Culture, Religion

Beged: the Question

The following is a guest post by Yisroel Bas. He blogs at אומשלאָף.
This past spring I decided that I wanted to start wearing tsitsis, at least on Shabbos. This decision came out of an embrace on my part of biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification. However, I was not attracted to the traditional undershirt variety and I wanted something a little more special. So I designed a T-shirt style beged to wear on Shabbos. I chose blue ribbons to match the color of tekheles. Although it took some time, I convinced my mom to make it for me. I wanted the garment to be as square and shirt-like as possible, and a preliminary look at the Torah yielded no problems with my design.
When my mom finished the garment, I spent an afternoon figuring out and eventually tying the tsitsis (Ramban Teymeni style). I was really happy with the final project and decided that I would wear it for the first time at Yugntruf‘s Yiddish Week retreat. While there, several people asked me why I had tsitsis on a shirt with closed sides. I was told that the majority of the beged needs to be open in order for it to be khayev tsitsis. I asked for the source of such a rule and was met by a lot of “I’m not sure”s and “gemora”s. After the retreat I started on a journey to find the source of this “rov beged” injunction. I would walk around on Shabbos with the shirt on and go from shul to shul asking the rabbis if my beged was khayev tsitsis. One told me that the source as Manakhos in the Gemora. Another had no clue. And yet another was convinced that as long as it has daled kanfes, it’s khayev tsitsis.
the completed begedI went home, found a translation of Manakhos, read it, and found no mention of “rov beged” or even the slightest hint of a definition of kanfe. Finally the Chabad Shliakh in my building found the injunction in his Shulkhan Orukh, but he did not know where the Shulkhan Orukh got it from. Finally after asking the shliakh at my school a million times to look up the source, he put me on the phone with the chief librarian at the Chabad library. He found the source: the students of the Maharam of Rothenburg (d.1293).
Okay, so my shirt is fine according the Torah and Gemora, but not the Maharam (nor anyone who thinks that the Shulkhan Orukh is from Sinai). On top of my own doubts and uncertainties, I now had several rabbis telling me that I can wear it all I like, but just not on Shabbos (because if the beged isn’t khayev tsitsis, then I am “carrying” them about when I wear the beged). I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged, and partly because I am not sure of how much the Maharam and what he supposedly taught matters to me. For all I know the beged is khayev tsitsis in that the majority of the beged is open (sleeves and bottom), just not contiguously. Right now I am getting ready to make another similar beged and I think I’m going to stick with “closed” sides.

ראה הפֿקדתיך היום הזה על־הגױיִם ועל המלכות
זע, איך האָב דיר געשטעלט הײַנטיקן טאָג איבער די פֿעלקער און איבער די מלכותן
לנתוש ולנתוץ
אױסצורײַסן און אײַנצוּװאַרפֿן
ולהאביד ולהרוס
און אונטערצוברענגען און צו צעשטערן
לבנות ולנטוע
צו בױען און צו פֿלאַנצן

31 thoughts on “Beged: the Question

  1. fascinating read, and a pretty styling set of threads. but if you’re venturing into the world of halakhah, a player like the Maharam is not one to be thrown to the wayside. His ruling is actually very important in determining what we understand of as tzitzis. If you do shirk his ruling, then each of your t-shirts need tzistzis. and on a total side note, חייב is transliterated as with an ‘h’ or ‘ch,’ but never a ‘kh’ which is designated for ‘כ’. good luck with your journey. oh, and one more thing, could you clarify “biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification”? Based on the Torah, how would you possibly know how many string are on the fringes? what it should be made of? are there knots? how many? biblically based symbolism tells you little on how to live mitzvos. but again, thanks for sharing.

