Friday, July 5, 2013

Reasons for the Customs of Tzitzit and Tefillin (Excerpts from Bloch and Chill)

Here's two great Torah scholars discussing the rationales behind the customs associated with tzitzit and tefillin:

The Minhagim by Abraham Chill


pg. 11 "All the laws of tallit and tzitzit stem from the Biblical pronouncement, 'And the Lord spoke unto Moses saying, 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and order them to make fringes for themselves in the corners of their garments throughout their generations and they should put on the gringe of each corner a thread of blue.  And it shall be to you as a fringe, that you may look at it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; so that you go not astray after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you go astray; that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the Lord your God' (Numbers 15:37-41).  There is also the verse, 'You shall make yourself twisted cords (gedilim) upon the four corners of your covering, with which you cover yourself' (Deut. 22:12)."

pg. 11 "The component parts of the tzitzit are:

(a) Tallit (pl. taleitim):  a garment having four distinct corners.

(b) Kanaf (pl. knafot):  the corner where a hole is made three fingerbreadths from the edge, and through which the threads are drawn.

(c) Anaf:  that part of the Tzitzit which is tied, wound and knotted.

(d) Gedil (pl. gedilim):  the parts of the fringes that hang loose.

(e) Petil (pl. petilim), the twisted strands which make up the fringe.

The last three components comprise the tzitzit;  all five components comprise what is commonly known as the tallit.

pg. 15 "What is the technical procedure of threading the tzitziot into a tallit.  As noted previously, the first step is to secure a four cornered piece of cloth woven of wool or flax, preferably large enough to cover most of the body.  This, of course, disqualifies those taleitim, wool or silk, which merely cover the neck and hang down to the sides.  The next step is to obtain threads long enough that, when the process is over, these will still be a length of twelve fingers placed horizontally side by side.  In view of the fact that the tzitziot perform a specific function in the daily life of the Jew, and are not intended simply for ornamental purposes, it is imperative that both when one weaves them and when they are being inserted in to the tallit, one should declare aloud one's intention in preparing the tzitziot for the sake of the mitzvah.  So important is this aspect of the procedure that, if omitted, the tallit and the tzitzit are disqualified.
The next step is to take sets of four threads--one set for each corner--three of which are of the same length and one considerably longer.  The four are then drawn through one of the holes so that the maker finds himself holding eight threads, seven of equal length and one much longer.  He then takes four in one hand and four in the other and ties the two sets together in a double knot.  The longer thread is then wound around the others seven times.  Then, once again he makes a double knot and proceeds to wind the long thread eight times round the rest.  Again he makes a double knot and he then winds the longer thread around the others eleven times; again he makes a double knot followed by a winding of thirteen times.  He finishes the procedure with a final double knot."
pg. 16 "...Why must there be eight threads?  These are intended to represent the eight organs of the body with which man sins most; the eye, ear, nose, mouth, hand, foot, heart, and the sexual organ.  Hence, the eight threads comprising the tzitzit must act as a constant reminder to man to be aware of his susceptibility to sin through these members of his body."

pg. 16  "In ancient times one of the four threads was blue.  In those days a marine animal was known with either blue blood or a blue secretion of some sort which was used to dye the thread.  At some point in history Jews became unable to identify the species from which the dye originated.  Subsequently only white threads were used, despite the fact that the Torah enjoins us to include one of blue.  About the year 1885, Rabbi Gerson Henokh Leiner of the city of Radzin in Poland claimed that he had discovered the breeding area of this Hilazon (the blue blooded animal) somewhere off the coast of Italy.  Both he and his many disciples immediately started to dye one thread of each set blue, using the blood of this fish.  A furor ensued in the entire Rabbinic world at the time.  While the Hassidim of Radzin until this day wear a thread of blue in their Tziziot, the vast majority of Rabbinic authorities have rejected Rabbi Leiner's claim of identification.
The Torah instructs us to include a thread of blue to remind us to keep God's laws.  But how does looking at the tzitziot move us to remember?  The Talmud (Menahot 43b; Sotah 17a) answers:  The blue thread reminds us of the blue waters of the Mediterranean;  the blue water is a reflection of the blue sky;  the blue sky, in turn, is a reflection of the sapphire seat of God.  Thus, by a chain reaction the blue thread reminds us of God's commandments."
pg. 17  "It is very important to remember, in threading the tzitziot, to attach fringes of wool only to a woolen garment and fringes of flax only to a linen garment.  To use flax in a woolen garment or vice versa would violate the prohibition against Sha'atnez (Deut. 22:11)."

