- Wool. All poskim agree that a four-cornered beged made of wool from ewes or rams or from linen is obligated deoraisa in tzitzis. Some derive this from the pesukim about tzara’as. There, the posuk says “בגד” and specifies wool and linen; so too, any place the Torah says “בגד,” the intent is wool or linen (תנא דבי ר’ ישמעאל, רב נחמן מנחות ל”ט:).
- Others derive this from the posuk, “לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדו, גדילים תעשה לך” (פ’ כי תצא). The juxtaposition of sha’atnez and tzitzis implies that tzitzis are made of wool or linen (רבא, גמ’ שם).
- Linen. Some hold that miderabanan, one should not make a tallis out of linen (שו”ע סי’ ט’ ס”ו). This is because he will then have to make the strings out of linen [as using wool strings would be sha’atnez, and strings from other materials would not qualify for a linen beged]. This creates a concern that if he will make techeiles strings – which can only be made of wool – and wear the tzitzis at night, a time when one does not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis, he will transgress the issur of sha’atnez (ר”ת בתוס’ מנחות דף מ’).
- However, others hold that the problem is attaching techeiles, as doing so could lead to the issur of sha’atnez at night, but Chazal did not forbid putting linen strings on a linen beged (רש”י, רי”ף). Thus, strictly speaking one may make a linen beged with linen strings (שו”ע שם).
- Nevertheless, a yerei Shamayim will satisfy all opinions by making a tallis of wool from ewes, which is unquestionably obligated in tzitzis deoraisa (שו”ע שם). However, if one can only obtain a linen tallis, it is better for him to make linen tzitzis for it than to miss out on the mitzvah of tzitzis altogether (תשו’ הרא”ש, רמ”א). He can also rely on the mekilim and make a brachah on it (מ”ב סקי”ט).
Other Natural Materials
- The poskim argue whether a beged made from other natural materials derived from animals or plants, e.g., camel wool, rabbit wool, silk, cotton, or hemp, is obligated in tzitzis deoraisa or only derabanan. Some say it is only obligated derabanan, as we derive from the posuk about tzara’as (above, 1) that the deoraisa obligation is only on a wool or linen beged (רב נחמן בגמ’, הרי”ף והרמב”ם). This is the ruling of the Mechaber (שו”ע סי’ ט’ ס”א).
- Others say that other natural materials are also obligated deoraisa (תוס’ מנחות, הרא”ש וסמ”ג); this is the opinion of the Rama (שם). The above drashah (2) only teaches that wool and linen strings fulfill the obligation of tzitzis for all begadim, whereas tzitzis from other materials, e.g., silk, can only be used for a beged from the same material, i.e., a silk beged in our example.
Cotton Tallis Katan
- Although it is best to wear a wool beged to fulfill the mitzvah deoraisa according to everyone (מ”ב סי’ ט’ סק”ה), especially for bochurim who do not wear a wool tallis gadol (שו”ת אז נדברו ח”ז סוף סי’ נ”ד), many people wear a cotton tallis katan in accordance with the ruling of the Rama (above, 7). [Also, some gedolim wore a cotton tallis katan (הגר”א הובא במעשה רב אות י”ז, החזו”א הובא בשונה הלכות ס”א) to make it known that the halacha is that materials other than wool and linen are obligated deoraisa (חזו”א, מעשה איש ח”ב עמ’ ק”א) or because they already fulfilled the deoraisa obligation with a tallis gadol, which they wore all day (הגר”ש סלנט סידור הגר”א דינים הל’ ציצית).]
- In the heat. On hot days, and for people who perspire a lot, there is another reason to wear a cotton beged, as the poskim discuss whether one is yotzei at all with a wool tallis katan. When one wears a tallis gadol, or a tallis katan above his clothes, he is dressing in a dignified way and the wool beged is considered a beged that is appropriate even for a hot day. However, one does not derive any benefit from a tallis katan worn under his clothes. While some poskim write that one is still yotzei his chiyuv since wearing something for the sake of a mitzvah is considered a valid way of wearing it (שו”ת אג”מ או”ח ח”ג סי’ א’, ה ליכות שלמה תפלה פ”ג דבה”ל אות ט”ז), others are concerned that one needs to wear the beged in a normal manner, and it is not normal to wear a wool beged in the summer. They therefore prefer wearing a cotton beged.
- A beged made from leather is exempt from tzitzis since something is only considered a beged if it is woven with interlaced threads [שתי וערב] (לבוש ס”ד); leather is a piece of material, not a beged (שו”ע סי’ י’ ס”ד). It is not even obligated derabanan since it is not a beged whatsoever (לבוש, מ”ב שם סקי”א).