  2. Kol HaKavod for taking an interest in this Mitzvah. There are many laws and customs. So do not be quick too quick to compare a person not being certain of an answer with there being no tradition regarding the answer to your question.
    The Maharam did not believe one could make a b’rakha on a tallit katan and didn’t want to put it on without a b’rakha. So, he went to shul without tzitzit, put on his tallit gadol there. including kavana also on tallit katan when making the b’rakha. He put on his tallit katan upon his return home.Here the matter relates to whether the garmnet covers Rov HaGuf. Most authorities did not agree with the view of the Maharam.
    There are MANY sources that speak of Rov Gufo with regard to the obligation of Tzizit. That refers to how much of the body the beged must cover in order to reqire Tzizit. You may be confusing Rov HaBeged with Rov HaGuf. But I may be wrong about this.
    The minimum size for a tallit is that which can clothe a small child who is able to walk.
    Sorry about all of the Hebrew below- but it is a bit much to translate. The Aruch HaShulchan (not the Shulchan Aruch) is a good source for the laws of Tzizit.
    נאמר בתורה (דברים כב, יב): “גְּדִלִים תַּעֲשֶׂה לָּךְ עַל אַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת כְּסוּתְךָ אֲשֶׁר תְּכַסֶּה בָּהּ”. מכאן אנו למדים שדווקא בגד שיש לו ארבע כנפות חייב בציצית, אולם בגד עגול שאין בו כנפות כלל, או בגד משולש, שיש בו שלוש כנפות בלבד, פטור מן הציצית (מנחות מג, ב).
    וזהו דווקא בטלית שחייב וודאי בציצית, בין שחיובו מן התורה או מדרבנן, כמו בגד משי למאן דסבירא ליה דאין חיובו מן התורה. אבל כל שחיובו מחמת ספק, כגון בגד שחציו פתוח וחציו סתום, או שאין בו כשיעור חיוב כפי שיתבאר בסימן ט”ז – וודאי אסור לצאת בו בשבת לרשות הרבים. דכיון שאינו צריך לציצית – הרי לא בטלי להבגד, כמו שכתבתי.
    ברור שיהודי שאינו לובש בגד מרובע אינו מחויב במצוות ציצית, ואין בידו שום עבירה. אולם מסופר בתלמוד (מנחות מא, א) על רב קטינא, שהיה מתעטף בבגדים שאינם מחויבים בציצית, כך שלא הזדמן לו לקיים את מצוות הציצית. נגלה אליו מלאך ושאלו: אתה הולך עם בגדים שאין להם ארבע כנפות, ומה יהיה על מצוות ציצית? החזיר לו רב קטינא שאלה: וכי עונשים אדם שלא מקיים מצווה שאינו מחויב בה? שהרי מי שאין לו בגד של ארבע כנפות פטור ממצוות ציצית. ענה לו המלאך, שבזמן קשה של פורענות, גם אנשים שבזמן רגיל לא היו צריכים להיענש, בזמן קשה של פורענות פוקדת אותם רעה. ומי שמשתדל להתחייב במצוות ציצית, זכות המצווה יכולה להציל אותו. הרי שלפעמים גם מי שאינו מקיים מצווה זו נענש.

  3. Justin – thanks for the feedback. i disagree that all my t-shirts would need tsitsis, because none of my t-shirts have corners. This beged pictured here, has distinct corners that were so created for the tsitsis. “biblically based” just means having a source in torah. for me personally, carrying symbols like tsitsis and peyes are good positive ways of identifying as a Jew. Saying “biblically based” does not entail sweeping aside the whole of oral torah. Like i said, im still not convinced that the beged is even at odds with oral law.
    Meir eynaim – i feel like the questions surrounding my beged have to do with “rov habeged” not “rov guf”.
    invisile_hand – the taytshing at the end is whats needle-pointed on the four corners of the beged.
    btw – the black and white photo was taken/printed by ‎Dan Boterashvili‎

