To get an overview or introduction to any area of halacha, the Rambam is invariably a good place to start. Below is a translation of the halacha of tzitzit in the Rambam’s magnum opus, Mishneh Torah.
Perhaps most notable about the Rambam on tzitzit is that his tying method is distinct from the accepted Ashkenazi and Sephardic tzitzit tying customs followed today. Many Yemenite Jews (known as Baladi) follow the Rambam’s rulings and therefore wear tzitzit tied with seven (or 13) chulyoth.
Also, the Rambam differs in that when it comes to techelet. He holds there should be seven strands of white and one strand of techelet on each corner, whereas according to most opinions there should be six stands of white and two stands of techelet.
Rambam: The Laws of Tzitzit
HALACHA OF TZITZIT – CHAPTER ONE
The tassel that is made on the fringes of a garment from the same fabric as the garment is called tzitzit, because it resembles the locks of the head, as is written, “And he took me by the locks of my head.” (Yechezkel 8:3).
This tassel is called the white [stings], because we are not commanded to dye it. The Torah did not establish a fixed number of strands for this tassel.
Then we take a strand of wool that is dyed a sky-like color and wind it around this tassel. This strand is called techelet. The Torah did not establish a fixed requirement for the number of times that this strand should be wound [around the tassel].
Thus, this mitzvah contains two commandments: to make a tassel on the fringe [of a garment], and to wind a strand oftechelet around the tassel. [Both these dimensions are indicated by Numbers 15:38, which] states: “And you shall make tassels… and you shall place on the tassels of the corner a strand of techelet.”
The [absence of] techelet does not prevent [the mitzvah from being fulfilled with] the white strands, nor does the [absence of] the white strands prevent [the mitzvah from being fulfilled with] techelet.
What is implied? A person who does not have techelet should make [tzitzit] from white strands alone. Similarly, if [tzitzit] were made from both white strands and techelet, and afterwards, the white strands snapped and were reduced until [they did not extend beyond] the corner [of the garment], and thus only the techelet remained, it is acceptable.
Although the [absence of] one does not prevent [the mitzvah from being fulfilled with] the other, they are not considered as two mitzvot. Instead, they are a single mitzvah. Whether [the tzitzit] a person wears on his garment are white, techelet or a combination of the two colors, he fulfills a single mitzvah.
The Early Sages related: “And they shall be tzitzit for you” (Numbers 15:39). This teaches that they are both one mitzvah.
The [presence of each of the] four tzitzit is necessary [for the mitzvah to be fulfilled], because all four are [elements] of a single mitzvah.
How are the tzitzit made? One begins from the corner of a garment, i.e., the end of its woven portion. One ascends upward no more than three fingerbreadths from the edge, but no less than the distance from the knuckle of the thumb to its end.
[A hole is made] and four strands inserted, [causing them] to be folded in half. Thus, there will be eight strands hanging down from the corner. These eight strands must be at least four fingerbreadths long. If they are longer – even if they are a cubit or two long – it is acceptable. The term “fingerbreadth” refers to a thumbbreadth.
One of the eight strands should be techelet; the other seven should be white.
Afterwards, one should take one of the white strands and wind it once around the other strands close to the edge of the garment and let it go. Then one takes the strand that was dyed techelet and winds it twice [around the other strands], next to the coil made by the white strand, and then ties the strands in a knot. These three coils are called a segment.
Afterwards, one should leave a slight space, and then make a second segment using only the strand that was dyed techelet. Again, one should leave a slight space, and then make a third segment [using only the strand that was dyed techelet for this segment as well]. One should continue in this manner until the final segment, which is made of two coils of techelet and a final coil using a white strand. Since one began with a white strand, one concludes with it, because one should always ascend to a higher level of holiness, but never descend.
Why should one begin using a white strand? So that [the coil that is] next to the corner of the garment should be similar to [the garment itself].
The same pattern is followed regarding all four corners.
How many segments should be made at every corner? No fewer than three and no more than 13.
[The above] represents the most preferable way of performing the mitzvah. If, however, one wound only one segment around the strands, it is acceptable. Should one wind the techelet around the majority of the [length of the] tzitzit, it is acceptable. For the techelet to be attractive, [however,] all the segments should be in the upper third of the strands, and the [remaining] two thirds should hang loose.
One must separate the strands like the locks of one’s hair.
A person who makes [tzitzit using only] white threads without using techelet should take one of the eight strands and wind it around the others, covering one third of [the length of] the strands and leaving two thirds hanging loose.
When winding [this strand around the others], one may create segments as one does when winding the techelet, if one desires. This is our custom. If, however, one desires to wind [the strand around the others] without creating segments, one may.
The general principle is that one should intend that one-third of the tzitzit be bound, and two-thirds hang loose. There are those, however, who are not precise about this matter when [making tzitzit] with white threads [alone].
