Dec 032014
 

I normally am not outspoken in my opinions, but I feel no hesitation to bring the opinions of prominent rabbanim on the techeiles debate to the public. So I have taken the initiative to selectively translate excerpts from letters written a number of leading poskim in Eretz Yisroel. If you would like to see the letters in full in the Hebrew original, go to the techeiles.org website.

Source of Murex techelet dye

Murex trunculus

Five years ago, in 5770, HaRav Moshe Mordechai Karp, one of the leading poskim in Kiryat Sefer, wrote an approbation for a book by Rav Eliyahu Tavgar, the rabbinical authority for the Ptil Tekhelet Foundation. “Although in practice,” writes Rabbi Karp, “for a number of reasons we cannot obligate one to wear techeiles, as Maran HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv shlita [he has since passed away] has ruled, nevertheless certainly those who had the merit to clarify the halacha and arrived at the conclusion that [Murex trunculus is authentic techeiles] must fulfill the mitzvah, and embarassment has no place when it comes to fulfilling halacha.”

HaRav Gershon Meltzer, a well-known posek in Jerusalem who delivers a class at Mir Yeshiva, wrote an approbation for a pro-techeiles booklet written by Rav Meir Hellman. Rabbi Meltzer writes that the booklet presented the case very thoroughly, based on the Gemara, Rishonim and Achronim, and delved into practical aspects as well. His arguments are “well-founded and he effectively counters all of the dubious claims [against his thesis].”

Rabbi Meltzer goes on to argue that the contemporary debate is a worthy discussion and the arguments in favor should not be casually dismissed. He recalls that when machine matzah was first introduced, several of the leading poskim were staunchly opposed, primarily because matzah had been baked by hand for millenia, therefore in our generation one cannot come along and introduce a radical innovation.

He explains that the reason Rishonim did not wear techelet is already mentioned in the Ramban (Shemos 28:2), who says because it was used in clothes for royalty, the gentiles considered it an act of rebellion if Jews wore attire dyed with Murex trunculus.

Rabbi Yisrael Belsky, a prominent posek in the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva Torah Vodaas wrote an approbation two years ago in 5773 for a booklet on techeiles called Lavush Ha’aron. Like Rabbi Meltzer, he says that those who tie techeiles onto their garments certainly have valid reasons, their decision should definitely not be scorned and the matter should not be lightly dismissed. “Torah scholars would do well to carefully examine the clarifications and sources cited in the booklet, and apparently it can be relied upon in practice,” writes Rabbi Belsky.

In the summer of 5766 (eight years ago) someone, who’s name I cannot decipher, wrote a letter to HaRav Sariyah Dublitzky, saying he was thoroughly convinced that Murex trunculus “is the techeiles that the Creator commanded us to tie onto our clothing,” and asking Rav Dublitsky if he felt he should add it to his tallis katan, at least when worn discreetly.

“I myself wear Murex on my tallis katan,” HaRav Dublitzky wrote in a very brief reply.

In 5771 HaRav Shmuel Nadel, a well-known dayan in Bnei Brak, reviewed a booklet called Chotem Shel Zahav. During the time of the Gemara, writes Rabbi Nadel, “gentiles used and dyed with techeiles, and in all of the books by the wise men of the nations that contain detailed information on all of the types of dyes in use during the time, this snall appears as a source for dye, and no other snail used to derive techeiles is mentioned. Since it has been clarified that techeiles dye can be produced from this snall — which I saw with my own two eyes — there is no logical reason to cast doubt on the identity of the snail. The technique for producing the dye also appears in the gentiles’ books from that period, and it reselbles the production process familiar to us today.”

“Although clearly this is the techeiles used during the time of Chazal, there still appears to be room for debate over whether we should tie techeiles onto our talleisim considering the fact that for over a thousand years the Jewish people have not used techeiles tzitzis, therefore we cannot reintroduce this mitzvah, even if we are certain of the authenticity of this techeiles. I do not concur with this view, however this is a question worthy of consideration.”