  4. Help me out here. How is your Beged (esthetics and Kavana aside) any different from the many Tee Shirt style Tzizit so widely sold in Israel and on the Internet?
    I applaud the effort but see some serious flaws in your approach.
    You wish to identify with Jewish symbolism. You ask many people about the Halacha (Jewish law). Yet, as soon as you receive an answer you do not like – You say “I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged.”
    It is fine if you want to live your Judaism by what makes you feel good. I mean that. But then why ask about Jewish law if you are going to dismiss it?
    You also misunderstand the Maharam.You rely on a phone conversation rather than look at the original. He does NOT speak of Rov Beged. He deals with whether most of the body is covered by the garment. Why? The blessing is “to wrap oneself in the Tallit.” Since a Talit Katan does not do this, he did not make a bracha.
    You keep harping on Rov Beged. In your comments you say “i feel like the questions surrounding my beged have to do with “rov habeged” not “rov guf”. There is no concept of Rov Beged except in your mind. Not is the Torah, Talmud, or the major codes.
    This is not to pour water on your enthusiasm. But if wearing Tzizit and Payot is to identify as Jewish, then what is the substance of the Judaism with which you are identifying? Do you have teachers or rabbis who help you on your path and serve as guides? Or is it only about how you feel?
    Why not a tent for a sukka? Why not a Mezuza on the ceiling, if that makes you feel in touch with your Judaism? Why not write a Mezzuza yourself on paper? The Torah only speaks about “a sign upon your door post.”
    OK. You interpret the mitzvah of Tzizit as you see fit while ignoring rabbinic tradition. But your Beged seems no different, in essence, from the tee-shirt style that I wear most days (including Shabbat).
    You invent a concept of Rov Beged and say that you feel that this is what it is about for you. You base this on what you heard about the Maharam (which either you misunderstood or the person who spoke with you did).
    Finally, you say”im still not convinced that the beged is even at odds with oral law.” So if it were at odds you would not be discouraged. What does this say about your approach?
    But I can see nothing that makes your Beged at odds with any oral tradition, nor anything, other than its beauty and personal meaning, that make it unique.
    So, please tell what is your Hidush?

  5. Shmuel
    My conclusion did not come right after I got an answer I did not like. After I got an answer I didn’t like, it forced me to study. I didn’t like the answer(s) because I wasn’t convinced that they were valid (which you seem to agree with). I only asked about the law because I felt that somehow my tsitsis wouldnt be as special if they were blantantly transgressing some injunction that I didnt know about and others did. Are there flaws in my approach? Sure, but this entire experiance has led to me learning a lot, not just about law but about myself and others in the jewish community. I have plenty of substance in my relationship to being jewish and I am constantly adjusting my life to bring in more. I resent your comments about sukkas and mezuzos. You personally find nothing wrong with my beged, just my approach, yet you assume that i reject oral law entirely without exploration or distinction. The only thing i reject is a frozen conservatism, however my way of dealing with it is different and disadvantaged (or perhaps advantaged) by the fact that I did not grow up with such traditions and am not willing to blindly accept them because other people say their right. This experiance has shown me that other people, even those with much more education than i, dont always have the answers let alone know whats right.
    ייִדישקײט איז דאָס כּסרדיקע איבערגיסן, איבערפֿורעמען דעם אינהאַלט פֿון נעכטן אין פֿורעמס פֿון הײַנט. יעטװידער הײַנט װעבט אַרײַן זײַנע פֿעדים אין געװעב. יעטװידער דור נעמנט די תּורה שבעל־פּה פֿון די פֿריִערדיקjע דורות און פֿאַרװאַנדלט זי אין אַ תּורה שבכּתבֿ, בױט אױף דעם װײַטערדיקע תּורה שבכּתבֿ אאַז“װ, אאַז”װ. אָט דער כּסדרדיקער „גיגול פֿון אַ ניגון“ פֿון תּורה שבכּתבֿ אין תּורה שבעל־פּה און װידער צוריק אין תּורה שבכּתבֿ ־־ אָט דאָס איז דער גאַנג פֿון טראַדיציִאָנעלער ייִדישקײט. און די תּורה שבעל־פּה איז יעטװידער מאָל „אי אתּה רשאי לאומרם בכּתבֿ“, ד”ה זי טאָר ניט פֿיקסירט װערן. מיט אמתער באַװונדערונג פֿאַר דעם פֿעזונטן חוש פֿון די שאַפֿער פֿון דער טראַדיציִאָנעלער ייִדישקײנט לײענען מיר אַזאַ אגדה: „…רבש”ע ־ זאָגט משה ־ גיב זײ די משנה בכּתבֿ“, און ער באַקומט אַן ענטפֿער: „טאָ װאָס װעט דעמאָלט אונדערשײדן די ייִדן פֿון אומות העולם?….“ דאָס הײסט, אַז אױב אױך די תּורה שבעל־פּה זאָל מלכתּחילה פֿאַרפֿיקסירט, דאַן איז ניטאָ קײן ייִדישקײט. װען מעג אַ תּורה שבעל־פּה פֿאַרשריבן װערן? װען אין פֿאָלקס־לעבן װעבט זיך שױן אַ נײַע תּורה שבעל־פּה….
    ?אַ. גאָלאָמב, װאָס איז ייִדישע טראַדיציע