- Nylon, polyester. The poskim argue whether a beged made from a synthetic material, e.g., nylon, polyester, acrylic, Diolen, Terylene, etc., is obligated in tzitzis and whether one fulfills the mitzvah and obligation of tzitzis with it. Some compare these materials to leather, which is not considered a beged; others say if they were made into strands and woven like a beged, they are considered begadim and one can fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis with them (שו”ת הר צבי או”ח ח”א סי’ ט’, הגרשז”א הליכות שלמה תפלה פ”ג סט”ז, תשובות והנהגות ח”א סי’ ל”ד), with the status of “other materials” (above, 6).
- However, others are concerned that a synthetic garment does not have the status of a beged with which one can fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis, even when made into strands and a weave. While one should treat a four-cornered garment made of nylon or another synthetic material as a beged and not wear it without tzitzis, one must also be concerned he does not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis with it. Hence, it will be forbidden to go out with it on Shabbos since if he does not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis with it, wearing it is like carrying a load in a reshus harabim on Shabbos (שו”ת מהר”י שטייף או”ח סי’ כ”ח).
- Yerei Shamayim. A yerei Shamayim should certainly be machmir not to be yotzei his chiyuv to wear a tallis katan with one made from a synthetic fabric (הגרי”י פישר, שו”ת אבן ישראל ח”ט סי’ א’, שו”ת להורות נתן ח”ב סי’ א’-ד’). Some went further and were machmir not to make a brachah on such a tallis katan (הגריש”א, קובץ תשובות ח”א סי’ א’).
Beged Made from a Blend of Fabrics
- Majority. If a beged is made from threads which themselves are made from a blend of two materials, we go with the majority. For example, if most of the fibers of a thread are made from wool from ewes and a minority are from another material, the majority dictates that the beged is obligated in tzitzis deoraisa according to all poskim. If the other material is the majority and the wool is the minority, the beged is viewed as being made from the other material (מ”ב סי’ ט’ סק”ב) and is only obligated derabanan according to some poskim (above, 6). If the majority is a material that is exempt from tzitzis, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis with it at all.
- Threads are not nullified. In some situations, we do not ignore the threads that are not the majority. For example, if all the threads in one direction of the weave are wool and all the threads in the other direction are made from other materials, we do not go with the majority; the entire garment is considered to be made from other materials (מג”א, מ”ב שם).
- 100% wool. One who wants to fulfill every aspect of the halacha mideoraisa should use a beged made of wool from ewes (מ”ב סי’ ט’ סק”ה) and make sure to buy a beged with an excellent hechsher to ensure it is 100% wool, without any other materials mixed in [there have been cases where someone checked and found his beged to not be 100% wool].
- 100% cotton. It is also best for those who wear a cotton beged to wear one that is 100% cotton, as sometimes synthetic fibers, e.g., polyester, are mixed in. Although we go with the majority, so if it is 70% cotton and 30% polyester, one is yotzei according to halacha, one must know how the threads and fibers are mixed since we do not go with the majority in every case (above, 15). Thus, it is best for the beged to be 100% cotton.
- There are tzitzis begadim made from synthetic materials, e.g., polyester, in a mesh, like a net. The poskim discuss whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis with this type of beged (שו”ת אז נדברו ח”ז סי’ נ”ג), as it has two drawbacks: first of all, it is made from a synthetic material (see above, 11); and in addition, does it have the status of a beged in the first place? A beged is only obligated in tzitzis if it is a type that is used for covering oneself; a person would be embarrassed to walk in public with only a mesh garment over his skin. If so, it is not the type of garment one uses to cover himself (שו”ת להורות נתן ח”ב סי’ ב’), and in practice, someone who is chayav in mitzvos should not rely on a questionable beged to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. Certainly no brachah should be made.
Undershirt with Four Corners
- Some people wear a beged made like an undershirt open on the sides and put tzitzis on the corners to fulfill the obligation of tzitzis.
- Majority open. To be obligated in tzitzis, most of the beged’s length must be open (שו”ע סי’ י’ ס”ז). This is measured from the shoulders to the bottom, and the opening for the arms is considered to be closed. If less than the majority of the length is open, the brachah is levatalah (מ”ב סקכ”ה). [Illustrations copied with permission from the wonderful sefer פאר הלכה on Mishnah Berurah hilchos tzitzis, written by our friend, Rav Dovid Hirsch; credit for them goes to him.]
- Half open. If the beged is half open and half closed, tzitzis should be attached as a chumra, but one should not go out with them on Shabbos (שו”ע שם) or make a brachah on them (מ”ב סקכ”ו).
- Yerei Shamayim. Nevertheless, a yerei Shamayim will fulfill his chiyuv of tzitzis with a beged that is completely open all the way up, without any stitching on the side (סידור הרב). This is all on top of the concern that it is disrespectful to use underclothes which one sweats in for the mitzvah of tzitzis (שו”ת רבבות אפרים ח”ד סי’ ט”ו). One can be meikel for small children though (see Issue 133 regarding the kashrus of a three-year-old boy’s tzitzis).