Should one wind a white thread around the majority [of the length] of the strands or should one make only a single segment, [the tzitzit] are acceptable.
Both the white strands and those dyed techelet may be made out of entwined strands. Even a strand that is made from eight threads entwined into a single strand is considered as only a single strand in this context.
Both the white strands of the tzitzit and those dyedtechelet must be spun for the sake of being used for [the mitzvah of] tzitzit.
[Tzitzit] may not be made from wool which becomes attached to thorns when sheep graze among them, nor from hairs which are pulled off the animal, and not from the leftover strands of the woof which the weaver leaves over when he completes a garment. Rather, they must be made from shorn wool or from flax.
[Tzitzit] may not be made from wool which was stolen, which came from an ir hanidachat, or which came from a consecrated animal. If such wool was used, it is unacceptable. If a person bows down to an animal, its wool is not acceptable for use for tzitzit. If, however, one bows down to flax which is planted, it is acceptable, because it has been changed.
Tzitzit that were made by a gentile are not permitted, as [implied by Numbers 15:38, which] states: “Speak to the children of Israel… and you shall make tzitzit for yourselves.” If, however, a Jew made tzitzit without the intention [that they be used for the mitzvah], they are permitted.
Tzitzit that are made from those already existing are not permitted.
What is implied? Should a person bring the corner of a garment which has tzitzit attached to it and sew it onto another garment, it is not acceptable. [This applies] even if that corner of the garment is a square cubit in size.
[This concept is derived from Bamidbar 15:38, which] states: “And you shall make tzitzit for yourselves,” i.e., [you should make them] and not [use those] which were made previously, since this would be as if [the mitzvah] came about on its own accord.
It is permissible to remove strands [of tzitzit] – whether white or techelet – from one garment and tie them on another.
Should one suspend the strands between two corners of the garment and tie [tzitzit on] each of the corners in the proper manner, and then separate them from each other,12 it is unacceptable.
[The rationale is] that, at the time they were tied, they were unacceptable, since the two corners were connected with each other through the strands. When the strands were cut, two tzitzit were made. This is considered as making tzitzit from those which already exist.
[The following rules apply when] a person ties tzitzit over existing tzitzit: Should [he tie the second set] with the intention of nullifying the first set, if he unties or cuts off the first set, the tzitzit are acceptable.
Should, however, [he have tied the second set] with the intention of adding [a second tzitzit, the tzitzit] are not acceptable even though he cuts one of them off. When he added the second tzitzit, he disqualified both sets, and when he unties or cuts off the additional one, the remaining one is [disqualified because it involves] making [tzitzit] from those which are already existing, since the manner in which it existed previously was not acceptable.
Similarly, all the tzitzit of a garment are unacceptable18 [in the following instance]: A person placed tzitzit on a garment that had three corners. afterwards, he made the garment a fourth corner and placed tzitzit on it. [This is also excluded by the commandment to “make braids” (Deuteronomy 22:12), [which implies that one may not use those] which were made previously.
A garment should not be folded in half, and then tzitzit hung on the four corners of the folded garment, unless one sews it along [one] side entirely. [It is sufficient, however, to sew it] on one side alone.
[The following rules apply] if the corner [of the garment] to which the tzitzit were attached is torn off the garment: If more than three fingerbreadths were torn, it may be sewed back in its place.23 If less than three fingerbreadths were torn off, it should not be sewn back.
If the portion of the garment is between [the hole through which] the tzitzit [are attached] and the end of the garment, it is acceptable, even though only the smallest portion of the fabric remains.
Similarly, if the [length of the] strands of the tzitzit was reduced, it is acceptable, as long as enough of the strand remains to tie a loop. Should, however, even a single strand be torn off [from the place to which it is attached to the garment], it is no longer acceptable.
HALACHA OF TZITZIT – CHAPTER TWO
The term techelet mentioned throughout the Torah refers to wool dyed light blue, i.e., the color of the sky which appears opposite the sun when there is a clear sky.
The term techelet when used regarding tzitzit refers to a specific dye that remains beautiful without changing. [If the techelet] is not dyed with this dye, it is unfit to be used as tzitzit even though it is sky blue in color. For example, using isatis, black dye, or other dark dyes, is unacceptable for tzitzit.
The wool of a ewe that a goat gave birth to is unacceptable for use as tzitzit.
How is the techelet of tzitzit dyed? Wool is taken and soaked in lime. Afterwards, it is taken and washed until it is clean and then boiled with bleach and the like, as is the dyers’ practice, to prepare it to accept the dye.
Afterwards, the blood of a chilazon is brought. A chilazon is a fish whose color is like the color of the sea and whose blood is black like ink.1 It is found in the Mediterranean Sea.