Rabbi Nadel writes that the detrators assertions are illogical and baseless.

 

Sep 292014
 

If you are thinking of tying techelet tzitzit on your next tallit or tallit katan, but are not sure which tying custom to follow, you’re not alone.

With all white tzitzit, usually there’s nothing to decide: if you’re Ashkenazi, you tie Ashkenazi, if you’re Sephardic, you tie Sephardic, if you’re Chabad, you tie Chabad. But since it’s highly unlikely your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents had techelet tzitzit, you have no tradition to follow, and are left in a bit of a quandry.

The first thing you need to know is that tying techelet tzitzit according to the Ashkenazi or Sephardic custom is not the correct way to go about it. These customs were developed in the absence of techelet, but the Gemara provides many details about how to tie tzitzit and the Ashkenazi and Sephardic tying customs for all-white tzitzit do not meet many of the requirements in the Gemara.

Namely, the Gemara speaks of chulyot, saying you must have a minimum of seven and a maximum of thirteen. Normally chulyot are understood to be sets of three windings. Thus, for example, the Vilna Gaon writes that you should do thirteen chulyot as follows: after the first double knot, do 3 windings using the white shamsash string, three with the blue, three white, and three blue, i.e. four chulyot. Then make a second double knot. Repeat this sequence another three times so that you have a total of 12 chulyot. Then do one final chulyah of white and tie a final double knot.

Some of the other approaches, such as Sefer HaChinuch and Amram Gaon, are quite similar, while the Rambam and the Arizal have different approaches regarding how to create the chulyot.

If you insist on following the standard Ashkenazi or Sephardic tying custom, at least be sure that the very first and last windings are white, a basic requirement that the Gemara states unambigiously.

If you have the opportunity to delve into the topic, you’ll find the discussion starting on Menachot xxb. To see images of the primary techelet tying approaches, refer to this guide.

From a halachic standpoint, even more important than which tying custom you follow  is how many strings of blue you use. We know four tzitzit strings must be tied onto each corner. Once they are tied you see what appears to be eight strings hanging down. The Torah refers to a פתיל תכלת in the singular, but does that mean one of the four strings, i.e. one complete string of blue, or one of the eight strings, which would be achieved by using one string that is half blue and half white? The Rambam holds that one of the eight strings must be blue, while the Raavad holds that two of them must be blue. (The Tosefot has another approach according to white half of the eight strings should be blue.)

The Arizal and others agree with the Rambam, while the Gra, Sefer HaChinuch and others side with the Raavad. In practical terms, some say that today, in the absence of a mesorah, Ashkenazim should follow the Raavad, while Sephardim should follow the Rambam. But not all rabbanim agree with that approach, and it is recommended that you consult your rabbi on this question.

Sep 032014
 

It’s fairly rare that a customer asks me not to tie the first knot on the tzitzit too tight. That’s why I was surprised to see this note a customer added to an order for a white-on-white Beit Yosef talit.

Please see that the tsitsit be tied on both tallitot to have flat corners. That is, that the first knot is not so tight that it crumples the corner more than just a very small amount. I was told that they tied the first knot tight to prevent movement of the strings around the corner of the garment. However I am a little particular about the corners and personally I think the stiff corners of the Beit Yosef prevent that. Thank you, Dean.

Dean is actually quite right, but the truth is we would have done the same even without receiving the request.

There is a halacha, mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, regarding how tight to make the first knot of the tzitzit (O.C. 11, 15). On one hand, we want the tzitzit to fall along the side of the tallit so that it hangs right alongside the corner when worn (“notef al hakeren“). If that first knot does not keep the tzitzit snug alongside the tallit, they are liable to make their way around the corner to the other side, so that when worn the tzitzit hang from the bottom edge parallel to the ground, rather than the fringed side.

On the other hand, if you make the knot very snug, according to some opinions, scrunched up fabric does not count when measuring the distance from the hole to the edge. The minimum distance is about 4 cm. The hole is usually positioned 5 cm away. So if you bunch up the fabric too much, according to these opinions the tzitzit are not considered attached to the kanaf.

