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Tzitzit and Tallit

The Mitzva of Tzitzit

"Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations and they shall place upon the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue wool. These shall be your tzitzit, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments so as to keep them. You will then not stray after your heart and eyes after which have lead you to immorality. You will thus remember and keep all My commandments, and be holy to your God."
Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:38-40

"You shall make for yourselves twisted threads on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."
Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 22:12

A Tallit is any four cornered garment which has tzitzit on it. There are two kinds:

Tallit gadol
This is the large tallit worn during prayers. In Ashkenazi communities it is usually worn by married men only but there are different customs about this. It should be large enough to cover most of the wearer’s body.

Tallit katan
This is the small tallit worn by men and boys almost always. It is usually worn under the clothing. It should be at least 16 x 16 inches in the front and in the back. This tallit is usually referred to simply as tzitzit.

Strictly speaking, the Torah does not require us to wear tzitzit unless we are wearing a garment with four or more corners. Nevertheless, we wear tzitzit at all times to take advantage of an opportunity to do a mitzva.

Ideally all tallit should be made from wool, but they don’t have to be. A tallit gadol is almost always wool. Frequently, however, a tallit katan is made from cotton so that it will be more comfortable. (Synthetic materials may not bear any mitzva of tzitzit and should therefore not be used to make a tallit.)

The strings which are used to make the tzitzit must be made especially for the mitzva of tzitzit. The strings must have rabbinical certification.

The Blue Thread

The Torah tells us to insert a blue thread into each corner of the tallit. This particular blue is known as techailis and can only be obtained from an animal known as the Chilazon. Since we no longer know the identity of this animal we are unable to perform this part of the mitzva of tzitzit. Nevertheless, tzitzit which do not contain the blue thread are perfectly valid.

Symbolism

There are two basic symbolic aspects in the making of tzitzit.

  1. The numerical value of the word tzitzit is 600, which, together with the eight strings and five knots on each corner, adds up to 613, the total number of mitzvos in the Torah.

  2. The first three groups of windings 7, 8, 11 add up to 26, which is the numerical value of one of the names of HaShem, while the remaining group, 13, is equal to the numerical value of the word echad- one. The tzitzit thus symbolize the words "HaShem Echad"- HaShem is one.

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