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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5784

Ask the Rabbi: Trying on a Beged without Tzitzit

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I saw someone shopping for a tzitzit beged without tzitzit (so he could attach them), and he tried it on for size. I thought it was forbidden to wear a beged requiring tzitzit without them. Was he right to do so?


Answer: We will explore three possible reasons to permit this, proceeding from the possible to the definite.

The Torah presents a positive mitzva to attach tzitzit to four-cornered garments (Bamidbar 15:38; Devarim 22:12), and the gemara discusses at what point this must be done (Menachot 41a). One who has a beged that requires tzitzit and wears it without attaching them violates a Torah commandment. However, it might be a bitul aseh (failing to do an imperative positive mitzva) or possibly (also) an issur aseh (a forbidden action derived from a positive command).

This distinction is likely connected to the following machloket. The gemara (Menachot 37b), after bringing a story, seems to conclude that if one’s cloak’s tzitzit became pasul on Shabbat when he was in a Rabbinic-level public domain (without an eiruv), he can keep the cloak on until he gets to a “private place.” The reason given is that the resulting Rabbinic prohibition of carrying [worthless fringes] is pushed off by the disgrace of being mainly undressed. Commentators note that the gemara seems to ignore the Torah-level problem of wearing a garment without valid tzitzit. The Ri Halavan (cited by Mordechai, Menachot 944) explains that it is not prohibited to wear the garment because tzitzit is a positive mitzva to attach (or have attached) the tzitzit without a negative element, and the requirement to attach does not apply on Shabbat, because tying is forbidden. R. Shmuel (cited ibid.) opines that it is forbidden from a tzitzit perspective to put on such a garment even on Shabbat.

Acharonim see in the Ri Halavan’s opinion and in Tosafot (Yevamot 90b) the idea that, fundamentally, the commandment of tzitzit begins when the garment is on, requiring one to attach tzitzit if they are not yet on. Arguably, one can try on the beged because, similar to on Shabbat, it is inappropriate to attach tzitzit considering that the storeowner, who owns the beged, is selling it without tzitzit. We would be reticent to rely on this idea alone, considering that not everyone accepts the Ri Halavan and this application of the approach is not simple.

A likely reason for leniency is that trying on a garment is not classic “wearing” of a garment. There is Talmudic precedent for this distinction regarding sha’atnez. The mishna (Kilayim 9:5) says that one who sells sha’atnez clothing (to non-Jews) can, due to technical need, wear them as long as he does not intend to get physical benefit from them. Tosafot (Nidda 61b) applies this idea to tzitzit, i.e., if one “wears” a garment in an abnormal context, he is not obligated in tzitzit. Not all even agree that the mitzva of tzitzit applies (nafka mina for a beracha before putting it on) when one puts on his tallit to honor a setting (e.g., getting an aliya, being a sandek) (see Be’ur Halacha to 60:4). Briefly trying on a garment seems to be an example where there should be no obligation of tzitzit (Be’ur Halacha ibid. apparently confirms this). Nevertheless, this conclusion is not trivial (see the lack of full clarity concerning how far to apply this leniency regarding sha’atnez in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 301:5,6 and Taz and Shach ad loc.).

The clearest reason that one can try on the tzitzit-­less beged is that one is obligated in tzitzit only for his own beged, not for a borrowed one (Shulchan Aruch, OC 14:3, based on Menachot 44a). (After having it for 30 days, it requires tzitzit because it looks like the beged is his – ibid.). Trying on the beged in the store is no more than borrowed. While sometimes it is proper when using another’s tallit to get permission to acquire it and make a beracha on it (see Mishna Berura 14:11), when it does not have tzitzit on and attaching them is impractical, there is no reason to do so.

Therefore, what the person did was fine; the question is, for how many reasons.

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