    In terms of the rov beged, I did not make it up bc of what heard about the maharam. read my original post again.
    this is the closest thing i have managed to find on my own:
    ואותם שעושים את הטלית־קטן תּפֿור מן הצדדים, צריכים לזהר שיהיה מכּל צד פּתוח רב הנראה לעינים, ואפֿלו על ידי קרסים לא יחבר.
    Those who make a tallis katan, sewing its sides together [making it like a shirt], should take care that both sides of the garment are open, i.e. the greater part of the visible sides are left open. Even hooks may not be used to join the open parts.
    -Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapter 9

  6. sry that j messed up the second line in the golomb quote. itshould read
    יעטװידער הײַנט װעבט אַרײַן זײַנע פֿעדים אין געװעב. יעטװידער דור נעמנט די תּורה שבעל־פּה פֿון די פֿריִערדיקע דורות און פֿאַרװאַנדלט זי

  7. I am not trying to insult you. But once gain you seem to have a made up expression of Rov Beged.
    The words “i.e. the greater part of the visible sides are left open” is not found in the text you bring. It is a poor reading of the text which actually says that those who sew the sides together must leave an part open, sufficiently large that the separation is visible to the eye. But feel free to read it as you do or as the poor translation (if that is what it is) does.
    You say: “Sure, but this entire experience has led to me learning a lot, not just about law but about myself and others in the Jewish community”.
    This is good and admirable.
    I do not assert that you made anything up regarding the Maharm. I am saying (go read the original) that the person who shared this source misunderstood , or mistranslated, the text or you misunderstood what he was telling you. The Maharm was speaking only about the need for a Tallit to cover the majority of the body in order to require a Bracha.
    You say: “I resent your comments about sukkas and mezuzos.”
    I am sorry if I offended.
    But why would my examples of the sukah or mezuza be any different if they were to make you feel good. You did say “I’ve been wearing it anyway, partly because I like how I feel when I wear the beged,” You so indicate that meeting halachic demands would be nice for you – but not necessary.

  8. Thanks again for your comments. Apparently its a poor translation. If what your saying is true, than yes it seems that i’ve been misled. i want to note however that “rov beged” was a term that was made up not by me, but by those at the Yiddish retreat that found issue with my beged. In subsequent conversations i used this term only because i was told that that was what was wrong with the shirt. your comment about, “nice – but not necessary” is not that far off from how i feel at this moment, but let us not expand it to issues outside of this partiular beged nor forget that i used the world “partly”. Certain aspects of my existance are not based upon how i feel at a particular moment. My non-chalantness/exhaustion, for the most part is a result of never truely being convinced that there was anything wrong with the shirt in the first place. from your comments, my instincts seemed to be correct. which is to say, that there is nothing halakhic or otherwise wrong with the beged. my only issue with the mezuzah/sukkah comment is that at the end of the day, even if my atitude wasnt the best by halakhic standards (whatever those are), i was following the halakha, so it would be wrong to assume that i would start not caring about other aspects of the law on the basis of how i reacted to criticism of (what was all along) a halakhic beged.

