Simanim 23-24 Tzitzit in a Cemetery

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #12:Simanim 23 - 24

Pages 61 - 63


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



Siman 23:  Tzitzit in a Cemetery



See the gemara on Berakhot 18a:


"R. Chiya and R. Yonatan were walking in the graveyard; the tekhelet of R. Yonatan was swinging.  Said R. Chiya to him: Lift it up so that they [the dead] do not say, 'Tomorrow they join us but today they are deriding us.'"


            This implies that only if the tzitzit are dragging over the graves is it forbidden to "let the tekhelet swing."


            In contrast, see the gemara (higher up on the same page) which states:


"One should not walk in a graveyard with tefillin on his head and a sefer Torah in his arms, reading from it, and one who does so transgresses the prohibition of 'One who mocks the poor [here, the dead, who cannot perform mitzvot] insults his Maker' (Mishlei 17:5)."


            From here it appears that the very presence in a graveyard of an item used for a mitzva is objectionable.


            Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (there) declare that the prohibition rests only upon an object used for a mitzva, like tefillin, whereas tzitzit are merely a garment and are permitted (unless they are dragged).  Still, tallitot today are designed only for the mitzva and therefore should be considered the equivalent of tefillin in this respect.


            See the Shulchan Arukh (se'if 1) who rules like Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, but adds "however, if they are covered it is permitted."  This is explained in the Beit Yosef as follows: (1) Covered tzitzit cannot be considered "offensive to the dead," and (2) the gemara which is the source of the prohibition mentions "tefillin of his head," implying that tefillin of the arm - a covered place - would be permissible.


            Thus, those who normally leave their tzitzit out should put them in when visiting a cemetery (M.B. 23:3; Yechaveh Da'at vol. II, 1).



Siman 24:  The Mitzva of Tzitzit





            Menachot 41a teaches us that the obligation to wear tzitzit rests upon the person, not upon the garment (see our discussion above in siman 19).  It is therefore clear that, strictly speaking, no one is obligated to wear tzitzit.  Rather, if one wears a four-cornered garment he must make sure that it has tzitzit placed on it (and if he wears it without tzitzit, he has transgressed a positive commandment).


            However, consider these points:

1) The gemara relates (there) that R. Ketina was walking along dressed in clothing that did not require tzitzit when he encountered an angel who said to him, "Ketina, Ketina ... what will become of tzitzit?"  Said he [Ketina] to him, "A punishment for a positive commandment [i.e., is one punished for neglecting to put himself in a position where a positive commandment becomes obligatory]?"  Said he to him, "At a time of [divine] anger, a punishment [is indeed meted out even for that]."  (The gemara there goes on to specify what kind of act it is which calls for a punishment in times of divine wrath.)

2) Menachot 43b states, "The mitzva of tzitzit is equivalent to (shekula) all the mitzvot."

3) This mitzva helps us to refrain from sin (as in the famous case in the gemara of the one who was about to sin, until his tzitzit came and slapped him across the face).  It also helps in the performance of other mitzvot, as it is written, "and you will see it and you will remember" (Bemidbar 15:39) upon which Menachot 43b expounds, "Seeing leads to remembering, and remembering leads to doing."  One has a constant reminder of God on his body; in fact, this reminder surrounds his "four corners."  In the same vein, Rashi s.v. Shekula (on the statement quoted in (2) above) points out that tzitzit in gematria equals 600, and together with the five knots and the eight strings, the total is 613, the number of mitzvot.

4) Once it has become accepted to wear a tallit katan, one who refrains from doing so transgresses the directive, "Do not abandon the Torah of your mother"  (Igrot Moshe, OC IV, 4).

5) Pesachim 113b lists seven categories of people who are excommunicated in the eyes of heaven, and among them is one who has no tzitzit upon his garment.  (Tosafot there offer two interpretations:  that this refers to one who has a tallit but does not wear it; or, alternatively, it refers to one who has no tallit, but nevertheless should go out and buy one.)

6) This mitzva is such an easy one to perform that it would be a great pity to miss the opportunity.  That it is an easy mitzva we find stated in the gemara in Menachot 44a.  Also, on 43b we read, "The punishment for the white is greater than the punishment for the tekhelet," meaning that in former times when we had tekhelet the mitzva was that much harder to fulfill, and the punishment for neglecting it was consequently lesser; nowadays, when we have only white strings, the punishment is correspondingly greater.


            This is another reason to leave tzitzit on when taking an afternoon nap!  (See our discussion above in simanim 8 and 21.)


            Those who wish to be scrupulous in their observance of this mitzva do not walk four amot without tzitzit.  See Shabbat 118b, and Rashi there; Rambam Hilkhot Tefillin 4:25; M.B. 8:1.




            Berakhot 14b asserts that one who recites the Shema without tefillin on is considered to be contradicting his own testimony.  The Zohar (vol. III, 120b) extends this to apply to tzitzit as well.


            See the Shulchan Arukh at the end of se'if 1.  When he says "tefilla" it can be assumed that he means the Shema also (for the parasha of tzitzit is part of the Shema - see M.B. 24:3).


