Lady tzitzit

It’s a given that every time I post about tzitzit here at The Shuckle, there is at least one comment from a woman who wants to wear or does wear tzitzit, but feels some degree of discomfort with idea.

So when I saw this post about making a ladies talit katan from Jen Taylor Friedman, fellow Jewschooler and the Soferet, I knew I had to refer y’all to it.

Jen refers back to a post by Danya Ruttenberg–also a Jewschooler–on the topic and adds some typically pretty flourishes to the topic:

On a slightly related note, my good friend Tal–who I haven’t seen in ages, but will be seeing at Limmud NY 2011, which, if you’re not already registered for, you should be–used to wear multi-colored tzitzit that he custom ordered online.

Anyway, the full post from Jen is here.

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26 Responses to Lady tzitzit

  1. Larry Kaufman January 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    I am reminded of the story of the people who come to the rabbi with a shyla — the doctor has said to feed their very ill child bacon — what should they do. The rabbi says Pikuach nefesh, just make sure that the pig is slaughtered using Kosher methods. The pig turns out to have a blemish, so back to the rabbi. He inspects, says if this were a cow, there would be no problem — but how can I proclaim a pig as Kosher?

    If there is no way for the tzitzit to be Kosher, why obsess about halachic details? In fact, by the authority invested in me by myself, I’ll proclaim that the only way to make women’s tzitzit is to make them of linen and wool.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 5, 2011 at 11:47 am #

      I don’t accept that women’s tzitzit are not kosher. I’m not an expert on this, but as far as I know, there are only two ways to proclaim that women may not wear tzitzit.

      The first would be to make it an issue of cross-dressing, which is a debatable point in this case. The second would be to make a broad (0ver-)use of the “minhag=halachah” thing.

      Also, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for one who exists in a world in which obligation in any mitzvah is optional to be particular about the halachic details of those mitzvot that one obligates oneself in. (Did that make sense?)

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 5, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      One more thing: In non-egal halachah, women are not obligated in daily mitzvot, such as wearing tzitzit. But it is generally commendable for women to engage in daily mitzvot if they choose to/are able to. For instance, it is quite normal for women to pray daily, though they are not required to.

      Jen states that she is a “post-denominational halakhically-observant egalitarian Jewish ritual scribe and scholar,” so it is not surprising at all to find her writing about this issue.

      • Laura January 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

        I don’t mean to hijack this thread, but I just have to add that if women do take on voluntary mitzvot, they can end up being obligatory. See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 214:1 and, so I’m told, the Toselfa on Berachot 14a.

  2. Laura January 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    there is no way for the tzitzit to be Kosher…

    Why not?

    • Larry Kaufman January 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      Ask Anat Hoffman and Nashei Hakotel what happens when a woman puts on a tallit in the Charedi synagogue sometimes known as the Western Wall — or what was formerly erroneously and now correctly called the Wailing Wall.

      Going back to David’s reply to my first post here, I think you are too cavalierly dismissing both the cross-dressing issue and the minhag/halacha issue. Meanwhile, it took me three readings to understand the last paragraph, but then it made perfect sense. Basically, it boils down to, “If you’re making your own rules, you can make them any way you like.” I guess I agree with that.

      • David A.M. Wilensky January 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

        By referring me to the Charedim there, you’re giving them the authority to say what’s what. I know that they think women shouldn’t wear tzitzit. I think that they’re wrong and that it is halachically permissible. That is quite different from, “They know what the real halachah is, but I don’t really care about that and I think people should do what they want.” Which leads me to your next point:

        What I’m saying does not boil down to “If you’re making your own rules, you can make them any way you like.” But I will write it more clearly because I did complete hack up my own ideas the first time through. (This next bit, by the way, is the first time I’ve written these ideas out.)

        Jewish narrative and legal literature is full of mitzvot. The ability to fulfill all of them is based on knowing how to fulfill them and the willingness to fulfill them. If I am willing to fulfill one and I choose to do so, I have obligated myself to do it, until such a time as I choose to end my obligation.