pg. 19 "...although the Torah instructs us to attach the tzitziot to a four cornered garment, it does not tell us how this garment is to be worn.  It was only during the Geonic period (600-1038 C.E.) that the authorities decreed that the tallit must be worn ke'atifat ishmaelim i.e., in the Arabs' way of wearing clothes which cover their heads and bodies.  Some authorities rule that the tallit must be worn from the shoulder down.  All this revolves around the verse in Deuteronomy (22:12) previously mentioned.
For this reason, before wrapping oneself in a tallit the worshipper recites the benediction:  'Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the Universe who did command us to enwrap ourselves with tzitzit.'  Here the word enwrap is crucial:  it indicates that most of the body must be covered.  What of a tallit katan which is far too small to cover most of the body?  Because a tallit katan has its purpose only to serve as a reminder when we are not wearing a tallit gadol, we recite the prayer:  'Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who commanded us concerning the law of tzitzit.'  Here we do not say, 'to enwrap ourselves with tzitzit.'  However, the custom is to wrap the tallit katan around the head and shoulders for a moment so as to create the appearance of enwrapping.  This is to satisfy all opinions."
pg. 14 "On the question whether a woman is qualified to make and insert tzitziot, we find a difference of opinion.  Those that think that a woman may, base their position on the point that 'children of Israel' excludes only non-Jews.  The phrase as such includes men, women and children of the Jewish faith.  Those that rule a woman may not participate in this religious function pinpoint the word 'bene,' meaning 'the sons' (rather than 'the children') [of Israel], which would exclude women.  The prevailing opinion is that technically, women are not disqualified.  However, somehow they have never shown any great desire to become involved in the making of tzitziot."


The commandment to wear tefillin, which is so centrally a part of Jewish life, goes back to four specific source-texts in the Torah:

(a) 'And it shall be for a sign to you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth' (Ex. 13:9).

(b) 'And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for  frontlets between your eyes' (Ex. 13:16).

(c) 'And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes' (Deut. 11:18).

(d) 'Therefore shall you place these My words in your heart and in your soul:  and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes' (Deut. 11:18).

Except for these few brief references to tefillin in the Bible almost all the laws connected with it were conveyed orally...Even the Mishna did not find it necessary to go into the subject at any length, because when it was compiled the mitzvah of tefillin was universally observed.  Later, however, as identification with this mitzvah weakened its hold, the Rabbis of the Talmud began a systematic and detailed description and analysis of tefillin."
pg. 26  "How are tefillin made?  A piece of the hide of a kosher animal is fashioned into a cubicle through the use of a mold.  The hide must have come from a kosher animal only, as derived from the Scriptural verse 'that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth' (Ex. 13:9), which appears in connection with the commandment of tefillin...The Sages accordingly regard it as a requirement for the fulfillment of the mitzvah that tefillin should be made from the hide of a kosher animal, whose meat is permitted to be 'taken into the mouth.'"

pg. 27 "The tefillin cubicles are each called bayit in Hebrew.  Both cubicles are hollow.  The bayit of the tefillah shel yad is undivided and it contains a single strip of parchment on which the following four Biblical passages are inscribed:

Exodus 13:1-10
Exodus 13:11-16
Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Deuteronomy 11:13-21

The open end of the bayit is then covered with another piece of parchment called the titura (Aramaic for bridge).

The cubicle of the tefillah of the head is divided into four compartments.  The same four Biblical passages are written on four separate pieces of parchment, each tied with a strand of calf's hair and placed in a separate compartment.  This bayit, too is covered with a titura."
pg. 27  "Certain rationalizations [for the number of compartments in the bayit] have...been attempted such as that, while the hand has one function, that of action, the head has four functions--seeing, hearing, speaking, and smelling--all of which must be attuned to God's will.
Calf's hair is used to remind us that the cardinal sin committed by the Children of Israel in the desert was their worshipping of the Golden Calf.  So, we are warned always to be alert to the pitfalls of worshipping strange gods."
pg. 28 "Maimonides ruled that the titura should be sewn to the bayit with twelve stitches, three on each side...One authority explains this as follows:  the number twelve corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel."

pg. 29  "The word for Phylacteries used in the Bible is totafot, commonly translated as 'frontlets.'  It is in the Aramaic translation for this word by Onkelos that we find the word tefillin.  What is the origin of the word tefillin?

