Jan 292015
 

There is often confusion regarding the term “machine-spun tzitzit.” Sometimes we get customers (even yeshiva students) who want assurance that the tzitzit they buy are tied by hand. “You mean hand-spun, right?” I ask, to clarify. They nod, but in their eyes I detect a look of perplexity.

Hand-tied tzitzitThis week we received an inquiry from a woman in New Jersey interested in a handwoven tallit to buy for her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah.

I need to make sure the machine-spun tzitzit strings are still hand-tied. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in another two months. I’d like to make sure it will get here on time. Thank you. Nancy N.

We congratulated Nancy on the upcoming bar mitzvah and discussed the time frame. Then we explained the tzitzit issue in detail.

Tzitzit strings spun by hand

The truth is, there is no such thing as a machine that ties tzitzit. All tzitzit are tied manually. The question is whether the tevia stage (plying or twining) is done by an automated machine or by a manually-operated machine. (From a halachic ppoint of view this is akin to the issue of machine matzahs versus hand matzahs.) Many people are unclear on this point. Tzitzit spun by hand are referred to as “hand-spun tzitzit” or “tzitzit avodas yad.”

Unlike most of the tallit makers we work with, the handwoven tallit maker of the tallit Nancy was considering is run by non-observant management. But from a halachic standpoint, it’s fairly hard to render the tzitzit not kosher during the tying process. According to halacha tzitzit have to be tied by an adult Jew andmust be tied with intent to perform the mitzvah. (They also have to be properly positioned, but obviously that’s very simple for us to confirm.) There is also a custom to have them tied by a man, not a woman, but according to all opinions, if the tzitzit are tied by a woman they are definitely kosher.

Many of our customers choose a tzitzit option (e.g. tekhelet, handspun tzitzit, Sephardic tying, etc.) that requires us to re-tie the tzitzit, so the issue of the tying setup does not apply.

As for those orders for tallitot from this particular tallit maker with machine-spun tzitzit and Ashkenazi tying — which is what comes standard out of their weaving studio — I’m undecided as to whether we should re-tie the tzitzit as standard practice.