        For instance, am obligated currently to wear tzitzit every day and I have been for over four years now. If, for whatever reason, I don’t wear them one day, I’m breaking it. If, however, I choose one day to consciously end my obligation, it’s over.

        And while I am obligated to fulfill a particular mitzvah, I’m gonna damn well do it with as much intentionality as I can. That means making sure that my tzitzit are kosher, for instance. It also means putting them on in the morning each day and saying a brachah directly before doing so.

        Because of that framework of chosen obligation I laid out above, it’s not contradictory of me to be very particular and detail-oriented about my observance of tzitzit, but eat bacon with breakfast.

        Being as cognizant of as much of the minutiae of a mitzvah I’m engaging in as I can is important. It can reveal more about the meaning of it and force it to become more habitual.

  3. Larry Kaufman January 5, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Being obligated as long as you choose to be obligated is like not being obligated at all. To whom are you obligated?

    When I asked in my Kahal, and as I described at, as to why people wore talitot (in a Reform community where probably two-thirds do wear them), not one person responded Because God commanded it.

    There are those who follow the rules, those who ignore the rules, those who bend the rules, and those who make their own rules, based on their choice of revisions to the rule book.

    I find nothing wrong with eating bacon and wearing tzitzit — but a little incongruous to fixate on the tzitzit being kosher. Hey, you’re entitled to develop your personal practice as you see fit — but I’m entitled to get a kick out of the incongruity.

    • Laura January 6, 2011 at 12:29 am #

      Being obligated as long as you choose to be obligated is like not being obligated at all. To whom are you obligated?

      How do you think Ma’ariv services got started?

      There are a few problems with trying to classify tzitzit as time-based. Most basically, nothing really indicates that it’s meant to be time-based until R. Shimon came along (BT Menachot 643a shows that women were originally obligated), and though this wasn’t necessarily a widespread view at the time, by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 17:2), it was codified. However, it is not required that we wear it by day so much as we don’t wear it at night. It’s like saying: “If you do wear tzitzit, just make sure it’s not at night.”

      And I stand by my assertion that tzitzit isn’t actually an individual requirement. Maimonides writes:

      Even though one is not obligated to acquire a [four-cornered] robe and wrap oneself in it in order to fulfill [the commandment of] tzitzit, it is not fitting for a pious individual to exempt himself from this command. (Laws of Tzitzit 3:11)

      We’re not obligated to wear tzitzit. We’re obligated to attach it to four-cornered garments that we do have. And attaching it is decidedly not time-based. Even Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says:

      The deeper symbolism of tzitzit…is that it represents the commandments as a whole…and these become part of what and who we are only when we accept them without coercion, of our own free will. That is why the command of tzitzit is categorical. We do not have to keep it. We are not obligated to buy a four-cornered garment. When we do so, it is because we chose to do so. We obligate ourselves. That is why opting to wear tzitzit symbolizes the free acceptance of all the duties of Jewish life. (

      Does that sound time-based to you? (Rabbi Sacks, by the way, is Orthodox.) It is not an individual obligation so much as an obligation inherent in the four-cornered garment itself (See Rema on Orach Chayim 17:2). How can someone be exempted from a commandment that is not individual?

      • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

        However, it is not required that we wear it by day so much as we don’t wear it at night. It’s like saying: “If you do wear tzitzit, just make sure it’s not at night.”

        Can you expand on that? Because I wear them whenever I’m out of my own living space, day or night.

        We’re not obligated to wear tzitzit. We’re obligated to attach it to four-cornered garments that we do have.

        But this doesn’t indicate that there’s anything wrong with acquiring a four-cornered garment just so that we can partake in this mitzvah, right?

        We are not obligated to buy a four-cornered garment. When we do so, it is because we chose to do so. We obligate ourselves.

        I’m fascinated to find Sacks using exactly the same terms–self-obligation–that I use. I would be even more fascinated to find that Sacks or any male acting under his guidance was not wearing tzitzit.

        How can someone be exempted from a commandment that is not individual?

