Tzizit on a synthetic garment

Poskim were divided regarding the question whether a synthetic garment requires tzitzit, and if a bracha should be recited over such tzitzit.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Judaism סט פניני הלכה
סט פניני הלכה
פלאש 90

What is the Segulah of Israel?

On Hanukkah, I wrote an article about the segulah (special virtue) of Israel, described by Maran HaRav Kook (Orot Ha’Techiya) as the pure oil found by the Hasmoneans in the Mikdash (Holy Temple) that the Gentiles did not have power over, and from its power, at that time redemption flourished, and continues to blossom today. This segulah is also reflected in Jews who are mistaken in their actions and opinions, as long as in general, they are desirous of Israel’s good and tikun olam (perfection of the world).

And I explained that this segulah is expressed in “the deep desire to demand justice and truth, to add goodness and blessing to the world, and continue ascending in this endlessly… even modern-day Jews, scientists and activists working for the tikun (perfection) of society, their main goal to contribute to the well-being of humanity, in this way, are following in the path of our forefathers.”

Professor Sabin’s Remarks

As a supplement to this, Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of the Kerem Be’Yavneh Yeshiva, sent me two quotes to express this idea. One is a press interview conducted by Raphael Bashan with Professor Sabin, who defeated polio through the serum he developed, for which he won the Nobel Prize.

Professor Sabin was not connected to Torah, and it seems that he was even married to a Gentile. He said he had never been mistaken about the identity of Jewish scientists at international scientific conferences, and this, according to their willingness to volunteer in projects to aid failed states and societies. The Jews were always the first and most numerous of all scientists. End of quote. How superb: as long as Jewish identity is maintained, the desire to offer help to others is also preserved!

Freud’s Words

The second quote is from the renowned Jewish psychologist Sigmund Freud. In his introduction to the Hebrew translation of his book ‘Totem and Taboo’, Freud wrote of himself: “No reader of [the Hebrew version of] this book will find it easy to put himself in the emotional position of an author who is ignorant of the language of holy writ, who is completely estranged from the religion of his fathers-as well as from every other religion-and who cannot take a share in nationalist ideals, but who has yet never repudiated his people, who feels that he is in his essential nature a Jew and who has no desire to alter that nature. If the question were put ·to him: ‘Since you have abandoned all these common characteristics of your countrymen, what is there left to you that is Jewish?’ he would reply: ‘A very great deal, and probably its very essence.’ He could not now express that essence clearly in words; but some day, no doubt, it will become accessible to the scientific mind.”

Freud, the eminent scholar of the human psyche, believed that Jewish identity was perhaps the main component of his personality, but was unable to express its essence, and at the same time, believed that the central place of Jewish identity could not be ignored, and that almost certainly in the future, it would be researched and given a scientific definition.

The Leader of ‘Agudah’ on the Value of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

In the weeks before Hanukkah, I wrote about the value of the general mitzvot, including the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and the mitzvah of serving in the army, both of which are above and beyond private mitzvot, or as our Sages said about the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, that it is equivalent to all the mitzvot, as well as milchemet mitzvah (a war commanded by the Torah) to save Israel from the hands of her enemies.

Also in connection to this I received an enlightening response from Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg shlita, which included words written by the leader of ‘Agudat Yisrael’ during the times of the establishment of the state, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin, who was the first Minister of Welfare in the first government, and brother-in-law of the then Rebbe of Gur.

 He addressed a letter to the rabbis of ‘Agudah’, writing: “We have made a big mistake in considering the building and settlement of the Land of Israel as another normal mitzvah, and did pay attention that the Land of Israel is the heart of all Judaism, and all the scattered Jews, from all corners of the earth, are gathered and concentrated in it … only we have neglected the King’s metropolis, and did not make the proper and necessary efforts to instill the spirit of the ‘Agudat Yisrael’ idea in Eretz Yisrael… To the same extent, we have not understood that the main effect of ‘Agudat Yisrael’ needs to, and must be, concentrated in Eretz Yisrael … and it should be the torch of light to enlighten the entire Diaspora … It seems that we have come to terms with the idea that the building of Eretz Yisrael is the role of the Zionists and the ‘Mizrachim’, and ‘Agudat Yisrael’ merely serves the function of some type of a company to strengthen religion, etc. (“A Time for Action to Save the Jewish People”, Haim Shalem, 2007, pg.35).

The Existential Importance of the Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz

It is worth adding that when the new waves of immigration to Israel began, about a hundred and thirty years ago, the size of the Jewish people was equal to that of the Arabs, namely, the Jewish population of the entire world numbered close to 11 million, and the entire Arab population, from Morocco to Iraq, all speakers of Arabic, also numbered approximately 11 million. Thanks to worldwide economic prosperity, the Arab population has grown to over 400 million, whereas our people, who did not immigrate to Israel en masse, and endured harsh persecution – the Communist revolution, the Holocaust, and assimilation – number today about 14 million recognized Jews, and perhaps even a similar number of Jews who, due to the persecution, hid their Jewishness, to the point where they almost forgot they were Jewish.

