Tying Tzitzit

Question:

I have heard that you disagree with Rambam’s opinion regarding how one should tie tzitzit. I understand that you claim that tying according to Rambam is not feasible. Could you please explain why?


Answer:

For a shittah regarding the tying of tzitzit to be viable, it must comply with the following requirements:

1. It must be possible to tie according to that shittah even if one wishes to make tzitzit of the minimal length stipulated in the Talmud (Bavli M’nahoth 41b 31), i.e. 4 aghudhalim (8-9 cm). This refers to the entire length of the strings, see Rambam’s MT Hilkhoth Tzitzit 1:6. This view of Rambam and most Rishonim and is very correct, even though some authorities disagree. One may of course make the tzitzit longer and this is usually the case. However, if according to a given shittah it is impossible to tie tzitzit so that the overall length (g’dhil and ‘anaph, see below) does not exceed 4 aghudhalim, that shittah is not an option.


2. Tzitzit consist of g’dhil (the tied portion) and ‘anaph (the loose portion). This requirement is min haTorah (Hilkhoth Tzitzit 1:1-2) and is based on two Torah verses (B’midhbar 15:38 and D’varim 22:12). The Talmud (Bavli M’nahoth 39a 27) states that if one tied only one hulya (leaving the rest of the tzitzit untied, i.e. ‘anaph), or tied many hulyot so that most of the length of the tzitzit consists of g’dhil (with only a short length left as ‘anaph), the tzitzit are kasher. The ideal is 1/3 g’dhil and 2/3 ‘anaph (Hilkhoth Tzitzit 1:8-9).


3. The difficulty is that Rambam’s shittah cannot be made to fit all these criteria. According to Rambam z’l at least 7 hulyot are required, each hulya consisting of 3 k’rikhoth (coils). In addition, a gap is required between one hulya and the next (Hilkhoth Tzitzit 1:7-8). That section, the g’dhil, should be approximately 1/3 the entire length. If you attempt this you will rapidly discover that Rambam’s shittah, while aesthetically pleasing, necessitates tzitzit considerably longer than the stipulated minimum of 4 aghudhalim.


4. One’s only resort would be to use strings the thickness of sewing thread. This is simply impracticable (I do not believe such strings exist and even if such threads were available they would certainly tear in short order). Not to mention the fact that tzitzit should be seen (“Ur’ithem otho” – B’midhbar 15:39), and such strings would be difficult to see.


5. If according to Rambam’s shittah the only way to tie tzitzit of the minimal overall length while maintaining the 1/3-2/3 ratio is to either tie just one or two hulyot, or tie the normally required 7 hulyot and end up with an extremely short ‘anaph – then clearly Rambam’s shittah is problematic. The g’dhil, or techele,t cannot make up the entire length. The fact that it might be just possible to tie according to Rambam by making the g’dhil half of the total minimal length simply serves to prove that this shittah cannot be correct.


6. Ramban in Haqdama to Milhamoth Hashem points out that halacha is not mathematics. Absolute 100% certainty is not necessary and is generally unattainable; it is sufficient to demonstrate that a position is unlikely. All attempts to defend Rambam’s position regarding this matter that I have seen or heard are extremely unlikely and farfetched, to say the least. In such a case one should accept that Rambam was mistaken regarding this halacha.


7. The correct shittah is that of Ra’vadh based on R. Natronay Gaon. This is the only one that fits the sources like a glove. I cannot elaborate here; I intend, with Hashem's help, to write an in-depth teshuva regarding this matter in Hebrew. According to this interpretation, the numbers 7-13 mentioned in the Braytha (TB M’nahoth 39a 31) refer not to the number of hulyot but rather to the number of k’rikhoth in each hulya. The number of hulyot is deliberately unspecified; it all depends on the total length desired, and one makes as many or as few hulyot as required (each hulya being between 7 and 13 k’rikhoth) in order to maintain the 1/3-2/3 ratio.


8. Some people believe that one must have 4 hulyoth of 7, 8, 11, and 13 k’rikhoth respectively; this is an assumption based on common practice (minhagh) but has no halachik basis. Being able to make tzitzit considerably shorter than many people believe required is important; shorter tzitzit are less prone to getting caught or trailing on the ground, resulting in tearing, becoming dirty, or being unwieldy.


9. When techelet is available, one ties with 2 strings simultaneously, one white and one techelet, creating a white/techelet pattern (always adding one more white coil at the end of the hulya which should begin and end with white). If techelet is unavailable, one ties using a single white string.


10. This shittah of Ra’vadh/R. Natronay Gaon is mentioned and accepted by certain other Rishonim, and is in fact the shittah that most Jews have been following for centuries without actually realizing it. It also happens to be the simplest method for tying tzitzit.


30th of Kislev, 5771 Tuesday, 7 December 2010

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