        It’s clear to me that I don’t know enough about this to come down on one side of this or the other–time-bound or not–but surely you must admit that most view it as a daily time-bound mitzvah.

        AND, according to this Chabad website (so take it with a pound of salt), Kabbalah (add more salt for that word) says that people should wear tzitzit at night!

        • Laura January 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

          Tzitzit at night: Actually, my rabbi has taken to wearing it during Kabbalat Shabbat, which makes me wonder whether the time frame itself is extremely lenient. He did say, though, that if you do wear it into the night, you should take it off before morning. That is the only guideline. So really, again, the time-based factor here is extremely weak. (I agree with what you say down below, though—the fact that you wear it in public is important in itself.) The point is that the mitzvah isn’t that we have to put tzitzit on during the day. There is only a rule that if it’s worn, it should be put on during the day. (And if my rabbi doesn’t adhere to this, I don’t think even that rule can be that strict. He generally, you know, adheres to stuff.) Someone really went wrong in trying to make the “You have to see the tzitzit” thing into something time-based.

          On attaching tzitzit to four-cornered garments; just like Maimonides writes, it is “praiseworthy” to do so. Or, actually, “It’s not fitting for a pious person to exempt himself from it.” It’s just not incumbent on anyone to actually, individually, go and buy a four-cornered garment. But it’s a good thing to do. So, of course, I argue that women can’t be exempt from something that isn’t itself an individual obligation.

          It’s weird that Sacks and others can wax on and on about how important tzitzit or tefillin (oh, tefillin gets so many chapters in “beginner’s Judaism” books), and even say that it’s “not fitting fora pious individual to exempt himself from it!”…only to, twenty pages later, add an aside saying, “Oh, by the way, this is vaguely time-based, I won’t explain why, but anyway women don’t have to do it. Oh, well. They have challah and mikveh as their own.”

          I know that most people view tzitzit as time-bound, and so did I, until I just thought about it for a while. It was *made* time-based by some minority opinion that got taken up and popularized, and eventually canonized. It doesn’t mean we can’t see the problems and fix the inconsistencies.

          See? Chabad loves to say that women are exempt…yet the reason for exemption doesn’t even hold here. I wonder what they’d say about that one.

          • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

            The point is that the mitzvah isn’t that we have to put tzitzit on during the day. There is only a rule that if it’s worn, it should be put on during the day.

            I see! I though you were saying before that it was forbidden at night, which didn’t make any sense. But you’re saying that if they are worn, they should be put on during the day, and that after that, they can stay on as long as you want, providing that you take them off before morning. Am I reading you right?

            I really am glad you’ve taken to commenting around here, BTW.

            • Laura January 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

              Well, that is my understanding, pretty much. It’s so ridiculously not time-based, you almost don’t want to believe it!

              Anyway, hey thanks! I sometimes have a tendency to jump in and argue (good thing I’m going for a philosophy major…)

              • Geoff January 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

                That’s not my understanding at all. My understanding is that the time-based aspect of the mitzvah is a prohibition, not a requirement to act. If you wear a four-cornered garment at night, it does not require tzitzit. If you wear it during the day without tzitzit, you violate the mitzvah.

                This also translates into the fact that if you put tzitzit on at night (e.g., before dawn when you get up early) you say no blessing (because no mitzvah is being done–and if the sun later comes up, you say it then), but you do say the blessing when you don them during the day.

                • Laura January 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

                  Well, that makes sense. I was referencing daytime garments, under the impression that no one really tries to put tzitzit on nighttime garments, but you never know.

                  If you mean what I think you mean when you write “the time-based aspect of the mitzvah is a prohibition, not a requirement to act” , then I agree. Do you mean that it is conditional; i.e. It is not required to wear tzitzit during the day, but rather to attach it to four-cornered garments that we do have? That is how I see it.

                  • Geoff January 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

                    Ahh…now a “nighttime garment” is treated differently, so that if you have 4-cornered pajamas, they don’t need tzitzit even during the day! Also, a garment that is not going to be worn, but just stored, does not require tzitzit either.

