Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The Mishna in M’nachot 4:1 says that the mitzvah of the white tzizit is not gone if there is no techelet, and the mitzvah of the techelet is not gone if there is no white. That seems a straight forward enough statement.

However, the gemorah's reponse to this statement is essentially a "Are you crazy? How could the Mishna say this?" They then comment that "Obviously, they mean if the tzizit are torn or ripped, it doesn't invalidate your tzizit as long as a "tuft" of the blue is remaining, or vice versa. They then go on to ask what the minimum size of tizit must be before they get turned into tufts.

When Techelet no longer became available during the Geonic period, they obviously said it was ok to have tzizit without techelet.

Two questions:

  • What was their rationale, i.e. how did they ignore the Gemora, or is there another gemora which contradicts the Gemora in Manachot?

  • Was the idea of hinuch, so we don't forget about tzizit at all, enough of a reason to possibly violate a Torah commandment of purposefully putting on a four corner garment to put on incomplete tzizit?

The Soncino Translation of the sources: From: http://halakhah.com/pdf/kodoshim/Menachoth.pdf

Our Mishna: Manachot 38a-38b


Relevant lines from our Gemora:

GEMARA. Must we say that our Mishnah is not in accordance with Rabbi? For it was taught: That ye may look upon it, 5 implies that the [absence of] one invalidates the other. So Rabbi. But the Sages say, The [absence of] one does not invalidate the other. What is the reason for Rabbi's view? — Because the text says, The corner, 6 [which implies that the fringes must be] of the same [colour] as that of the corner, 7 and it also says, A blue thread; 6 and then the Divine Law says. ‘That ye may look upon it’, that is, both must be there together as one. But the Rabbis [say]. ‘That ye may look upon it’, signifies each one by itself. Must we then say that [our Mishnah] is not in accordance with Rabbi? — Rab Judah answered in the name of Rab, You may even say that it follows Rabbi's view, for [our Mishnah deals here] only with the question of precedence. As it was taught: The [proper performance of the] precept is to insert 8 the white threads before the blue; but if a man inserted the blue before the white, it is indeed valid, but he has not fulfilled the precept. What is meant by ‘has not fulfilled the precept’? Talmud - Mas. Menachoth 38b Should you say it means that he has not fulfilled the precept of the white [threads] but has fulfilled the precept of the blue, but according to Rabbi the absence of one invalidates the other! 1 — Rab Judah said in the name of Rab, It means that he has not fulfilled the precept and yet has performed the precept, for ‘has not fulfilled the precept’ only means that he has not performed the precept in the best way. This then explains the clause, NEITHER DOES THE WHITE INVALIDATE THE BLUE; 2 but how can one explain the other clause, THE BLUE DOES NOT INVALIDATE THE WHITE? 3 Moreover, 4 it has been reported: Levi once said to Samuel, Arioch, 5 you are not to sit down 6 until you explain to me the following: THE BLUE DOES NOT INVALIDATE THE WHITE, NEITHER DOES THE WHITE INVALIDATE THE BLUE. What does it mean? — He answered, This refers to the fringes in a [white linen] garment; for it is proper to insert the white threads first, since Holy Writ says ‘the corner’, [signifying that the fringes] of the same [colour] as the corner [must be inserted first]; nevertheless, if one inserted the blue first it does not matter. Well, this explains. NEITHER DOES THE WHITE INVALIDATE THE BLUE, but how can one explain, THE BLUE DOES NOT INVALIDATE THE WHITE? — Rami b. Hama answered, The latter rule refers to a garment that is entirely blue, in which case it is proper to insert the blue threads first, since Holy Writ says ‘the corner’, [signifying that the fringes] of the same [colour] as the corner [must be inserted first]; nevertheless, if one inserted the white threads first it does not matter. Raba objected, Does then the colour affect the law? 7 — Raba therefore explained that [our Mishnah] refers to the curtailment of the threads; thus whether the blue [threads] were curtailed and the white remained or the white were curtailed and the blue remained, it does not matter. As the sons of R. Hiyya said, Curtailed blue threads are valid; curtailed hyssop twigs arevalid. What is the minimum length of a curtailed thread? — Bar Hamduri stated in the name of Samuel, There must be sufficient to make a loop therewith. The question was raised: Does ‘sufficient to make a loop’ mean to make a loop of all the threads together, 8 or of each thread separately? — This remains undecided. R. Ashi raised the question: How is it if [the curtailed threads] are so thick that one cannot make a loop with them, although had they been thinner one could have made a loop with them? — R. Aha the son of Raba answered R. Ashi, They are most certainly [valid], since the precept is all the more noticeable thereby. 9 Who is the Tanna that disagrees with Rabbi? 10 — It is the Tanna of the following Baraitha. For it was taught: R. Isaac says in the name of R. Nathan who said it in the name of R. Jose the Galilean and who in turn said it in the name of R. Johanan b. Nuri, If a man has no blue threads he should insert all white threads. 11 Raba said, You can infer from this 12 that one must make a knot after each joint; 13 for should you hold that this is not necessary, then how could the sons of R. Hiyya have said, Curtailed blue threads are valid, also curtailed hyssop twigs are valid? As soon as the upper knot 14 becomes loose it would all become undone! 15 —