  9. Reading the quote at the end has convinced me that Jeremiah ALWAYS ought to be read in Yiddish. And perhaps slightly tipsy too. [not that I would know…]

  10. I can tell you an easy way to fix you tshirt. SImply open the sides, then have your mother sew in hook and eye or snaps along the sides -there’s actually company that makes the t-shirt tzitzit with snaps already. Don’t recall the name (Something like “Neatzit”). IN any case, problem solved and everyone is happy.

  11. By the way – although the KItzur s.a. says no hooks, if you can visibly see that sections are open, that’s okay, even by that standard (and the kitzur isn’t necessarily the final word, anyway).

  12. Yisroel-
    You need to find out the source of this principal of “rov beged,” I have searched comprehensive digital databases of rabbinic texts, and in any spelling variation I can think of there is no occurrences of such a term. Where exactly did you pick up this term? Shmuel tried to push you on it, but you never actually said where you found it. What KRG is referring to is similar to what I said in my first comment about all t-shirts needing tzitzis. If it’s not a large enough gap, it’s not a corner. So, KRG is saying that if you open the sides and clasp them with an appropriate clasp, then your problem is solved. But this concept of “rov beged” what do you believe it to mean and where did you learn it?

  13. Justin – the term was used by some people at a yiddish retreat i went to last august. ive never found it in a text. what i was told is that the majority of the side of the beged needs to be open. why do i need to open the sides at all if “rov beged” doesnt exist? whats the gap you speak of? heres another picture:
    the front and back of the beged extend past where the side ends. is this not “sufficiently large that the separation is visible to the eye” as shmuel puts it?

  14. you’d need to remove the strip in the middle. you can replace that strip with a clasp. the garment should look like a tunic, not a t-shirt. if the sides are connected it’s not considered necessary to carry tzitzis, therefore if one does put tzitzis on a garment that doesn’t need one, then one is transgressing the prohibition of adding to the mitzvos. So, if you want this particular garment to fit in line with the declensions of halakhic decision making then you would need to cut the cloth that connects the front and back. it’s not only about the separation at the bottom of the garment, it’s also on the sides. the concern is whether or not what you have is really considered a four-cornered garment. a traditional tallis katan has open sides so fulfill that aspect of the requirements. a tallis katan is just a tallis gadol with a hole cut in the middle. what you have, according to halakhah, is t-shirt (a stylish one I might add) with fringes. Therefore, if those fringes are tzitzis, then you’re עובר בל תוסיף. So, just cut the cloth on the sides, sew a new hem and you’re good to go! If what you’re looking for is to be in line with halakhah, most poskim would agree that what you have is a t-shirt. That’s not a judgement call, it’s just the way it is, and that, I think, is what Shmuel was trying to impart. What you’ve created is a fun, funky, new garment, but it doesn’t need tzitzis according to traditional interpretations of halakhah and therefore can’t have them. that is the problem

