The Comprehensive Tekhelet Tying Guide

Tekhelet Tying FAQ

(1)           How many strings of tekhelet per corner are to be used?

(a)    According to Tosafot (and Rashi), of the four strings placed on a corner, two are to be blue and two are to be white (resulting in four blue and four white strings when the strings are folded through the corner hole).

Rabeinu Tam – 2 long strings folded in half yields 4 strings after being tied

  (b)    According to the Rambam, of the four strings placed on a corner, only one half of one string is to be blue and the remaining three and a half strings are to be white (resulting in one blue and seven white strings when the strings are folded through the corner hole).

1 string folded in 1/2 yields only one string out of 8 as Tekhelet

  (c)    The Raavad takes issue with this and holds that of the four strings placed on a corner, one is to be blue and three are to be white (resulting in two blue and six white strings when the strings are folded through the corner hole).

1 string folded in 2 yiels 2 string out of 8 as Tekhelet

Does One Opinion Prevent Fulfillment Of The Mitzvah According To The Other

Now given that Tosafot demands two full strings of tekhelet, by putting on less (as per Rambam orRaavad), Tosafot would hold that one did not fulfill the mitzvah of tekhelet.  On the other hand, the Rambam seems to be of the opinion that if there are non-white strings in the core of the tzitzit (as per Raavad or Tosafot) then one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of white (according to specific reading of the Rambam – www.tekhelet.com/pdf/ra02.pdf). There are a number of ways to deal with this makhloket.  The conservative approach would be to follow the Rambam.  For if he is wrong then one still fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzit but is just lacking in completing tekhelet; however, if he is right and one put more than half a string of tekhelet, one may not fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit (as mentioned above).  Alternatively, one can follow his tradition, which is what Rav Schachter of YU suggests in his article on the subject  Tekhelet: Renaissance of a Mitzvah.  He explains that the vast majority of Ashkenazi poskim hold like Tosafot and thus Ashkenazim should use two full blue strings per corner.  Nevertheless, the Vilna Gaon holds like the Raavad and this opinion has provided support for Ashkenazim to wear one blue string on each corner. And finally, many Ashkenazim nonetheless follow the Rambam due to the logic behind his reasoning (see R. Rock, www.tekhelet.com/pdf/rak.pdf, and R. Rappaport,www.tekhelet.com/pdf/ra02.pdf).  Furthermore R. Dov Lior (Kiryat Arba) and R. Rabinovitch (Maale Adumim) explain that when there is not a mesorah of a psak then we should follow the Rambam.

What is the most popular “number of strings” method: Rambam, Raavad,Tosafot?

According to our sales figures averaged over the past twelve months: 25% wear Rambam; 73% wear Raavad; 2% wear Tosafot.  (The majority figure for Raavad is in part due to the fact that this is the Amuta’s “default”.  The small percentage of Tosafot sets could in part be due to the fact that they cost twice as much as the other methods)  

(2)           According to which method is one to tie?

This makhloket is far less charged than that of how many strings of tekhelet to use [see FAQ ‎(1)] because all the various methods fulfill the biblical requirements of a) a kesher elyon – upper knot and  b) one “chulya” of three winds.

A chulya of 3 wrappings

Upper knot – kesher elyon

The reason for all the various tying methods is due to the paucity of tying instruction in the Gemara.  There are only about five statements which describe specifically how to tie – and all of the methods answer to these descriptions (see  guide to tying).  R. H. Schachter holds that everyone (Ashkenazim and Sefaradim) should tie according to the Rambam because he has the oldest tradition.  Personally, I believe in consistency of method (i.e., tying method should match number of blue strings), for the method of tying gives expression to the logic behind the number of strings of tekhelet used.  For example, the Rambam has all the winds blue because he held that the blue string played the functional role of wrapping.  Tosafot, on the other hand, held that the blue and white were two equal parts of the one mitzvah and were to be expressed equally – thus 2 strings of blue and 2 strings of white, and thus the wrappings are basically distributed equally between blue and white.

(3)           Which tying method is preferred for Ashkenazim?

If you have Tosafot strings (i.e., 2 blue, 2 white) you should tie like Tosafot.  If you have the Raavad strings (i.e., 1 blue, three white) you can tie like the Vilna Gaon, or like the Raavad, or like the Sefer HaHinuch (R. Tavger’s preference).

Opinion of the Chinuch

R. Shachter holds that Ashkenaimshould use two full strings (like Tosafot) and tie according to the his combined methodology (see Shachter’s method here).  Though it should be noted that R. Dov Lior issued a written psak stating that both Ashkenazim and Sefaradim should use the method of the Rambam (for number of strings and tying method shown here).