Had we merited fulfilling the mitzvah equivalent to all the mitzvot, and now we can also understand why, we would have immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, settled it, and today, merited to become a great and numerous nation in the State of Israel on both sides of the Jordan, and our national, religious, and security situation would be far better than it is today. Moreover, everything that we have today, is thanks to those who immigrated to the country with self-sacrifice, and fulfilled the mitzvah.

Synthetic Tzitzit Distributed in the Army

Q: I heard that there are problems with the tzitzit that are distributed in the army, because they are made of synthetic material. Are they ‘kosher’ according to halakha, and can a bracha (blessing) be made over them?

A: Let’s start with the basics: Any garment that has four corners requires tzitzit. Indeed, there are poskim who are of the opinion that only a garment made out of wool or linen is obligated from the Torah, and garments made from any other material is obligated from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) (Rif, Rambam, and S. A. 9:1), while others say that all garments are obligated from the Torah (Tosafot, Rosh, and R’ma). In any case, whether the obligation is from the Torah or from Divrei Chachamim, one is obligated to place tzitzit on any garment, no matter the material it is made of, and recite a bracha over them when worn.

A Synthetic Garment

However, a leather garment is exempt from tzitzit, because it is not made by weaving as clothing is, rather, it is made out of one surface (S. A. 10:4; Levush, Shulchan Aruch HaRav). Also, nylon sheeting from which an apron or covering is made to protect workers while at their job, is exempt from tzitzit.

Some poskim say that a garment made of synthetic fiber is exempt from tzitzit, since it could have been made as a single casting like leather (Mahari Shteif 28; Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 2:1). However, in the opinion of the majority of Achronim, there is a difference between a leather garment, and a garment made of synthetic fiber. Leather is inherently not made like a garment, because it has no fibers, therefore, it is exempt from tzitzit.

However, when a garment is made from synthetic fiber, it is obligated in tzitzit (Har Tzvi 1: 9). But as far as reciting a bracha is concerned, some poskim had reservations, and due to the safek (doubt), they instructed not to recite a bracha on such a garment (Tzitz Eliezer 12: 3; Ohr L’Tziyon 2:3).

However, in the opinion of most poskim, a bracha should be recited over tzitzit placed on a garment made of synthetic material (Rabbi Aurbach ztz”l in She’elot Shlomo 3:17; HaRav Eliyahu ztz”l in Ma’amar Mordechai, Yamot Ha’Chol 7: 67-68; Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, shlita in Milumdei Milchama 112, who testified that this was also the opinion of Rabbi Heinkin ztz”l).

Synthetic Fabric has become Standard

All the more so today should a bracha be recited over tzitzit placed on a synthetic garment, because over the decades, since the debate about synthetic garments began, the production of synthetic material has greatly improved. In the past, they were of poor quality – they were not warm enough in the winter, and caused sweating in the summer – only because of their low price was it used to make cheap clothing. In the meantime, however, their quality has improved amazingly, and today, quality clothing is made from it, sometimes even considered finer clothing than those made from natural materials.

In practice, when discussions about synthetic clothing began, only a small percent of the clothing was made from synthetic materials, and they were worse looking than other clothing. But today, more than 70 percent of the world’s manufactured threads are made of synthetic material, and the majority of the world’s garments are made from synthetic materials, thus a typical piece of clothing is made from synthetic material.

Therefore, a garment made of synthetic thread is considered a garment for all intents and purposes, and there is no safek one should recite a bracha over tzitzit placed on such a garment.

Tzitzit in the Army

Most of the tzitzit currently distributed in the army are from dri-fit fabric, which is a synthetic fabric woven by special technology, and used to make sports activity clothing. Its main advantage is that it is aerated and evaporates sweat, and therefore, is comfortable and pleasing to soldiers, and serves both as an undershirt, and a tallit katan.

These tzitziot arrived to the army with the help of Rabbi Yedidya Atlas (IDF Rabbi, res.). During Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’, when the soldiers spent long days in the field unable to wash or change clothes, sweat eroded the tzitziyot, and the army had to dispose of 10,000 tzitziyot. It was then that the initiative was made to produce talitot katanot from dri-fit.

In any event, these talitot are ‘kosher’ without safek for reciting a bracha. In addition, the army also distributes talitot made of cotton, and of course, there is no safek about them as well.

Mesh Tallit

In Judaica stores another type of tallit katan is sold, which is made of polyester, mesh material. In the distant past the army may have distributed them, but for at least twenty years, they are no longer distributed.

Regarding such mesh talitot, a more considerable safek arose, as they are not made like other garments woven from threads, but from cast threads. Nonetheless, in the responsa ‘Az Nidbaru’ (7: 52), Rabbi Binyamin Silber is of the opinion that one should recite a bracha over them, since in practice, they are made as a garment that has threads. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Rabinovich shlita. And although their reasoning seems compelling, since many poskim had their doubts about this, in practice, it is correct not to recite a bracha over them. This is what I wrote in ‘Peninei Halakha: Likutim Aleph’ 1:8, footnote 6.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.