(a) The root of this word is palel which denotes judgment.  The idea is that with the tefillin we bear testimony to the world that we are God's chosen people.

(b)  The root of this word is peli'ah, 'to be separated.'  Through the tefillin we become independent, separate, and apart from all peoples of the world.

(c) The singular for tefillin is tefillah which means prayer.  In other words during the prayers of Keriat Shema and Shemoneh Esreh in the morning, we should wear tefillin."

pg. 30 "The wearing of the tefillin will bring the Jew into communion with God through his mind, symbolized by the tefillah shel rosh, and his actions, as represented by the tefillah shel yad which directly faces the heart."

pg. 31 "The Jew puts on his tefillin only after he has first wrapped himself in his tallit, although apparently it is the former that possesses greater sanctity.  Why is this?  

(a) The tallit, as we have noted has many features that recall the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot.  Symbolically, when on wraps oneself in a tallit, it is as if he is enveloping himself in the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot.  This feature is absent from the tefillin.

(b) Ma'alin ba-kodesh.  In religious practice we adopt an ascending order.  Tefillin, as we have noted, have a higher decree of sanctity than the tallit.  We therefore begin with the tallit and raise ourselves to the state when we are able to put on tefillin.

(c) Tadir veshe-eno tadir, tadir kodem:  the more frequent take precedence over the less frequent.  The tallit is worn every day of the year; the tefillin, only on weekdays but not on Saturdays or Holidays.

The procedure of putting on tefillin is as follows:  The tefillah shel yad must be put on first.  This is indicated by the verse 'And they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.'  In other words, when we bind the tefillah shel rosh on our heads a condition must exist where the plural term 'they' can apply.  This can only be attained if the tefillah shel yad is already in place at the time that the worshipper attends to the tefillah shel rosh.

pg. 32 "The top of the strap of the tefilah shel yad is tied into a loop through which the left hand is passed allowing the bayit to be drawn up as far as the muscle on the upper part of the arm close to the shoulder.  Several reasons are advanced for the tefillin being placed on the arm of the left hand:

(a) In the original Hebrew, 'And it shall be for a sign upon your hands' (Ex. 13:16), the word 'yadekha' is spelled irregularly, and so can be divided into two words:  Yad--hand; Kehah--weak, ie.e. the weak hand.  Thus, the Rabbis inferred that, 'It shall be for a sign upon your (weak, left) hand.'

(b) 'My hand also has laid the foundation of the earth and My right hand has spread out the heavens' (Isaiah 48:13).  In the first example the Prophet generalizes, and in the second he goes into detail.  Since the 'right hand' is specifically mentioned, we can take it that the 'hand,' without any particular qualification, refers to the left.

(c) The benediction accompanying the placing of the tefillah upon the hand is, 'Blessed are You O put on the tefillin.'  With the right hand, we put the tefillin onto our left hand.

(d) The tefillah shel yad must be placed titled towards the heart.  The left hand is the one closest to the heart.

(e)  The 'hand' should remind us of the 'strong arm' with which God brought the children of Israel out of the Egyptian slavery.  A straight line is the shortest distance between two points.  So, if God used his strong right arm and, figuratively speaking, grasped the children of Israel, Israel's left hand was directly opposite God's right hand."

pg. 33 "The remaining part of the strap that was used to fasten the tefillah shel yad is then wound around the forearm seven times.  The seven Hebrew words of the verse in Psalms (145:16) gives us the basis for this ritual:  'Thou openest thy hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.'  Others are of the opinion that the seven rings around the forearm correspond to the seven benedictions recited at a wedding ceremony.  The tefillin are part of the ritual of the marriage of God and Israel.  This procedure is concluded by tying the strap around the palm of the hand.