(4)           Which tying method is preferred for Sefaradim?

R. Dov Lior gave a written psak that one should tie according to the Rambam, both for Ashkenazim and Sefaradim

Opinion of the Rambam

(5)           Is one tie method preferred for a Talit Katan and different one for a Talit Gadol?

There is no preference of tying method with respect to the type of garment.  I have seen people tie different garments with different methods; I have even seen someone tie a different method on each corner of the same garment.  I prefer consistency and so I would select one method for all garments.

(6)           I currently tie white tzitzit using the “7,8,11,13” method, how should I tie tekhelet?

The way one ties tekhelet has really nothing to do with the way one ties white.  There are many different ways to tie white only strings, and they are all essentially based on the fact that tekhelet was lost.  The Gemara provides a number of instructions on how to tie with tekhelet, and from these few remarks, the poskim throughout the generations have derived various methods our  guide to tying.  They all fulfill the words of the Gemara and they all fulfill the mitzvah as required by the Torah.  If you would like to stay as close to the common white method (7,8,11,13), I would suggest using the method of the Radzyner/Chabad.

(7)           Is there an “Arizal” method for tying tekhelet?

The Arizal provided a method for tying white strings which is the basis for the popular “7,8,11,13” method of tying white strings.  He also mentions that there are “chulyot”, upon which the BaalHaTanya derives the method of grouping the 7,8,11,13 wraps in to sets of three winds.  TheRadzyner Rebbi, adopted this method when using tekhelet, by requiring that one make the first wind and the last wind white and all the rest blue (as per one reading of the Gemara inMenachot).  As such, it can be said that the “Arizal” method (as interpreted by the Baal Hatanyaand the Radzyner) is as shown in my diagram entitled “Radzyn/Chabad“.

Opinion of the Ari used by Radzyn- similar in the number of wraps and knots

(8)           How do you divide 7, 8, 11, 13 wraps into groups of 3?

The method of tying 7,8,11,13 is one which was introduced after the loss of tekhelet (i.e., there is no mention of it in the Gemara).  Many “reminders” were introduced into tying tzitzit to compensate for the lack of tekhelet – what the Ramban calls “the essential reminder”.  So for example, we have the 5 knots, which is something introduced by the Midrash Tanhuma (closed circa 750 BCE – approximately 200 years after the redaction of the Gemara which makes no mention of 5 knots).  This Midrash is brought by Rashi on the Humash where he explains that 5 knots, along with the 8 strings and the 600 gematria value of the word “tzitzit” serves as a reminder of the 613 mitzvot (see also Tosafot [Men. 39a, lo]).  (The Radvaz [6:2] explains the 5 knots along with the four strings add to 13, which is gematria “echad”). Again this is something necessary when one doesn’t have the color of God’s throne (kisa hakavod) – though others hold they are of necessity even with tekhelet ( SEE PICTURES ABOVE) (see Radzyner, Sifrei HaTekhelet, Ptil Tekhelet, pp. 130-2).  A similar argument can be made for the method of winding.  The Gemara states that one must make chulyot (groupings) of 3 winds each; and that one should make between 7 and 13 chulyot.  R. H. Schachter writes that the method of tying 7,8,11,13 was merely a reminder of how we used to tie when we had tekhelet.  Also interesting to note is that if one ties according to the Gemara – 13 chulyot of 3 winds each – one arrives at 39 windings in total, precisely the same as tying 7+8+11+13 (=39). The Radzyner believed that the requirement for 5 knots was of ancient origin as is the requirement to wrap chulyot of three winds.  As such, he (as well as the Baal HaTanya) integrated the two requirements which he states should be done even without tekhelet.  What they did was to loop the shamash around (ideally) every three winds, thus demarcating “chulyot”.  Of course one runs into a problem when needing to tie a knot after 7 winds (seven not being evenly divisible by 3).  Consequently the method requires one to break up the groupings of three winds when going around one of the 5 knots.  (For simplicity’s sake we will discount the issue of wrapping the whiteshamash for the moment, which will be discussed in the next paragraph).  As such, you start off with a double knot, you wrap 3 winds and loop the shamash [1st chulya], then wrap another 3 winds and loop the shamash [2nd chulya], then wrap 1 wind [to complete the requisite 7 winds] and tie a double knot.  Now you wrap 2 winds [to complete the “3rd” chulya that was started with the 1 wind before the double knot].  This continues for the reset of the windings, breaking up the triplets around the double knots (as shown in the “Radzyn/Chabad” diagram). Another idiosyncrasy of the method is the use of white for the initial and final windings.  The Gemara states that one is to begin with white and end with white.  This has been variously interpreted as can be seen from all the differing methods of tying.  The Radzyner adopted the Rambam’s approach which calls for all the windings to be tekhelet except for the very first and very last winding.  Thus, after the initial double knot, one make a single wind of white, looping this white shamash though itself.  Then two winds of blue are made wrapping the blue shamashthrough the loops.  These three winds together are considered the first “chulya”.  (See the “Radzyn/Chabad” diagram for details).