                    (R’ Moshe Feinstein wrote that talit katan is a universal custom, and therefore it is a binding requirement to wear it during the day, but that is not the “mitzvah” we’ve talking about.)

                    So yes, RMF aside, you could very well go your whole life without once wearing tzitzit of any kind, and not violate a mitzvah. Wearing a certain kind of garment at a particular time, however, obligates you with regard to having tzitzit on that garment at that time.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      In modernity, every Jew is making choices. Some choose to subscribe to a particular rule book, but the vast majority don’t–and if they do, they willingly violate it from time to time anyway.

      Why is it incongruous to fixate on doing tzitzit properly? If I’m going to do a mitzvah, why is strange to do it in as informed a fashion as possible?

      BTW, I should be clearer about something I haven’t been clear about so far: There is the possibility of discovering a detail of tzitzit that doesn’t make sense and thus disregarding that detail. The point is to carry out the mitzvah with as much intentionality and knowledge as possible.

  4. Larry Kaufman January 5, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    BTW, in the Praise for David section of your blog, you quote me as saying that you always ask the right questions, and insist they be answered in terms of Jewish sources. I don’t remember exactly how long ago I said that, but I’ll still stand by it.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks, Larry!

      And I think you said it in the midst of some classical loon’s aneurysm about something I said in iWorship a couple years ago.

  5. Dan Slobodkin January 6, 2011 at 3:42 am #

    If a woman really wants to wear tzitzis, but feels uncomfortable about it, why not keep the tzitzit concealed, like most Sephardim do? When I wanted to wear techeles, my plan was to wear it only at home or under my clothes for the same reason, what the poskim call yehora.

    As for making tzitzis, there are opinions that hold women can tie tzitzis. The real problem is spinning them, and I have a feeling nobody here plans to spin the strings themselves.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      Actually, Jen later posted that someone was planning to spin their own, based on her post! So that’s cool.

      They could keep them concealed, but there is the argument–which I hold to–that wearing them under your clothing makes it harder to fulfill the mitzvah. While the letter of the law would be fulfilled, it would be harder to fulfill the spirit of the law.

      I wear them to be reminded, lest I forget, of how to behave. On two occasions, one on Shabbat, I was questioned by someone from an Orthodox background about why I was wearing my tzitzit at night. In both cases, I was in a bar. I had worn my tzitzit all day, starting in the morning. In both cases, I had been home to change clothes before going back out at night. I could have left my tzitzit behind. But wearing them in a social situation is the most important time to wear them, in my view–regardless of the time of day.

      And wearing them where I can see them and actually be reminded by them on the fly is of supreme importance.

      • Geoff January 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

        Was this person suggesting you should have taken the time to get undressed and remove your tzitzit because the sun had gone down? Or was the indication that since you had changed clothes after dark, you should have removed them? I don’t suppose this person inquired whether you had changed your underwear, so it seems an odd question to me.

        • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

          In one case, the guy was a graduate of Ramaz who had become non-observant in college. He was mainly interested in shouting at me (no hyperbole here) about how I shouldn’t wear tzitzit in a bar on Shabbat.

          In the other case, I was staying with guy over Yom Kippur. We went back to his apartment after services and changed. He took his–which he wears under–off. I did not. He inquired about it out of curiosity, something like, “I noticed you didn’t take your tzitzit off. Was that on purpose or did it just happen that way?”

  6. Geoff January 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Given that tzitzit is a mitzvah relating simply to the number of conrners of a garment (i.e., “tzitzit” = strings that are not themselves a garment), I’ve never understood the argument that “tzitzit” are beged ish. IMHO, it seems quite clear that what Jen is doing here is creating something that is davka beged ISHA, and yet has four corners. Ergo, HERE, the garment is traditionally understood to be exempt from tzitzit, but cross-dressing concerns should not be part of the discussion at all, given that there clearly is no male-specific BEGED to be beged ish.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

      I agree with you, Geoff. Though I believe the beged ish argumen–and it’s quite a catch-22!–is that since men typically only wear talit katan, it has become beged ish.