pg. 33 "The next step calls for the placing of the tefillah shel rosh.  The tefillah must be set within the area of the head bound by the hair line and ending at the cranium where the skull of a newborn baby is soft.  Then, to complete the procedure, one unwinds the strap from the palm and binds three rings around the middle finger while reciting the words of Hosea (2:21-22) 'And I will betroth you unto me forever; I will betroth you unto me in righteousness and in justice and in lovingkindness and in mercy;  and I will betroth you unto me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord.'  These three betrothals of the children of Israel to God are symbolized by the three rings around the finger."

pg. 35 "Now the question arises:  as to the correct time for putting on tefillin in the morning; when does the day actually begin?  Here, too, the authorities base their views on the Torah:  'And all the nations of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord' (Deut. 28:10).  We have already noted that the Shin on the tefillah shel rosh represents the Name of God.  So, tefillin must be worn when 'all the nations of the earth shall see the Shin.'  The Rabbis deduced that we can put on tefillin when there is enough light for two acquaintances to recognize each other.

There are occasions when one is not allowed to put on tefillin.  For instance, one is not supposed to lay tefillin at night because the Torah (Ex. 13:10) tells us to fulfill this mitzvah 'miyamim yamimah.'  This is commonly translated from 'year to year.'  However, the root of these two words is yom, daytime.  Thus, the Rabbis have interpreted the phrase to mean that the mitzvah of tefillin is to be carried out only during the daytime."

The Biblical and HIstorical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies by Abraham Bloch

pg. 80 "The tefillah of the arm is put on first.  When the noose of the strap is tightened around the arm, one recites the benediction lehaniach tefillin ('to put on the tefillin').  The tefillah of the head is put on next and the benediction al mitzvat tefillin ('concerning the commandment of the tefillin') is then recited.  The text of the benedictions was published in the third century by Rabbi Yochanan (Menachot 36a).
When removing the tefillin the process is reversed.  The tefillah of the head is taken off first (Mechilta 111).  
The tefillah of the arm is placed just above the forearm (Menachot 36b).  A left-handed individual wears the tefillah on his right arm (Menachot 37a).  The tefillah of the head is placed at the hairline at the center of the forehead.  The two straps hang over the shoulders, with the black sides outward.
The position of the parchments in the tefillah of the head follows, according to Rashi (11th cent.), the sequence in which they appear in the Bible...
Tefillin are not worn on Sabbaths and festivals (Menachot 36b)."
pg. 81  "The mitzvah of tzitzit assumed great importance because, like tefillin, they proclaimed to the general community the wearer's Jewishness.  By the same token they served as a reminder of one's religious commitments and acted as deterrents against violations of religious laws (Menachot 43b).
The Talmud emphasized the great merit of the mitzvah of tzitzit.  'The mitzvah of tzitzit is equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah' (Nedarim 25a).  'God demonstrated his love for Israel by surrounding them with the mitzvah of tzitzit in their garments' (ibid).
The tallit of the talmudic era was a rectangular garment, the usual male outfit, worn in the daytime.  The garment had no religious significance.  However, since it had four corners, fringes had to be attached to them, in accordance with biblical law (Num. 15:38).
Medieval Jews adopted the garment styles of their non-Jewish neighbors.  Since those garments were not rectangular, the biblical law of fringes did not apply to them.  In order to comply with the law of tzitzit, the prayer tallit came into vogue.  Not all Jews possessed these prayer shawls and the rabbis urged them to buy a tallit (Tosafot, Shabbat 32b).  This tallit was worn only in the congregation for morning services.  Eventually, the tallit katan, which is worn under the garments, came into use in the medieval period.  The mitzvah of tzitzit is thus performed all day.
When the tallit is wrapped around the head, the benediction lehitatef batzitzit ('to wrap oneself with a tallit') is recited.  The tallit is then moved back to the shoulders, with two corners suspended from each shoulder....
It is customary to sew a silk strip to the top of the tallit so a worshipper may easily distinguish between its top and bottom.  This strip, called the atarah ('crown'), was introduced in the sixteenth century...
It is customary to gather the four fringes into the right hand upon the reading of the verse 'And bring us together from the four corners of the earth' (in the prayer preceding the Shema).
It is customary to kiss the fringes when the word tzitzit in the Shema is pronounced.  This practice apparently derived from an older custom mentioned by Rema (16th cent.).  According to Rema, one looks at the fringes and kisses them when he recites the verse in Shema:  Ureitem otam ('and you shall see them'; Orach Chaim 24:4)."

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