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Technical Tying Complications

(9)           Why does a chulya look like two winds with a half on the top and a half on the bottom?

Two full winds and one half at the top and one half at the bottom is the way three full winds will look – the alternative is to have 3 full winds with halves at the bottom and top which would make a total of 4 winds. The truth is that it is very difficult to get precisely three full winds when coming out of a double knot or going into a double knot.  However, it is my opinion that, the Gemara’s requirement that achulya be 3 winds is a directive for action to be taken by the person wrapping and not necessarily a statement on how the final product is to appear.  That is to say, the tier is required to wrap the shamash around the core strings three times, this may however result in a chulya looking like two-and-a-half wraps or even three-and-a-half, depending on where the string started or ended.  My understanding is based on the words of the Gemara (Men. 39a) which are as follows: “And what is the measurement of a chulya? We learned in a Braita, Rebbe says so that you wind once, then again, and a third time.”   Note that Rebbe doesn’t say – “so that you have three winds”, but rather directs the action of the tier “you wind…”.  Furthermore, the point is emphasized by the laborious wording “wind once, and again, and a third time”, instead of simply saying “wind three times.”

(10)       What if a chulya looks like one full wind with a half on the top and a half on the bottom?

In the case where you have only one full wind with a half at the top and a half at the bottom – thus making a total of two full winds, this would be not make a full chulya (which according to the Gemara is 3 full winds).  Nevertheless it is not critical to retie for a number of reasons: (a)    According to the Gemara, to fulfill the biblical obligation of tzitzit (i.e., to be “yotzei de’orayta) only one chulya of three winds is required – out of 13 chulyot you will obviously have more than three winds in the total. (b)    The braita states that the number of full chulyot is to be between 7 and 13.  This is considered a Rabbinic dictum for which you most likely fulfill the minimum requirement of 7 full chulyot (out of the total 13 tied). If either (a) or (b) is not fulfilled, then you should retie your chulyot.

(11)       Is there a problem if the windings of a chulya are not tightly abutting each other?

There is no stated requirement on how tight the winds within a chulya must be.  The only requirement is that one be able to distinguish between one chulya and the next.  When using any of the methods which alternate colors between chulyot (Gr”a, Hinuch, Tosafot, Amram Gaon), they are easily identified because they alternate between white chulyot and blue chulyot.  For methods that use only blue chulyot (Rambam, Radzyn) this is more problematic, however, given that eachchulya is demarcated or knotted in itself, does provide some distinction.

(12)       How do you explain R. Schachter’s method?

R. Schachter holds that Ashkenazim should follow Tosafot with regard to the Tosafot opinion of the number of strings – i.e., Ashkenazim, according to R. Schachter, should use two blue and two white strings on each corner.  However, when discussing the method of tying, he believes that everyone (Ashkenazim and Sefaradim alike) should use the method put forth by the Rambam. Thus, confusion number one is due to the fact that R. Schachter’s method is really the combination of two methods for two separate issues concerning the one mitzvah of tzitzit – i.e., number of strings like Tosafot, method of tying like Rambam. Confusion number two arises from R. Schachter’s reading of the Rambam as opposed to the tradition the Yemenites (Teimanim) carry.  The Rambam explains, in very general terms, to make a hulya of three wraps, make a knot, give some distance and make the next hulya, etc. (Hil. Tzitz. 1:7 – see here).  The Yemenites have a tradition for tying according to the Rambam which they have preserved for centuries, for they have used it even for tying only white (as prescribed by the Rambam) – this method is shown in my diagram for the Rambam (see here).  R. Schachter, on the other hand, read the Rambam and said, “‘knot’, the simplest knot I know is a double knot, and that also produces the space between hulyot defined by the Rambam” – this I know from personal conversations between R. Schachter and members of our Amuta (organization). If you would like to follow R. Schachter I suggest you follow the diagram as I show it here.