The blood is placed in a pot together with herbs, e.g., chamomile, as is the dyers’ practice. It is boiled and then the wool is inserted. [It is left there] until it becomes sky blue. This is the manner in which the techelet of tzitzit [is made].
One must dye tzitzit techelet with the intention that it be used for the mitzvah. If one did not have such an intention, it is unacceptable.
When one places some wool in the vat in which the dye was placed, to check whether the dye is good or not, the entire pot may no longer be used [for tzitzit]. [If so,] how should one check [the dye]? He should take some dye from the pot in a small container and place the wool he uses to check in it. Afterwards, he should burn the wool used to check – for it was dyed for the purpose of checking – and pour out the dye used to check it, since using it for an experiment disqualified it. Afterwards, he should dye [the wool] techelet with the remainder of the dye which was not used.
Techelet should be acquired only from a recognized dealer, lest it have been dyed without the intent of being used for the mitzvah.
Even though it was purchased from a recognized dealer, if it was checked, and it was discovered that it was dyed with another dark dye which is not of a permanent nature, it is not acceptable.
How can techelet be checked to see whether it has been dyed properly or not? One takes straw, the secretion of a snail, and urine that had been left standing for forty days and leaves thetechelet in this mixture for an entire day. If the color of thetechelet remained unchanged, without becoming weaker, it is acceptable.
If it became weaker, we place the techelet which changed color inside a dough of barley meal that was left to sour for fish brine. The dough is baked in an oven, and then the techelet is removed. If it became even weaker than it was previously, it is unacceptable. If this strengthened the color and it became darker than it was before being baked, it is permitted.
One may purchase techelet from an outlet which has established a reputation for authenticity without question. It need not be checked. One may continue to rely [on its reputation] until a reason for suspicion arises.
Should one entrust techelet to a gentile for safekeeping, it is no longer fit for use, [because] we fear that he exchanged it. If it was in a container and closed with two seals, one seal inside the other, it is acceptable. If, however, it had only a single seal, it may not be used.
If a person found techelet in the marketplace – even strands which were cut – it is not fit for use. If they were twisted together, however, they are acceptable.
[The following rules apply when] a person purchases a garment to which tzitzit are attached in the marketplace. When he purchases it from a Jew, he may presume [that it is acceptable]. If he purchases it from a gentile merchant, it is [presumed to be] permissible; from a non-Jew who is a private person, it is not acceptable.
When a garment is entirely red, green, or any other color [besides white], its white strands should be made from the same color as the garment itself. If it is green, they should be green. If it is red, they should be red.
Should the garment itself be techelet, its white strands should be made from any color other than black, for it resembles techelet. He should wind one strand of techelet around all the strands, as one does with other tzitzit that are not colored.
The punishment given someone who does not wear [tzitzit of white strands] is more severe than that given one who does not wear techelet, because the white strands are easily accessible while techelet is not available in every time and in every era, because of the [unique] dye mentioned above.
HALACHA OF TZITZIT – CHAPTER THREE
A garment to which the Torah obligates a person to attach tzitzit [must meet the following requirements]:
a) It must have four – or more than four – corners;
b) It must be large enough to cover both the head and the majority of the body of a child who is able to walk on his own in the marketplace without having someone else accompany him and watch him;
c) It must be made of either wool or linen alone.
In contrast, a garment made of other fabrics – for example, clothes of silk, cotton, camels’ wool, hares’ wool, goats’ wool, etc. – are required to have tzitzit only because of Rabbinic decree, in order to show regard for the mitzvah of tzitzit.
[These garments require tzitzit only] when they are four-cornered – or have more than four corners, and are of the measure mentioned above.
[The motivating principle for this law] is that all the garments mentioned in the Torah without any further explanation refer to those made of either wool or linen alone.
“On the four corners of your garments” (Deuteronomy 22:12): This applies to a garment which possesses four corners, but not to one which possesses only three. Perhaps, [it comes to include] a four-cornered garment and [to exclude] a five-cornered garment? The Torah continues: “with which you cover yourself.” This includes even a five- (or more) cornered garment.
Why do I obligate a garment of five corners and exempt a garment of three corners? Neither has four corners [as required by the above verse]. Because a five-cornered garment has four corners.
Accordingly, when one attaches tzitzit to a garment with five or six corners, one should attach the tzitzit only to the four corners which are farthest apart from each other from among these five or six corners, as [implied by the phrase,] “On the four corners of your garments.”
If a garment is made of cloth and its corners of leather, it requires tzitzit. If the garment is of leather and its corners are of cloth, it does not require tzitzit. The determining factor is the makeup of the garment itself.
A garment belonging to two partners requires [tzitzit], as [implied by Numbers 15:38]: “On the corners of their garments.” The term “your garments” [(Deuteronomy 22:12), which is interpreted as an exclusion,] excludes only a borrowed garment, since a borrowed garment does not require tzitzit for thirty days. Afterwards, it does require them.
