Shabbat Parashat Massei| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: When I no longer want to use a talit or tzitzit what do I do with them? Do they require geniza (burial for sacred articles)?
Answer: Let us proceed on the time-line of sources on this topic, where practice has become increasingly stringent. We will use the halachic names for the involved articles: tzitzit are the strings; talit gadol is the talit we wear for davening; talit katan is the four-cornered garment that we normally wear and attach tzitzit to. When there is no distinction, we will write talit for each.
The gemara (Megilla 26b) says that tashmishei mitzva (articles used to facilitate a mitzva, without the sanctity of a holy text) may be thrown away (as opposed to tashmishei kedusha, which need geniza). The examples given are a sukka, lulav, shofar, and tzitzit.
Moving on to the Rishonim, the Tur (Orach Chayim 21) cites the Sh’iltot, that as long as the tzitzit are still on the garment, they must be treated with respect and cannot be used for non-mitzva purposes. Although the tzitzit do not receive intrinsic sanctity, abusing them while they are still slated for a mitzva use is a bizuy (disgrace to the) mitzva. The Darkei Moshe (the Rama’s notes on the Tur) cites the Kolbo who says that even tzitzit that have been removed may not be disgraced, as the gemara only means to exempt them from geniza. Therefore, they should not be purposely thrown into a garbage dump (see Mishna Berura 21:7). He also cites the Maharil’s more stringent practice to either do geniza or use them for a mitzva, for example as a bookmark in a sefer. The Rama (21:1) cites the Kolbo as a halachic opinion and the Maharil as a preferable but not binding practice. That being said, the Maharil’s practice appears quite widespread.
What is done with a talit that one no longer wants to use? The Shulchan Aruch (21:2) says that regarding talitot that one uses for a mitzva (presumably a talit gadol) one “separates himself from them, and one is not allowed to …set them aside for a disgraceful use, but rather he should throw them and they will cease [to exist].”This ruling seems to say that we neither disgrace the talit gadol nor does it require geniza, and it can be thrown into the garbage (understanding of the Mishna Berura ibid.:13). This is consistent with the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling regarding tzitzit that are no longer used. The Mishna Berura (ibid.) says that the Rama agrees regarding the talit.
What does one do when the talit can be thrown into the garbage but the tzitzit, which are usually still attached, may not, according to the Rama? A few possibilities and practices exist. Although one may not normally remove tzitzit unless he plans to put them on a different talit (Shulchan Aruch 15:1) he may do so if the talit is worn out and will not be used any more (Mishna Berura 15:2). It is best to remove the tzitzit by untying them, thus not disqualifying them in the process (ibid.). If this is difficult, some allow cutting them off (Chayei Adam 11:32). Another practice, which seems halachically sound, is to cut off the four corners, while keeping the tzitzit intact. Then one can discard the talit (better in a bag) and either use the tzitzit for a mitzva or put them in geniza.
The most stringent practice, which is common and easy enough for most people is to put the whole talit in geniza. For better or for worse, we anyway put so much in geniza these days (gist of a phone conversation with Rav Tzvi Cohen, author of “Tzitzit- Halacha P’suka”). The Kaf Hachayim (21:2), an important Sephardic posek,seems to require this approach, as he understands that even the Shulchan Aruch requires geniza for a talit gadol since it was made for a mitzva. He implies that the same may be true for a talit katan, which nowadays is also worn only for the purpose of mitzva.
In summary, one can choose from among legitimate ways (not necessarily the most stringent one) to respectfully discard of these mitzva articles, with feasibility being a factor.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in honor of
the Bar Mitzva ofDanel Jaffeby Rabbi & Mrs. George Finkelstein
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in memory ofR’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m. Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of Max and Mary Sutker and Louis and Lillian Klein,z”l.
May their memory be a blessing!