Shabbat Parashat Ki Teitzei| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Checking tallit
Question: A non-regular to our shul, who came without a tallit, was brought a shul tallit. The guest proceeded to check each tzitzit, counting the knots and the individual strands before putting on the tallit. 1) Is it proper to do such an examination on Shabbat? 2) Isn’t this discourteous?
Answer: We will answer this question on a few levels, starting with the most basic.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 8:9) rules that one should check that his tzitzit strings are kosher (and did not rip) before making the beracha to avoid possibly uttering a beracha l’vatala (of no value). There a few indications that this is more of an act of piety than a real halachic obligation and might only apply if one has to make a beracha on this tallit (see discussion and applications in Bach, OC 8 and Mishna Berura 8:22). The reason the check is not absolutely required is that there is a chazaka (a presumption based on status quo and/or experience) that the tzitzit remain kosher. On the other hand, there is a rule that we prefer not relying on a chazaka when one can easily check (see Pri Megadim, MZ 8:8). Yet, if one checked the tzitzit before putting them away, he need not check the next morning because the likelihood of change is too remote (Magen Avraham 8:11).
Nowadays, few people check their tzitzit daily, (which is why you were taken aback), a phenomenon that Rav O. Yosef (Yechave Daat VI, 1) justifies. Possibly, our tzitzit are stronger or there are fewer things that can rip them than in the past. If this is the reason, it makes a lot of sense to check a shul tallit, as experience shows that such tallitot are often not checked for a long time and have many ripped strings. Since a guest has no way of knowing, one can argue that he is actually required to check before putting them on with a beracha. The guidelines of how to check (some disqualifications are uncommon and not every imperfection renders the tallit unfit- see Magen Avraham 8:11 and Shulchan Aruch, OC 12) are beyond our present scope.
There is no halachic prohibition to check tzitzit on Shabbat. The Biur Halacha (to OC 13:2) just discusses what you gain by doing so when it is not possible to fix them on Shabbat. He says that at the very least, it will stop one from making a beracha l’vatala if they end up being unfit.
Based on the above, the guest followed the preferred approach of the classical halachic sources and, from your perspective, should be seen as acting honorably.
This matter has a flipside, which we intend for those who are in the guest’s, not the observers’, predicament. The Rabbis were often concerned (see 4th perek of Pesachim) lest people act in a manner that could upset others, especially in the context of religious observance. Since few people check their tzitzit and since a guest should avoid doing things that give the impression of disrespect of a host shul, the question is whether one who is strict about checking tzitit has alternatives when he feels this might be the case. Two options are to be discreet or to rely on the lenient opinions, but there is another one.
Wearing a tallit is not necessary in order to fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit when one is wearing the “small tzitzit.” Although putting on a tallit with a beracha requires owning the tallit, one can do so with a shul tallit (Mishna Berura 14:11), either because a public tallit might be jointly owned or he has permission to acquire it to fulfill the mitzva (Biur Halacha to OC 14:3). However, many have the minhag not to make a beracha on it (see Mishneh Halachot IX,234) and would thus not have in mind to acquire the tallit. The matter of joint ownership is also very questionable in our case, certainly regarding a guest to shul. Those who do not make the beracha are neither obligated in nor fulfill the mitzva and thus have no need to check the tzitzit. This is, in our opinion, from the perspective of a guest who thinks of asking, better than making a spectacle that people in shul (rightly or wrongly) are insulted by.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
Yitzchak Eliezer ben
Avraham Mordechai Jacobson
This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of