Notably Lubavitch has a very innovative solution that allows them to have their cake and eat it too: They don’t scrunch up the fabric at all, but add a second hole, looping the shamash through it before the first winding, thereby anchoring the tzitzit to the correct side of the tallit.

Those who follow the Chazon Ish bunch up the fabric a lot, and many Sephardim are careful not to bunch up the fabric at all.

Some tallits have stiffer corners than others, which helps the tzitzit stay in place. High-end tallits, such as Chatanim, Hamefoar and Beit Yosef (as Dean notes) feature stiff wool corner patches for this reason. And sometimes decorated corners, notably on Yemenite tallitot, are very stiff.

Aug 072014
 

We get a whole lot of tzitzit questions, but this one was fairly unique.

Hi Ben – I would like to get tzitzit for a musician that I manage who is XL and gets very hot on stage and we need something very cool with Lubavitch knots – is that possible?

The question of how to wear tzitzit without getting overheated is actually very common, and is probably on many people’s minds at this time of year. So I’m pasting my reply in full:

Thank you for your inquiry. The first question is does he wear cotton, or does he insist on wool?
If, for halachic reasons, he insists on wearing wool, then go to this page and look at the Kalit and the Wool Comfort.
If cotton, then we’re up to question two: The traditional type, worn on top of an undershirt and under a shirt, or the undershirt type? The latter is worn directly on the skin in place of an undershirt, thereby cutting the three layers down to two.
You can see all of our cotton options on this page. The basic undershirt type would be either the PerfTzit or the Cotton Comfort, which are basically the same idea with a slightly different design.
Another option you might consider is the Sport Tzitzit, also on the cotton tzitzit page. Note that it has sleeves.
All of these products should have a Chabad tzitzit tying option available. But if he’s very particularly about the diagonal Chabad tzitzit holes, you’ll only find that on traditional wool and cotton tallit katan garments. All of the options discussed here have a single hole on each corner.
Jul 152014
 

The campaign to stop Gaza rockets has now resumed, and in the meantime Lt. Colonel (res.) Rabbi Yedidya Atlas of the IDF Central Command is continuing his campaign to supply IDF soldiers with army issue tzitzit and other religious articles needed by soldiers in the field.

Operation Protective Edge

IDF soldiers with two layers of protection

He told me that he has received repeated requests on the command level, both from units in the south around Gaza and in Judea and Samaria, for the IDF Rabbinate to meet the demand for olive green “dri-fit” tzitzit for all the combat soldiers who request them.

“I’ve been working hard to raise the necessary funding for the religious needs of the combat soldiers stationed on the various fronts for the past months, in particular since it was obvious that something was going to ultimately break and it has,” Rabbi Atlas told me. “I’m raising funds for three key items that I have received repeated requests for on the command level, both from units in the south around Gaza and in Judea and Samaria. The first key item is these special Tzitzit.”

Many combat soldiers refer to the olive green tzitzit as השכפ”ץ האמיתי (“the real bullet-proof vest”). The IDF Rabbinate is churning out supplies as fast as it can, but does not have the significant quantities it will need in the coming weeks as Operation Protective Edge expands. A major call-up of reserve combat troops is anticipated as well. Most combat reservists only have a white tallit katan to bring with them when they report for duty. The white not only compromises unit discipline, but can actually pose a danger since it can be too visible at night, with flashes of white peeking out from under army fatigues.

During operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF handed out over 8,000 tzitzit to soldiers. Normally the IDF distributes simple cotton tzitzit garments that  become saturated with sweat, making them uncomfortable during training and combat, and making soldiers more vulnerable to skin irritation. The “dri-fit” type features an inner layer designed to wick away moisture and odor.

Personally, I recall that while serving as a “Lone Soldier” in the IDF about 15 years ago, I needed a pair of tefillin, and the IDF Rabbinate came through for me.