Location of the Hole at the Corner
“על כנפי בגדיהם”
- The mitzvah of tzitzis is to hang tzitzis on the corners of the beged, as the posuk says, “על כנפי בגדיהם.” Chazal described where exactly the hole should be to be considered “on the corner.” If it is too high, it is on the beged, not the corner; if it is too low and too close to the hem, it is under the corner. The measurements are as follows:
Within Three Etzba’os
- The hole in the length of the tallis should be made no higher than three etzba’os from the hem since above that is considered the beged (מ”ב י”א סקמ”א), not the corner (שו”ע סי’ י”א ס”ט). Make sure the hole is within three etzba’os; this is required even bedieved (מ”ב שם).
- Modern day equivalent. Three etzba’os is 7.2 cm [Chazon Ish] (שיעורי המצוות אות ג’) or 6 cm [Rav Chaim Na’eh] (שיעור תורה סי’ ג’ סקל”ד). To satisfy all opinions, the hole should be no more than 6 cm from the edges of the length or width of the beged. It is proper to make it within the fifth centimeter (שם סקל”ה).
Thumb Knuckle until the Nail [“Kesher Gudal”]
- The hole should not be less than the distance between the thumb knuckle and the end of the nail from the edge of the beged. If the hole is closer, it is under the corner, not on the corner (שו”ע שם). This is also required even bedieved (מ”ב סקמ”ד).
- Modern day equivalent. This comes out to 3.5 cm [Chazon Ish] (שיעורי המצוות שם) or 4 cm [Rav Chaim Na’eh]. Thus, make sure the hole is no less than 4 cm from the edge of the beged.
- Proper placement. Thus, the proper placement of the hole is 5 cm from the edge of the beged’s length and width to satisfy all opinions; this is within three etzba’os and further than a “kesher gudal.”
- Two holes. When a beged is made with two holes, in accordance with the Arizal (עי’ מ”ב סי’ י”א סקל”ט), the three etzba’os are measured from the hole further in on the beged [א] until the edge. That is, the inner hole must also be within three etzba’os (ביאה”ל שם ד”ה יעשה, שונה הלכות סס”ט), and the outer hole [ב] can be closer than a kesher gudal (חזו”א או”ח ג’ סקי”ב).
Beged Contracts when It Is Tied
- Most poskim hold that these dimensions are measured from the corner as it is before the tzitzis are tied on. Thus, if the hole was more than three etzba’os from the edge but is within three etzba’os after the tzitzis are tied on [this is only applicable on a beged with one hole for the tzitzis, which is the common minhag for a tallis katan and universal for a tallis gadol], the beged is posul (מג”א, מ”ב סי’ י”א סקמ”א).
Tightening the tzitzis on the corner. Similarly, if the hole was the proper kesher gudal distance from the edge of the beged, but after the tzitzis were tightened, it was closer to the edge than a kesher gudal, the tzitzis are kosher since the dimensions are measured as the beged is before it contracts from the tying (שם, ערוה”ש סי”ט, שו”ת מהרש”ם ח”ג סי’ ער”ב). Still, lechatchilah it is better not to make it so tight that the hole is less than a kesher gudal from the edge (תשובות והנהגות ח”א סי’ כ”ז).
- Tzitzis hanging off the side of the beged. Lechatchilah, the tzitzis need to be draped over the corner, as the Shulchan Aruch rules (סי’ י”א סט”ו). Thus, it is advisable to tie the first knot of the tzitzis tight enough for the beged to contract somewhat so that the tzitzis come off the side of the beged [א] as opposed to the bottom [ב]; this way, the tzitzis will remain suspended from the side and will not slip down (מקור חיים לחו”י ס”ט).
Hole Area on the Corner Ripped
- If tzitzis were tied properly through a hole located in the proper spot (above, 28) and later, the corner of the beged ripped by the hole, leaving less than a kesher gudal until the edge, but the tzitzis remained suspended, the tzitzis are kosher as long as something is left of the beged, even if it is not sewn back up. As long as it was originally made properly, it does not become posul later if it rips (שו”ע סי’ ט”ו ס”ה, מ”ב סקח”י).
- Wants to fix it. If it ripped in the above manner and one wants to fix it, he can do so without untying the tzitzis. If it is a wool beged, it must be sewn with a thread of another material; if the beged is one of the other materials, the tear should be sewn with a thread that is not the same material as the beged (מ”ב שם).
Ripped by the Neck
- Widthwise. If some of the beged by the neck hole ripped along its width, toward the side edge of the beged, it is still kosher. It should be sewn, but there is no need to untie the tzitzis. If it was torn completely through the end, it should also be sewn and there is no need to untie the tzitzis. This does not constitute a problem of “תעשה ולא מן העשוי” (חזו”א סי’ ג’ אות י”ט ד”ה והנה וד”ה ובמ”ב).
- Lengthwise. Similarly, if the beged ripped along the length of the beged, from its hole toward its bottom edge, the beged is kosher, but it should be repaired to avoid shailos of a six-cornered beged. This is not a problem of “תעשה ולא מן העשוי” (שם).