Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Tallit Katan by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

In proclaiming the commandment of Tzitzit (or Tzitzis), the Torah says, "You shall make tassels (Gedilim) on the four corners of your garments…" From this we learn that Tzitzit are only required on a four-cornered garment. In ancient times, many garments were four-cornered. Clothing was not tailored as it is today, but most often consisted of a simple rectangle of cloth, direct from the loom, which was worn as a shawl, cape, tunic or toga. As late as the classical Greek period, the standard garments consisted of chiton and himation, which were essentially rectangles of cloth, draped and fastened around the body. Similar garments were worn in Talmudic times. Since everyone wore four-cornered clothing, they fulfilled the commandment of Tzitzith merely by placing them on their regular garb.

Because we no longer regularly wear four-cornered clothing, we wear a special garment in order to fulfill this most important commandment. One of the most important Jewish commentators, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, stated that this is the reason why the Torah states that we must "make Tzitzith… for all generations." Even though a time would come when four-cornered garments would not normally be worn, we must continue to wear a special garment in order to fulfill the commandment of Tzitzit.

This special garment is the Tallith Katan-the "small Tallith." It is also sometimes called an Arba Kanfoth-literally "four corners"-or simply "Tzitzit." In Yiddish it was often referred as Lahbsi-deckel, or "body cover."

The Tallith Katan consists of a simple rectangle of cloth, with a hole for the neck. The Tallith Katan should be at least a cubit (or Amah) square on each side. According to our discussion on measurements, this would be between 18 and 24 inches. If possible, it is best to wear the larger size, and thus be covered according to even the stricter opinion.

You should wear the Tallith Katan all day long. It is worn under your shirt, preferably over an undershirt, and is put on the first thing in the morning.

If you do not wear a Tallith in the synagogue, you should say the following blessing before putting on the Tallith Katan:

Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech haolam asher kid'shaha-nu be-mitzvo-thav ve-tziva-nu al Mitzvath Tzitzith.

Blessed are You G-d, our L-rd, King of the world, who has made us holy with His commandments and gave us the Mitzvah of Tzitzith.
If you put the Tallith Katan before washing your hands, you can defer the blessing until later, taking hold the Tzitzit when you recite it.

If you normally wear a Tallith, according to most authorities, it is best not to say the blessing over the Tallith Katan at all. Instead, you should have in mind to include it when you say the blessing over the Tallith.

The Tallith Katan should be worn all day long. Some people also wear it to sleep. It is also a custom for some people to keep their Tzitzith exposed, in order that they constantly fulfill the injunction, "and you shall see them." This, however, is not a strict requirement, and the Tzitzit may be worn completely under one's clothing.

Since the Tallith Katan is always worn, the Mitzvah if Tzitzit is one Mitzvah that is observed most constantly. It is the first commandment that we observe in the morning, and continues throughout the day. As such, it is a constant reminder of our obligation as Jews, and of our allegiance to G-d.

Through the Tallith Katan, the Mitzvah of Tzitzit is one of the very first observances that we teach a child. In many communities, is a custom to present a child with his first Tallith Katan on his third birthday; from then on, it is constantly worn.

The Tallith Katan is also one of the least expensive ritual objects that you can purchase. Its cost is negligible, and yet, its spiritual benefits can be priceless.

1 Copyright © Kaplan, A. 1984. Tzitzith, A THREAD OF LIGHT. New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Quoted with permission from the publisher.

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