For a garment of wool, the white strands should be made of wool. For a garment of linen, the white strands should be made of linen. For garments of other [fabrics], the white strands should be made from the same fabric as the garment itself. For example, silk strands should be used for a silk garment, strands of goats’ wool should be used for garments of goats’ wool.
If one desired to make white strands of wool or linen for [garments of] any type [of fabric], one may, because [strands of] wool and linen can fulfill the obligation [of tzitzit] for garments made of their own fabric or for garments made of other fabrics. In contrast, [strands made] from other fabrics can fulfill the obligation [of tzitzit] only for garments made of their own fabric.
What is the ruling regarding making woolen strands for a garment of linen or linen strands for a garment of wool – even though we are speaking only of the white strands without techelet?
One might think that it should be permitted, because sha’atnez is permitted to be used for tzitzit, as evident from the fact that techelet is made using woolen strands, and yet it should be placed on a linen garment. Nevertheless, this is not done.
Why? Because it is possible to make the white strands from the same fabric as [the garment]. Whenever [a conflict exists] between the observance of a positive commandment and the adherence to a negative commandment, [the following rules apply]: If it is possible to observe both of them, one should. If not, the observance of the positive commandment supersedes the negative commandment. In the present instance, however, it is possible to observe both of them.
Techelet should not be attached to a linen garment. Rather, one should [make the tzitzit] from white threads of linen alone. This is not because [the prohibition against] sha’atnez supersedes [the mitzvah of] tzitzit, but rather it is a Rabbinical decree [imposed] lest one wear the garment at night, when one is not required to wear tzitzit, and thus violate a negative commandment when the performance of a positive commandment is not involved.
[This is because] the obligation to wear tzitzit applies during the day, but not at night [as can be inferred from Numbers 15:39]: “And you shall see them.” [The mitzvah applies only] during a time when one can see. [Nevertheless,] a blind man is obligated to wear tzitzit. Even though he does not see them, others see him [wearing them].
A person is permitted to wear tzitzit at night, both during the weekdays and on the Sabbath, even though this is not the time when the mitzvah should be fulfilled, provided he does not recite a blessing.
When should the blessing over tzitzit be recited in the morning? When [the sun has risen so] that one can differentiate between the strands of techelet and those which are white.
Which blessing should be recited upon it? “Blessed are you, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves with tzitzit.” Whenever a person wraps himself in tzitzit during the day, he should recite the blessing before doing so.
No blessing should be recited on the tzitzit when making them, because the ultimate purpose of the mitzvah is that one should wrap oneself in [a tallit].
It is permissible to enter a lavatory or a bathhouse [wearing] tzitzit. If one of the strands of white or techelet becomes torn, it may be discarded in a garbage dump, because tzitzit is a mitzvah which does not confer sanctity on the article itself.
It is forbidden to sell a garment with tzitzit to a gentile until he removes the tzitzit, not because the garment possesses a measure of holiness, but because we are concerned that he will dress in it, and [unknowingly,] a Jew will accompany him, thinking that he is a fellow Jew, and the gentile may kill him.
Women, servants, and minors are not required by the Torah to wear tzitzit. It is, however, a Rabbinical obligation for every child who knows how to dress himself to wear tzitzit in order to educate him to fulfill mitzvot.
Women and servants who wish to wrap themselves in tzitzit may do so without reciting a blessing. Similarly, regarding the other positive commandments which women are not required to fulfill, if they desire to fulfill them without reciting a blessing, they should not be prevented from doing so.
A tumtum and an androgynous are obligated in all positive commandments because of the doubt [about their status]. Therefore, they fulfill [all these positive commandments] without reciting a blessing.
What is the nature of the obligation of the commandment of tzitzit? Every person who is obligated to fulfill this mitzvah, if he wears a garment requiring tzitzit, should attach tzitzit to it and then wear it. If he wears it without attaching tzitzit to it, he has negated [this] positive commandment.
There is, however, no obligation to attach tzitzit to a garment which requires tzitzit, as long as it remains folded in its place, without a person wearing it. It is not that a garment requires [tzitzit]. Rather, the requirement is incumbent on the person [wearing] the garment.
Even though a person is not obligated to purchase a tallit and wrap himself in it so that he must attach tzitzit to it, it is not proper for a person to release himself from this commandment. Instead, he should always try to be wrapped in a garment which requires tzitzit so that he will fulfill this mitzvah.
In particular, care should be taken regarding this matter during prayer. It is very shameful for a Torah scholar to pray without being wrapped [in a tallit].
A person should always be careful regarding the mitzvah of tzitzit, because the Torah considered it equivalent to all the mitzvot and considered them all as dependent on it, as [implied by Numbers 15:39]: “And you shall see them and remember all the mitzvot of God.”