Tzitzit for IDF soldiers

An IDF unit currently stationed outside the Gaza Strip

Rabbi Atlas is trying to arrange an additional 15,000 pairs of these special tzitzit for combat soldiers, in addition to the quantity already stockpiled for emergency use. The approximate cost per combat company is $1,800. A full battalion is $5,000.

Below are three ways to make a donation to this fund.

1) U.S. checks can be sent to the following address:

American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate
c/o David Schwartz
5 Sutton Road
Monsey, NY 10952

2) Credit card donations can be made via the American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate website.

3) If you make a purchase on our tallit and tzitzit webstore, you can donate by clicking here and adding any number of tzitzit to your shopping cart.

May 082014
 

I recently decided it’s time for me to put together a new tallit katan. I have several – cotton and wool, Shabbos and weekday – but the tzitzit strings on most of them are starting to look dingy to me. Considering I operate a tallit and tzitzit webstore, have connections with various suppliers and manufacturers and sell dozens of tallit katan products per week, one tallit katan for myself should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong. The more I though about it the more indecisive I became.

Tallit Katan options>>

For those of you who are in the market for a new tallit katan, but haven’t decided which type is right for you, or if you are wholly unfamiliar with the various types of tallit katan, here is a brief overview.

Traditional Cotton Tallit Katan – Untailored. Just a big rectangle with a hole for the head and neck. Available with a round neck opening or a neck opening with a slit running down the front. Needs to be worn over an undershirt, but unlike the wool tallit katan, a tank top is enough.

Wool Tallit Katan – The wool tallit katan (or “wool tzitzit,” which is a bit of a misnomer) is available in the regular fabric and a special lightweight wool version (“Kalit”). Surprisingly the Kalit is popular even in winter. My speculation is that there are people who are think a wool tallit katan is blazing hot in the summer (personally I disagree) so they stick with a cotton tallit katan, but in winter they are willing to move from cotton to lightweight wool.

NeaTzit – These are quite popular. Almost always cotton, but we now sell them in a lightweight wool, which is off-white. Sometimes NeaTzit are partially sewn along the sides. We carry that design, as well as our Cotton Comfort, which features a patented connector strap, as you can see on the product page.

Sports Tzitzit and TzitzShirt – Both these are quite innovative. Both the Sports Tzitzit and the TzitzShirt have snaps along the sides and can be worn alone.

Go to Tallit Katan options>>

Mar 312014
 

Our tzitzit t-shirt has been gaining popularity. Although some companies market it as a revolutionary new concept, it has been sold in Israel and France for close to a decade. The design is fairly similar to the very popular and now widespread Neatzit, except that the Neatzit (also known by various other names, including PerfTzitz and TrimTzitz) is meant to be worn as an undershirt, whereas the tzitzit t-shirt is just that: a t-shirt with tzitzit designed to be worn alone.

T-shirt with Tzitzit The concept was endorsed by the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, the late chief rabbi of Israel, and one of the manufacturers told me the late Rabbi Eliashiv also gave his approval. According to halacha, a garment is required to have tzitzit attached if it is open more than half-way up the sides. The TzitzShirt is open almost all the way to the sleeve, but while worn the sides are closed with three discreet snaps.

Of course the tzitzit t-shirt can also be worn as an undershirt, which means you can wear it as an undershirt, and when you hit the basketball court, the tennis court, during your morning jog or just sitting in the yard on a hot day you can slip off your shirt without feeling too exposed and without having to be sans tzitzit.

We sell the tzitzit in both men’s and boys’ sizes in white, blue and gray. Black is also available, by request.

