The Biblical Commandment and Tying Tzitzit
And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Bemidbar 15: 37-38).
And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Bemidbar 15: 37-38)
How many strings on each corner?
(The Vilna Gaon claims that the correct version is that of the Sifre Shelach: “With three strings of white and a fourth of tekhelet.” used in Tying Tzitzit)
There are three different opinions of the Rishonim regarding the ratio of white to blue strings:
- Raavad and the Aruch – Based on the Sifre in Shelach hold that one full string (when folded it becomes two of the eight) must be tekhelet.
- Rashi and Tosafot – Two full strings (four of the eight) are tekhelet.
- Rambam – Half of one string (when folded becomes one of the eight strings) is tekhelet. The Rambam understands the posuk in Bemidbar in the following manner: – put upon the fringe of each corner (= white) a p’til of blue. Only the windings around the white core must be tekhelet.
|And what is the measure of a chulya (band)? We learned, Rebbe says so that you can wind, then again, and a third time. We learned, One who minimizes should not have less than seven, and one who maximizes should not exceed thirteen. One who minimizes should not have less than seven – symbolizing the seven heavens, and one who maximizes should not exceed thirteen – symbolizing the seven heavens and six spaces between them. (Menachot 39a)
When tying tsitsit with tekhelet, the gemara speaks of chulyot.There is an argument as to what the numbers seven and thirteen refer. Most Rishonim explain that these are the number of chulyot (each of which is made up of three twists as Rebbe states). Some Rishonim explain that each chulya can have seven or thirteen windings. As for Rebbe’s three windings, this is explained either as the minimum number of tekhelet windings in each chulya (and the number seven includes both the white and the tekhelet), or that Rebbe is talking about the absolute minimum required to fulfill the mitzva with only one chulyah (bedieved deorayta), but the best method (lechatchila derabanan) should have between seven and thirteen windings.
|We learned, When one begins, he begins with white – “[the fringe of each] corner,” the same kind as the corner [ie. The same color as the garment]; And when one concludes, he concludes with white – one always increases in holiness and never decreases. (Menachot 39a)
There is an argument as to the color of the windings when Tying Tzitzit:
- Rav Amram Gaon holds that the first chulya is white, the next is tekhelet, and so on alternating white and tekhelet for seven or thirteen chulyot.
- The Rambam holds that the first winding of the first chulya and the last winding of the last chulya are white, and all the other windings are tekhelet.
- The Raavad holds that the windings of each chulya alternate between white and tekhelet.
|Rava says, this implies that the uppermost knot is required from the Torah. (Menachot 39a)
Rashi brings down two possibilities regarding the placement of the upper most knot.
1. Closest to the garment, in order to connect the strings to the garment
2. At the end of all the windings, which also adds stability to the windings
There is an argument as to the nature of the knots of the tsitsit. The Geonim hold that a knot can be one string tucked under itself. Rabbenu Tam compares the knots of tsitsit to knots in other laws like Shabbat and therefore requires a double knot.
|Rava says, this implies that one must tie a knot after each and every chulya. (Menachot 38b)
|[The word] tsitsit is numerically equivalent to 600, 8 strings and 5 knots add up to 613. (Tanchuma, Korach 12)
The length of the windings and the strings
|Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Sheshet in the name of Rav Yirmiyah bar Abba in the name of Rav: The most ornate tekhelet ought be a third windings, and two thirds hanging threads.(Menachot 39a)
Various opinions regarding the krichot for tzitsit with tekhelet
The principles discussed above are applied differently by the poskim. The various opinions described below correspond to the above photograph (left to right).
1. The Radzyner/Chabad (Ariza”l) – has all the twists tekhelet except the first and last. There are five knots: between the first and the second knot there are seven twists, between the second and third – eight twists, between the third and fourth – eleven twists and between the fourth and last – thirteen twists. Each group of three is separated by winding the tekhelet around and inside them to hold them together.
2. One understanding of the Rambam – all twists blue except the first and last, with a double knot between each chulya.
3. The Vilna Gaon – thirteen chulyot, alternating white and tekhelet distributed between five double knots. Between the first and second knot – four chulyot (white, tekhelet, white, tekhelet) and the same between the second-third, and third-fourth knots. Between the fourth and last knot – one chulya of white.
4. The Chinuch – thirteen chulyot, alternating white and tekhelet distributed between five double knots. Between the first and second knot – three chulyot (white, tekhelet, white). After the second knot another three chulyot, (tekhelet, white, tekhelet). After the third another three (white, tekhelet, white), and after the fourth – four chulyot (tekhelet, white, tekhelet, white).
5. The Raavad quoting Rav Natronai Gaon – five knots. Between each knot, seven or thirteen twists, with the twists alternating white then tekhelet. Between the second and third knot, the amount of twists is not definite.
6. Rav Amram Gaon – seven or thirteen chulyot alternating white then tekhelet. A knot at the beginning and at the end. (These knots are not double, but rather the winding string tucked under itself.) The Baal Haitur’s shitta is virtually identical but he has a knot after each chulya.
7. The Rambam – all twists are tekhelet except the first and last. Seven or thirteen chulyot are tied with a knots keeping them together and separate from each other. The Yemenites have a tradition (even with white tsitsit) of tying a special knot that is the chulya. See below.
Tying in the Yemenite Tradition
- Hold the tsitsit with the tekhelet string towards the front.
- Bring the tekhelet string along the left of the tsitsit and pass it under the others higher than where the chulya is to be.
- Wind the string over the others and through the loop created in step 2.
- Repeat step 3 twice, so that all together you have three loose twists through the loop higher than the intended place for the chulya. Now align the string back together with the others.
- Begin to unwind the the loop of step 2 around to the left and under all the tsitsit at the position that you want the bottom of the chulya to be.
- Continue unwinding the loop from bottom to top setting the second and third twist adjacent to the first.
- After three twists, pull the end ot the tekhelet string to tighten the chulya.
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