Whoever observes the mitzvah of tzitzit meticulously
will be found worthy of beholding the Divine Presence.
– Menachos 43b
Although strictly speaking there is no obligation to wear tzitzit when not wearing a four-cornered garment, today the custom is to undertake the obligation by wearing a “tallit katan” – specially designed four-cornered garment under your shirt all day, every day.
Tallit Katan: Choosing the fabric
According to halacha, wool is considered the fabric of choice for either a tallit gadol (prayer shawl) or a tallit katan, but cotton is also permitted. Both the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish purportedly wore a tzitzit garment – known as “arba kanfot” or “tallit katan” – made of cotton. Many Chassidim, who typically wear the tallit katan on top of their shirt, choose synthetic fabric because they do not wrinkle like cotton, but Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that only woven fabrics – wool, cotton, linen, silk – are viewed as real garments according to halacha. He argues that in this regard a tallit katan made of synthetic fabrics that are not woven would be considered akin to leather, which is explicitly exempt from the obligation of tzitzits.
Tallit Katan design
Wool arba kanfot garments generally come with a black stripe near the front bottom edge, but sometimes you will find an option for white striping, which is the predominant Sephardic custom. Generally the neck opening has a slit running down the chest to make the tallit katan easier to don and wear, but some people insist on a round opening on the grounds that the minimum size is measured from the bottom of the slit, which would mean the tallit katan does not meet the minimum size requirement of 18 inches (or according to more stringent rulings, 20, 22 or 24 inches respectively).
In recent years a new tallit katan design appeared on the market, known as NeaTzit or TrimTzit or “tzitzit shirt.” Generally made of cotton, it is partly closed on the sides to stay in place better, which is particularly helpful for kids or for adults playing sports. Some even wear it in place of an undershirt. We recently added to our selection a wool NeaTzit, which offers the same contour fit and patented design, using a lightweight, soft wool fabric.
Tallit Katan: Wearing tzitzits as a show of Jewish pride
Many people refer to this garment simply as “tzitzits,” or more aptly a tallit katan, which can be translated as “small wrap-around garment.” Others call it “arba kanfos,” which literally means “four corners.”
Wearing tzitzit on a daily basis is a show of Jewish pride. For millenia Jews have maintained forms of attire that distinguished them from the surrounding population, which sometimes exposed them to bigotry and even danger (e.g. refer to this Holocaust-era tallit katan).
The commandment of tzitzit is unique in that it surrounds the wearer, enveloping him with holiness from head to toe. Verses in the Torah explicitly state that looking at the tzitzit reminds us to keep the mitzvot at all times to help us overcome unseemly impulses, and according to the Talmud (Menachos 43b), the commandment of tzitzit is the equivalent of all the mitzvahs combined.