Manachot 40a

Our Rabbis taught: A linen garment is, according to Beth Shammai, exempt from zizith; 1 but Beth Hillel declare it liable. 2 The halachah is in accordance with Beth Hillel. R. Eliezer son of R. Zadok said, Is it not a fact that any one in Jerusalem who attaches blue threads [to his linen garment] causes amazement? 3 Rabbi said, If that is so, why did they forbid it? 4 Because people are not versed in the law. 5 Raba son of R. Hanan said to Raba, Then let ten people insert it and let them go about in the market place and so the law will be made known to all! 6 People will wonder at it all the more. 7 Then let it be announced at the public lecture! — It is to be feared that people will use imitation blue. 8 But it is no worse than if it were white! 9 —

share|improve this question
I don't know why you say 'obviously...'; the Baal Hamaor famously did not wear tzitzit because he paskined that techelet is meakeiv. – Double AA Jul 5 '12 at 12:30
@DoubleAA I never understood that... – Hacham Gabriel Jul 5 '12 at 13:33
@HachamGabriel What don't you understand? – Double AA Jul 5 '12 at 18:06
I just noticed that the statement about R. Yitzchak is placed smack in the middle of Rabah's thought... odd. – avi Jul 5 '12 at 19:39
Who says we paskin like Rebbe and not R Yochanan b Nuri? – Double AA Jul 8 '12 at 6:34
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The Maor HaGadol (R' Zerachiah HaLevi) discusses this issue on Shabbat 11b in the pagination of the Rif. He argues that in fact the halacha follows Rebbe and not R Yochanan ben Nuri (RYBN) that tzitzit require both blue and white to be kosher. He makes 3 arguments to this end:

  • RYBN is a lone opinion and the general rule is that the halacha follows Rebbe against lone opponents but not groups.

  • The gemara spends a large amount of time trying to fit the mishna into his opinion, thus indicating that his view is normative. (I think this is your point.)

  • Finally, he found that the mishna which at first glance does not accord with Rebbe's view, is left out of the works of certain Geonim.

The below cited Milchamot notes that R' Zerachiah HaLevi did not wear any tzitzit his whole life because he held like Rebbe in a time when there was no available techelet.

The Milchamot Hashem there (Ramban's critique of the Maor) rejects these arguments.

  • He notes that RYBN is not alone as other Tannaim are cited with him, including R Yose HaGelili, as well as the unattributed question you cite from 40a. (This last point doesn't bug the Maor per se because of differences in the way he understands the sugya of tzitzit on linnen clothing.)

  • Additionally, he notes that the gemara spends so much time fitting Rebbe's opinion into the mishna because Rebbe is the one who compiled the mishna and it is trying to understand why he would have left his own opinion out. This is similar, he says, to the Gemara's attempts on Gittin 4 to establish a certain Mishna like R Meir only because it expects the unattributed Mishna to be in accordance with his opinion, not because it is normative.

  • He notes the custom which he claims dates back beyond the Geonim to wear only white strings when necessary.

  • He notes in addition the gemara's assertion in the view of R Nachman (Menachot 39b) that a silk garment can have "either wool [tzitzit] or linnen [tzitzit]" which implies that it is possible to have tzitzit without and wool ie without any techelet.