  15. My seforim are all packed away, as my wife and I are moving, so I can’t look up any specific sources (bad rabbi, I know…).
    In any case, I do remember that a rav in a shul I was once davening in said he thought my shirt required tzitzit, as it was open on both sides (pretty much the way yours is in the picture you uploaded). I argued that it didn’t, as the requirement (from sources I don’t have in front of me) only applies to those begedim that are open more than 50%.
    I remember that he looked it up in the Mishnah Berurah–from which I do not recommend paskening from any more than from the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh–and the Mishnah Berurah said that indeed, tzitzit are only required on a beged open more than 50%.
    While there are many who are careful not to have a garment open less than 50%, because it is potentially a gray area (see Lubavitch or Sephardi kapatos, where one corner is rounded so it is not a rectangle), I have never seen anyone actually put tzitzit on a beged that is majority closed. As Justin said, you risk violating the injunction against being a ba’al tosif, one who adds to mitzvot needlessly and without basis. Then again, to be a ba’al tosif, you would need to put the tzitzit on with the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzit with these tzitzit. If they are merely an expression of “biblically-based Jewish symbolism/self identification,” I don’t think that it would constitute ba’al tosif, but then again, you wouldn’t be able to wear them on Shabbos.
    If you’re interested in the halakhic issues, I would extend the opening up the sides slightly more than 50%. Also, many hold that the tzitzit must be facing down (the long way) off of the beged, not off to the side. This is admittedly, however, not enough to invalidate the garment, and most are not stringent in this regard.

  16. Justin and Yaakov i need a source, quote and page number with regard to baal tosif in so far as it relates to a beged with a majority closed side. whats without basis? my garment has 4 distinct corners that are visible to the eye. corners/ends needs tsitsis. there is no definition of “kanfe” in the gemora. where is there a definition? i understand why people would not want to put tsitsis on “majority closed side” begodim, but where is the basis in law?
    is it not written?:
    על כּנפֿי בגדיהם לדרתם
    this in itself could be interreted to allow room for the corners to be redefined by new generations. do not styles change with generations? while the corners of my beged might have seemed pretty weak in moyshe rabaynis times, today a 4-5 inch corner is distinct and noticable.
    understandibly at this point in the thread/journey i am rather tired of statements (with vague or no textual references) that i should just trust. I want to know not only who the first person was who decided that not only must 50% or more be open, where he wrote it down (quote included) and why i should be convinced that his ruling carries the same weight as if it was from sinai.
    if you can’t give me that, with all due respect im not interested in what you heard somewhere from someone however many years ago possibly based on a source that isnt definative.
    i feel like the best response ive gotten might even be yaakovs reference to a “grey area”. perhaps its just that and thats why i cant get a straight answer.

  17. Yaakov, heres a great quote from gemora that relates to those who try to get out of affixing tsitsis to their garments:
    His view13 is at variance with the angel’s view. For an angel once found R. Kattina wearing a linen
    wrap,14 and he exclaimed, ‘Kattina, Kattina, a wrap in summer and a cloak15 in winter, and what is
    to happen to the law of zizith?’ ‘And do you punish’, asked R. Kattina, ‘a person [who omits to
    perform] a positive precept?’ ‘In a time of wrath’, replied the angel, ‘we do’. Now if you hold that
    the law of zizith is an obligation incumbent upon the person then that is why one would incur guilt
    for not wearing a garment with fringes; but if you hold that it is an obligation attaching to the
    garment, then why [is any guilt incurred] seeing that these garments are exempt? What then do you
    hold? That it is an obligation incumbent upon the person? I grant you that the All — Merciful would
    punish one who wears [without fringes] a garment that is subject to fringes, but would the
    All-Merciful punish one who wears [without fringes] a garment that is not subject to it? — This is
    what [the angel] implied, ‘You find every excuse to free yourself from the law of zizith’.
    P 148 in this pdf
    it would appear that even the angels are weary of this pilpl.
    By spliting hairs, someone like Kattina is forgeting the point.