            However, the importance of wearing tefillin during the recital of the Shema and tefilla is greater than the importance of wearing tzitzit.  Consequently, although tefillin takes precedence over prayer with a minyan (M.B. 66:40), this is not the case for tzitzit (Halakha Le-moshe 9:33; Imrei Yosher vol. VIII, 201; and see also M.B. 66:41).




            We find in the midrash on Tehillim (Shocher Tov on Tehillim 35:2; Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 723) that King David told the Holy One Blessed Be He that he praises Him with all his limbs - "All my bones say, 'Hashem, who is like You.'"  Among the ways he fulfills this is by holding his tzitzit to his heart during the recital of the Shema.


            However, the Geonim wrote (R. Natronai Gaon and R. Moshe Gaon, brought in the responsa of the Rivash 486; in Otzar Ha-geonim Berakhot 72; and in the Beit Yosef) that one should not hold his tzitzit during keriyat Shema as it is a sign of arrogance (yuhara).  Furthermore, they say, according to this logic one should also go and touch the mezuza when he reads the part in the Shema about mezuza, etc.  They even write that one who does so should be made to swear that he will stop.


            The Shulchan Arukh rules in accordance with the midrash on Tehillim.  (The Tzitz Eliezer, XIII, 3, explains that the Geonim's oath applied only in their time; now that everyone is accustomed to do it, it is not a matter of yuhara.)




            In se'if 3, the Shulchan Arukh writes, "It is good to look at the tzitzit at the time of putting them on, during the berakha."  And in se'if 4, he adds that this is also sometimes done upon reaching "u-re'item oto" - "and you will see it."


            The Torah says "and you will see it."  Is this meant as a positive commandment?  There are many who believe it is, including the Smag (26); the Smak (28); the Mordekhai, Rabbeinu Yona and others (brought in the Beit Yosef).  However, in the responsa of the Rivash (vol. II, 486) it is written that seeing the tzitzit should not be counted among the 613 mitzvot since it is in fact a reason of the mitzva.


            In any case, since it is quite likely that it is indeed a mitzva, it is recommended to have in mind the intention to fulfill the mitzva of seeing the tzitzit at the time of looking at them (as it is written in Siddur Ha-gra, Siddur Derekh Ha-chayim, and Siddur Ya'avetz).  The Beit Barukh (12) raises the possibility that one can only fulfill this mitzva if he keeps in mind its underlying purpose: "and you will see it and you will remember."




            The Shulchan Arukh does not refer to this at all.  The Rema, to be sure, does mention it (se'if 4), but does not specify when it is to be done (Birkat Moshe).


            See M.B. 24:4, in the name of the Ari, that the tzitzit should be kissed at the words "ne'emanim ve-nechmadim la'ad."


            There are many who kiss their tzitzit each time the word "tzitzit" comes up (in keriyat Shema).  This is not mentioned in any of the poskim with the exception of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (17:7) and the Kaf Ha-chayim (18).  One who does this should, upon reaching the words "ve-natnu al tzitzit ha-kanaf," wait until this phrase is completed before kissing his tzitzit (this is self-evident and also written in Beit Barukh, 11:13).


            Some have the custom to kiss their tzitzit at the words "Hashem E-lokeichem emet."  This minhag, too, is not mentioned in the poskim (with the exception of the Ketzot Ha-shulchan, end of vol. I, in the comments on Badei Ha-shulchan 19), but it seems to be widely accepted.


            The Gra did not kiss his tzitzit at all during keriyat Shema (probably to avoid a hefsek - interruption) but instead would hold the two front strings (Ma'aseh Rav 39).  Similarly, the Chazon Ish did not kiss his tzitzit (LAMED KUF CHET??? 61 (or siman 1?):36) and this is the minhag of Brisk and of R. Lichtenstein shlita.




            Should one grasp the two front tzitziot or all four?  How does the Shulchan Arukh rule?


            There are those who hold all four (Sha'ar Ha-kavanot, Keriyat Shema p. 41 in the name of the Ari; Sha'arei Teshuva 10:3), and there are those who hold only the front two (Ma'aseh Rav on the Gra 39; She'iltot of R. Chaim of Volozhin, regarding the Gra, writes, "He did not take the four tzitziot during keriyat Shema, and this is not mentioned in the gemara, nor in the Shulchan Arukh; on the contrary, one should have two in front and two in back").  (See also what we wrote at the end of siman 10.)




            In the responsa of the Rambam (268 in Blau ed.; 7 in Pe'er Ha-dor ed.) he rules that it is forbidden to write pesukim on a tallit.  The primary reason is the possibility that one might walk into the bathroom with it on.


            The Tashbetz (Responsa vol. I, 2) rules that it is permitted.  Holy words that were written for purposes other than learning are not holy (according to Tzitz Eliezer vol. III, 1).


            The Maharsham (Responsa vol. I, 96) explains that nowadays it is permitted to use such a tallit because we do not take our tallitot into the bathroom.


            The Shulchan Arukh (YD 283:4) prohibits it.  See the ruling of the Mishna Berura 24:9!  (For what reason does he permit it, be-di'avad?  Does he agree with the Maharsham or the Tashbetz?  The difference would be found in whether one can, be-di'avad, wear a shirt on which pesukim are printed.)  Regarding entering the bathroom when the writing is covered, see the responsa Eretz Tzvi (5) who permits it.



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)