TzitzShirt for Men>>

TzitzShirt for Boys>>

Mar 182014
 

According to Torah law, there is no requirement for tzitzit to have 7-8-11-13 windings. The Torah says you must have one knot and one chulyah. There is a dispute in the poskim as the whether the knot comes before the chulyah or after, so we do both. The Mishnah Brurah explains that if you tie on double knot, wrap a few windings around (at least three) and tie a second double knot, you have fulfilled the mitzvah according to Torah law. He says this is what one should do if he finds himself stuck without tzitzit a short time before Shabbos begins. He then goes on to explain that there is also a requirement according to Rabbinical law to tie the tzitzit in such a way that you have one-third anaf (tied) and two-thirds ptil (loose).

Therefore when the Shulchan Aruch (11, 14) explains how to go about tying tzitzit, it makes no mention of how many windings there should be, and in fact writes that there is no set number of windings.

ואחר-כך יכררך חוט הארך סביב השבעה קצת כריכות וקושר שני פעמים זה על גב זה, וחוזר
וכורך; וכן יעשה עד שישלים לחמש קשרים כפולים וארבעה עוירים ביניהם מלאים כריכות.
אין שעור לכריכות רק שיהיו כל הכרוך והקשרים רחב ארבעה גודלים והענף שמונה גודלים

Thus the number of windings is not Torah law or even Rabbinical law, but rather a custom that developed later. Interestingly, based on the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema and the Mishnah Brurah, it seems that the one-third/two-thirds requirement, described as , is of more importance than the number of windings, but if you look at the vast majority of tzitzit you will find that they are much closer to one-fourth/three-fourths.

In fact we normally leave the tzitzit we tie for our customers one-fourth/three-fourths, because I believe if they saw one-third/two-thirds many would be somewhat alarmed and possibly disappointed. In the yeshiva world today, you often see students sporting very long tzitzit. I imagine many of them think this is very pious, when in fact it is actually a leniency.

It’s very difficult to get the windings exactly 7, exactly 8, etc. We try our best to do it within half a winding. If you are not experienced at tzitzit tying, this may be hard to discern. If you look at the tzitzit on one side, you may count 7 windings in the first section, but when you flip it around to the opposite side there are 6 or 8 windings, because there may be six-and-a-half or seven-and-a-half. (The way to count accurately is to note careful where the winding starts, note where the final winding ends and compare the location.)

Rabbi Mois Navon of the Ptil Tekhelet Association speaks of this issue as well. “The truth is that it is very difficult to get precisely three full winds when coming out of a double knot or going into a double knot,” he writes. He then argues that “the Gemara’s requirement that a chulya be 3 winds is a directive for action to be taken by the person wrapping and not necessarily a statement on how the final product is to appear.  That is to say, the tier is required to wrap the shamash around the core strings three times, this may however result in a chulya looking like two-and-a-half wraps or even three-and-a-half, depending on where the string started or ended.”

Mar 052014
 

A fairly significant number of our tallit and tallit katan customers who select Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit want us to tie them according to the Sephardic custom. For example, this week we received the following inquiry from a prospective techelet buyer in the US:

I am looking at new Tallit Gadol. In the past I have tied my own P’til Techelet Tzitzit but since you offer this service I would request information on your method in relation to the Sephardic or Raavad option. In particular,
- Do you use a full P’til Techelet Tzitzit when doing the “Sephardic” method (ie. not a half-white, half-techelet string), as I am sure you would under the “Raavad” method?
- What is the numerical sequence of wraps in both cases?
- Are you able to forward pictures of examples of both?

Todah,
David

In my reply, I told David that if you do Sephardic tying, in my humble opinion you should use Rambam techelet strings.

Thank you for your inquiry. I trust you have read our techelet tying page.

Based on my understanding of halacha, if you go ahead and tie Sephardic windings, it makes most sense to use Rambam tekhelet strings so that you get seven white strings and one blue string hanging down from each corner. Of all of the Rishonim and Achronim who explicitly discuss how to tie tzitzit with techelet, the Rambam is generally considered the most authoritative.

I even know an Ashkenazi yeshiva student who ties his tzitzit with Vilna Gaon windings, but uses Rambam strings! He holds that from a halachic standpoint, the main question is how many white strings and how many blue you should have; how to do the windings is of secondary importance.