  18. I will do a little research for you and find you the sources, just give me an email address to send it to. The thing about halakhah is this, it’s a codified legal system with rules and traditions based off of around two millennia of interpretive practice. In terms of bal tosif, this is a d’oraisa prohibition based off of (this is off the top of my head so it could be wrong) Dvarim 4:2. In terms of halakhic practice it means that adding unnecessarily to the mitzvos is prohibited. so, in this case, putting tzitzis with the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis on a garment that does not need them is bal tosif. similarly adding a 5th species to the lulav, putting a mezuzah on both doorposts, or inventing new mitzvos are all bal tosif.
    In terms of the confusion of what it says in the Torah or the Gemora. There is a basic precept in contemporary halakhah, and this has been the case for centuries, that we do not poskin on the Torah or Talmud. Once something was recorded in the Shulkhan Arukh (16th c.) it became the normative practice. That is not to say it became to only practice, just that it became the normative practice. The Mehaber based his rulings primarily off of his own understanding of the Tur (14th c.) which he recorded in the Beis Yosef. The Tur based his own rulings off of his father, the Ro”sh, the Ramba”m and the Ri”F. The Rem”a came and pointed where he disagreed with Rav Karo’s rulings in the Shulkhan Arukh and also noted where Ashkenazi practice differed. Previous to Rav Karo there are two independent strands of Jewish law which were fused by the Tur. The Ro”sh was the primary authority of Jewish law in his day in both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. When his son wrote his code, he was bringing from both the Ashkenazi word (the Ro”sh) and the Sephardi world (the Ramba”m and the Ri”F). So, while Rav Karo was writing for his own community, when the Rem”a added his gloss, the finished version represents both communities in one text as a more concise abridged version. While the Beis Yosef is truly Rav Karo’s masterpiece, the Shulkhan Arukh is more compact and brief. But, since it is so concise and brief it is difficult to understand so we have all of the commentaries that we do have. Just like the Sh”A is a breakdown of centuries of Jewish law from the Sephardi and Ashkenazi world, texts like the Mishnah Berurah and Kitzur Sh”A are consolidated commentaries based off of a whole chain of tradition. This is why today we go to those texts to poskin because they include the generations of understanding before them. That’s not to say that there aren’t other texts which provide valid resources and precedent to make psak halakhah. However, there is just too many generations of interpretative legal theory to ignore to go back to making psak from the Talmud. And at that, in order to make psak from the Talmud, one needs to know all of its ins and outs and have a full understanding of the sugya in question and any corollary sugyot.
    I wish I had more time to flush this out a bit more, but in very brief terms, there is a point at which someone decided what needs tzitzis, it’s not hard to find, but at this point, it is what it is, and that’s the halakhah. And if there’s no need to change the halakhah for the greater good, the need of the public, then one cannot change the halakhah according to halakhah. That being said, if there is the need of the public, there is always a way to change the halakhah. This is the system, and one can take it or leave it, but it is what it is, like Shmuel mentioned.
    That’s also not to say that one needs halakhah, or this particular understanding of halakhah, to consider themselves Jewish. It simply means that according to halakhah, this is what it is.

  19. thanks for the break down. the storywith the mekhaber is what i heard from the rabbi who told me (without telling me where the sh”a got it from) that i couldnt wear my tsitsis on shabbos. please post the sources here if you could. if you want to email them you can find my email adress by going to my blog. the link to my email is on the left hand side.

  20. Justin, your last post was awesome. Among other things, for people who think that the halachic process is just a matter of finding some gemara somewhere, or some one source somewhere, and running with it, what you demonstrate is that it fundamentally ignores the entire concept of halchah. This is a conversation over centuries, and to make real halachic arguments means that one need to grapple with most if not all of these sources before really getting anywhere. Not for nothing, but this is why I tend to get so depressed reading conservative tshuvahs…

