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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan | 5768

Should a Single Man Wear a Tallit

Ask the Rabbi

Question: In a recent article, you assumed that single Ashkenazi men need not wear a tallit for tefilla. I understand that some relate this minhag to the juxtaposition in the Torah of tzitzit and marriage (Devarim 22: 12-13). However, the Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and many others rule that the mitzva d’orayta of tallit begins at bar mitzva. Isn’t it a mistaken minhag to avoid this mitzva?
Answer: Firstly, if you read our articles regularly, you know that we are very reluctant to label an established minhag incorrect. As we will see, you seem to have overstated the issue. We will also explore reasons for a distinction between married and single men regarding a tallit gadol (=tallit).
The Torah obligation to wear tzitzit is only when one is wearing a four-cornered garment. It is important to put oneself in a situation where he can perform the mitzva (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 24:1). Although every separate relevant garment requires its own set of tzitzit, one receives credit for the mitzva by wearing a tallit katan (=tzitzit). If this did not suffice, we should wear a tallit all day (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid. regarding tzitzit).
Why then do we wear a tallit for davening (Shacharit)? One issue is the concern that our tzitzit garments are too small or are otherwise not obligated in tzitzit (Darchei Moshe, OC 8:3). This might be a special problem during Shacharit, when we recite the Torah section where the mitzva appears (3rd part of Kri’at Shema). One who recites Kri’at Shema without tefillin is like one who bears false testimony (Berachot 14b). However, Tosafot (ad loc.) believes that this is not true of reciting Kri’at Shema without tzitzit (as one is not “required” to wear a four-cornered garment), and this is the topic of significant debate (see Yechaveh Da’at IV, 2). One might be extra careful to have clearly kosher tzitzit (i.e. a tallit) at that time, but the concern is weak enough that it can be overcome by the minhag in question.
We wear a tallit throughout Shacharit (not just Kri’at Shema, as explained) but not at Mincha. It may make sense to have it on during the whole tefilla in which Kri’at Shema is recited, but other interesting possibilities exist (see the Meshech Chochma, discussed in “Tzitzit” (Cohen) p. 434).
The Maharil is the one who cites the minhag for singles not to cloak themselves in tzitzit and indeed important poskim (including the Mishna Berura 17:10, based on the Ba’er Heitev) have difficulty justifying the minhag. However, the dissenters understood him to say that singles did not wear tzitzit at all. Many (see Tzitz Eliezer XX, 8; “Tzitzit”, pg. 352) understand the Maharil to refer to our minhag of refraining just from a tallit and have no problem with it.
Why, though, would we want (without exploring kabbalistic reasons) to deprive singles of the advantages of wearing a tallit for Shacharit? The Divrei Yatziv (OC 44) posits that since tzitzit pronounce the need to keep all mitzvot and a single man has not fulfilled the mitzva of getting married, withholding the tallit encourages him to marry as soon as possible. Let us suggest another reason. The Radvaz (I, 343) posits that one should cover his head with a tallit during davening (see opinions in Mishna Berura 8:4). He says that if this were not so, we, who weaar tzitzit, would not to wear a tallit. Yet, the Magen Avraham (8:3) says that singles and possibly married men who are not talmidei chachamim should not cover their heads with a tallit (see Kiddushin 29b & 8a), apparently to avoid appearing haughty. If we accept these important poskim’s assumptions,it is pointless for a single man to wear a tallit, which explains the minhag. Despite the different practices regarding married men wearing a tallit over their heads, the minhag for them to wear a tallit is fully accepted.
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