I think there is a fairly significant number of Ashkenazim who choose to tie according to the Rambam for this reason, so I would assume it applies even more so for Sephardim.

But I am not qualified to make halachic decisions, so you should really try to speak with a rav about this, though many rabbanim have not looked into techelet and techelet tying. Feel free to forward this email to a rav to see what he says. I’d be interested to get some feedback, if possible.

Regarding your question on the numerical sequence of the wraps, on a tallit gadol Sephardic tzitzit are always done 7-8-11-13, so with techelet it would be as follows:

initial double knot
1 white – 6 blue – double knot
8 blue – double knot
11 blue – double knot
12 blue – 1 white – double knot

The Gemara tells us very clearly that you always start with white and end with white, and that rule applies no matter how you do the windings.

Some of my customers know very little about tzitzit tying, so I was quite astonished by the highly erudite (and fascinating) reply David sent me the next day. The following are his remarks on the Raavad and Rambam tying methods:

Shalom,

Although Sephardim normally follow Rambam, I am personally in favour of the Raavad method, & just for the sake of interesting Torah discussion I will share the reason.

In Sefer HaBahir there are two potentially relevant discussions:

If it is within your tradition to read there, paragraph’s 92 & 93 become relevant.
Now, from one perspective [Rambam] it could be said to be better to have only one blue thread showing on each corner, this would indicate the “garden” is the King’s (Keter).

However, paragraph 93 discusses the role of the King’s daughter (Malchut) …”with these two signs, ‘G-d will watch you from all evil, He will safeguard your soul’ – part of the function of the reminder of the Tzitzit.”

So, as it happens, some ascribe this book to the Raavad, and his technique for tying happens to have the showing of two blue threads on each corner.

Thanks for taking the time to get back to me & providing the link & additional information. The foregoing thoughts are just for your interest & any other students of the Torah you may wish to discuss with.

With G-d’s help I will place an order with you via the website & will probably opt to tie the Tzitzit myself although I am sure your methodologies are all good & acceptable.

Yours Faithfully,
David

Jan 312014
 

When it comes to the raging debate over whether Murex trunculus is the real techelet mentioned in the Torah, it’s hard to find someone who is really objective on the issue. Many people, including some rabbanim, seem to have made up their minds for the most part, before they start “investigating” the matter.

For example, a year or two ago a Torah scholar in Bnei Brak published a booklet strongly arguing against Murex trunculus as the real techelet. While reading through it, I felt it was very clear the writer was extremely biased and presented his case in a highy selective manner. When discussing the correct color of techelet, for instance, he wrote that according to Rashi it should be a very dark blue, almost black, but neglected to mention the many opinions – including Rashi himself, elsewhere – that speak of very different shades of blue (see below). In the booklet he also claimed the chilazon is found in the Kinneret. This opinion is mentioned in the Midrash, if I’m not mistaken, but a much more accepted opinion is that the chilazon dwells in the Mediterranean.

That’s why it helps to take a look at what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt”l wrote over 30 years ago in his commentary on Chumash, The Living Torah. And it’s particularly worth taking a look now, since you will find it in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Terumah.

The verse in Shemos 25:3 lists the various materials used in the construction of the Mishkan, including techelet. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translates it as “sky-blue.” The shade of techelet is a matter of debate in and of itself, and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan mentions five or six different opinions, including Rabbi Saadia Gaon, Rambam, Yosephus, Rashi and Radak.

Sometimes I get customers who ask for me to dig through my stock of Ptil Tekhelet for the darkest set I can find (or sometimes the lightest). Although there can be slight differentiation between one batch and another, for the most part they all look to me to be the same shade. However, the thin is always noticeably darker than the thick, presumably because the Murex trunculus dye penetrates better.

Rabbi Kaplan goes on to mention various points that anyone who has looked into the present-day techelet debate will recognize immediately: purpura, Murex trunculus shells found at the site of the ancient Tyrian dyeworks and the signs of the chilazon.