  21. The quick source I can give you is Shulkhan Arukh Orah Hayim 10:7. In the Tur, at a quick glance, he is concerned with the opposite of your problem, something like a cape. He shows a disagreement there between the Ro”sh and the Ramba”m. What the Mehaber writes in the Beis Yosef is fascinating. The Tur does not directly address the question we’re concerned with. The Beis Yosef addresses it and sources the psak that a garment which has four corners but a majority of which is not open is exempt from tzitzis (notice exempt, patur, not forbidden, assur) to the Rashb”a (13th-14th c.) and Rabbeinu Simha (a ba’al tosafos of the same era). He also very strongly, and aptly, refutes the holdings of the Ri”k (12th c.) It’s really worth the read. From here the Mehaber recorded in the Shulkhan Arukh what he recorded in Orah Hayim 10:7, which explicitly states that a garment open on the bottom with four corners that a majority of which is closed up is exempt from tzitzis. If you read the Mishnah Berurah there you’ll see that he explicitly, and without confusion, refers exactly to the garment you have made and says that it should not have tzitzis and, what’s more, says that what I said regarding cutting the corners to be wrong. One may not cut the sides to make them open and then garment acceptable for tzitzis if the tzitzis are already on, apparently. The Mishnah Berurah also says, regarding what a ‘majority of the garment’ means, is that it is a majority of the garments itself, so the fact that the arms holes or head holes might be large does not qualify, it must be the sides that are open.
    There is ALOT of halakhah between the Shulkhan Arukh and the Mishnah Berurah that I did not look at. One must consult the commentators on all of these texts to fully understand what they mean and what the implications are. A digest answer, however, would be that Rav Karo holds that a majority of the garment must be open on the sides to require tzitzis because of the reasoning of the Rashb”a and Rabbeinu Simha, however there is disagreement coming from Rav Kimhi, which Rav Karo dismisses. By the time we get to the 19th century, it is firmly established that a garment not open on the sides so that a majority of the garment is open is exempt from tzitzis. So, all in all, for at least nine centuries halakhah has dictated that a garment not open on the sides does not need tzitzis.
    And I want to put a big fat disclaimer on all of this that this was a reading “al regel ahad” so to speak. I would not be comfortable making any type of psak off of this information. This is from a cursory reading of a couple of sources. To really know the ins and outs, as Josh mentioned, needs incredibly close analysis. I certainly intend, now, to go back to this and check out some of the work of the Tosafos and the Ro”sh in this area. For those interested in the anthropological value of rabbinic writings, and were ever interested in what kind of shirts and cloaks Jews wore in the medieval period, this is a great way to find out. So, yeah, thanks for getting me to learn some Hilkhos Tzitzis.

  22. also, I just want to note that if you know the sources in the Gemora you could look there in the Ein Mishpat Ner Mitzvah to find out if the Ramba”m looks at the issue, and once you find that the Maggid Mishnah (that Mehaber was an active man!) will tell you where Ramba”m got it from.

  23. thank you. i fnd it interesting that i cannot halakhically alter my beged now that it already has tsitsis on it (my understanding up to this point was that if i did alter it, i woud have to untie and then retie te tsitsis). that is to say, my beged must (now) have tsitsis.
    would i be correct in stating that the “exempt not prohibited” statement in conjunction with the fact that i cannot alter halakhically alter my beged protects me from baal tosif?

  24. Yisroel,
    You may remove the tzitzit, alter the beged, then retie the tzitzit. The reason for this goes back to the Biblical mitzvah to tie them on your garments. Since “garment” has been defined a particular way, in order to fulfill the mitzvah, the tzitzit must be tied onto a garment that meets that definition. If you simply altered your beged now, you would not have “tied them on the corners of your garment.” You would have tied them on the corner of a non-garment, which you then turned in to a garment. The way the mitzvah is worded Biblically, the “garment” as defined in halakhah must exist before the tzitzit are tied onto it.

  25. I’m not sure I understand the first part of our question about tying and untying, and my answer is to consult a rabbi whom you put your trust in, one rabbi, not a slew of them until you find the answer you want.
    In terms of patur v. assur, this is a bit more complicated and the short answer to your question is, no, it does not stop one from transgressing bal tosif. It is exactly what bal tosif is. If the garment is exempt from tzitzis and you put them on it, that is bal tosif. The question then becomes what is the nature of the punishment. Something which is patur means that it is exempt from causing guilt obligation, and something which is forbidden does cause guilt obligations. But that is not to say that things which are exempt can be practiced at will, it does not.
    I think you either need to do a full study of hilkhos tzitzis on your own, if you have the Hebrew ability and the knowledge necessary, otherwise consult a rabbi in whom you trust.

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