Independently, Tosfot (sort of) asks your question on Menachot 38b sv Ela. He too gives the first answer of the Milchamot Hashem, noting as well that R Yose is a teacher of Rebbe, so certainly we follow the opinion of the teacher.

share|improve this answer

The Rambam, in Hilchos Tzitzis (halacha 4) reads ד התכלת, אינו מעכב את הלבן; והלבן, אינו מעכב את התכלת. כיצד: הרי שאין לו תכלת, עושה לבן לבדו; וכן אם עשה לבן ותכלת, ונפסק הלבן, ונתמעט עד הכנף, ונשאר התכלת לבדו--כשר.

The [absence of] techelet does not prevent [the mitzvah from being fulfilled with] the white strands, nor does the [absence of] the white strands prevent [the mitzvah from being fulfilled with] techelet.

What is implied? A person who does not have techelet should make [tzitzit] from white strands alone. Similarly, if [tzitzit] were made from both white strands and techelet, and afterwards, the white strands snapped and were reduced until [they did not extend beyond] the corner [of the garment], and thus only the techelet remained, it is acceptable.

(text from http://mechon-mamre.org/i/2401.htm translation from http://www.tallit-shop.com/halacha-of-tzitzit-rambam/)

The kesef Mishneh explains the logic and I gathered (though I didn't pore over it) that he traces it to the posuk for tzitzis which says that the ptil techeilet is added to what is already an extant "tzitzit" (left column, the pasuk is on the third line http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9713&st=&pgnum=229&hilite= ). The techeilet becomes its own mitzvah. Halacha 9 in perek 1 gives the method for tying plain white threads.

Interestingly, the rambam closes out perek 2 with קשה עונש מי שאינו מניח לבן, יתר מעונש מי שלא הניח תכלת: לפי שהלבן, מצוי לכול; והתכלת, אינה מצויה לכול--לפי שאינה מצויה בכל מקום ולא בכל זמן, מפני הצבע שאמרנו

The punishment given someone who does not wear [tzitzit of white strands] is more severe than that given one who does not wear techelet, because the white strands are easily accessible while techelet is not available in every time and in every era, because of the [unique] dye mentioned above.

this references the braisa on menachos 43b quoting r. Meir which, it seems, shows that the gemara accepted the idea of plain white tzitzis.

share|improve this answer
I feel like you are burying the lead. The only part of this answer that answers my question is the very last line, and I'm a bit curious how this shows that the gemora accepted the idea of plain white tzizit. Rabbi Meir's statement only says that a person who has only techelet on his tzizit is worse than one who has only white on his tzizit, but both are not allowed according to the Gemora. – avi Jul 5 '12 at 15:37
the rambam clearly does not see the "obviously" conclusion which you impute to the gemara -- he takes from the same lashon the possibility of creating from scratch, not applying to remnants. the R. Meir opinion (which states that there is a punishment if one does not wear white and which the rambam explains to mean in the absence of techeilet) and the braisa attributed to R. Yitzchak on 38b (which asserts that white tzitzit are ok in the absence of techeilet) are not contradicted by an explicit opinion saying that all white are NOT ok. – Danno Jul 5 '12 at 16:13
the only time I use the word "obviously" is when I state: "When Techelet no longer became available during the Geonic period, they obviously said it was ok to have tzizit without techelet." So I have no idea what you are talking about. And what is 38b that isn't in your answer at all. The Rambam comes AFTER the geonim, where we allready see people wearing all white tzizit without a problem. I'm asking how they came to that conclusion. R. Meir's opinion is not an opinion it is an agadaic statement. It's worse to not have white than it is to not have techelet. – avi Jul 5 '12 at 16:24
R. Yitchak is the quoted anonymous tanna in the Mishna, he is not an amora, and the talmud just spent a page dissagreeing with him, so I'm even more confused as to what you are saying than before. – avi Jul 5 '12 at 16:29
"They then comment that "Obviously, they mean if the tzizit are torn or ripped". I see no "obviously" which you assert in your restatement of the gemara's response and neither did the rambam. and yes, I went through more and added 38b in the comment. R. Yitzchak is the opinion which argues with rebbi's position as evidenced by the external braisa which states that using only white is kosher. You had asked for other sections of gemara which disagree with what you saw as the position in the mishna. – Danno Jul 5 '12 at 17:03

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.