In fact, the verse says that the nations of the world will actually admit that Israel – the Servant of God – “was wounded from our transgressions, bruisedfrom our iniquities.” In the original Hebrew, the letter “מ – mem” which serves as the prefix to the words “transgressions” and “iniquities” means “from”, not “for.”Therefore, this verse cannot be read as supporting the Christian view that the Servant, namely Jesus, suffers for the sins of the world.
In fact, many Christian commentaries including the New English Bible: Oxford Study EditionThe New Interpreters Study Bible and The Harper Collins Study Bible agree with the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53. For example, the Oxford Study Edition states, “Israel, the servant of God, has suffered as a humiliated individual.”



  1. Interested in why you have "NO GOOD!" next to the Micro Tallits offered on Michael Rood's website. What exactly makes them no good according to the scripture? There are four corners, there is a blue thread and it is worn on the body.

    1. They're not a four cornered garment.

  2. From the two picture's: one looks like a under-shirt and the other is a Apron. the micro tzitzit just needs to be re-designed correctly.

  3. Visit Us At for Hebrew Garments with Tzitziyot, in the Kaw'nawph (Corners)

  4. "Also take note that the verses do not say that the four cornered garment cannot be tucked into your pants."

    But the purpose is for you to see them and be reminded of the commandments, so it kind of does say they cannot be tucked into your pants.

    "It is a sign for us to look upon not necessarily for others to look upon."

    So you're going to be taking them in and out of your pants? Not very sanitary I dare say,

    Now let me ask a really stupid question. Say you have bluejeans that got like ripped at the bottom to where they are sort of fringed. Will that count, since its blue fringes?

  5. This post is pure filth. In order to make people stray from the commandments you say that tzitzit pose serious health risks for people who wear them. Sorry but you are a servant of lucifer because that argument is a lie. Also if you were four tzitzit it fulfills the commandment as it reminds you of the mitzvot. You seem to think that unless one has a four cornered garment that (which is never specifically commanded to begin with) that that individual does not need to wear the tzitzit.

  6. I apologize for the last post, I said things in there I should not have. Perhaps I may not agree with you on the matter of tzitzit but to say that you are serving satan was not warranted and I apologize.

  7. Im new to Torah and admit i tie small TziTzits on my belt loops. I feel as if there kinda the original WWJD accessory. I DONT WANT TO OFFEEND ELOHIM, so is this wrong, or a show of my faith to him as im trying to Follow Torah to the best of my knowledge. I use a 10-5-6-5 pattern and macreamae them as i cant find a specific pattern in the Torah. Comming from a regular church and "churchianity" y o being a follower of Yesha was the most life changing experience ive ever had! I would love further info , Shabbat Shalom.

  8. To * Yeshua * sory no coffee yet. :)