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Generally speaking, the chuliyot are a constant reminder of the arrangement and system of the three kavin (also called pillars) which G-d established throughout all of creation.

But are they an absolute requirement in tying the tzitzit, meaning that all the windings must form complete chuliyot? Or is this style of tying just considered a more beautiful arrangement?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please remember to edit clarifications into the question and post answers as answers. – Monica Cellio May 22 at 15:18
  • Everyone seems to be missing the point of my question. You are addressing quite well the total number of chuliyot, etc. But my question is if the chuliyot must be 3 windings always, or not. See Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Tzitzit 1:7-8. It seems from Rambam that extra windings (krichot that are in addition to the sets of 3 which are called 'chuliyot') are possibly a problem. Or perhaps, in the words of Rambam, complete chuliyot are "mitzvah min hamuvchar", the most preferred way (only). – Yaacov Deane May 22 at 16:53
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TL;DR: There may not be any obligation of chulios if you are not wearing tekheiles. And when there is an obligation, it's not clear what a chuliah is -- a group of windings of one color or a group of windings separated by knots, and if the latter, whether indeed a chuliah is 3 windings.

Now for the actual answer:

There is a prior complication -- defining a chuliyah. Here's the gemara's description, from Menachos 39a:

וכמה שיעור חוליא? תניא ,רבי אומר כדי שיכרוך וישנה וישלש, תאנא הפוחת לא יפחות משבע, והמוסיף לא יוסיף על שלוש עשרה. הפוחת לא יפחות משבע – כנגד שבעה רקיעים, והמוסיף לא יוסיף על שלש עשרה – כנגד שבעה רקיעין וששה אוירין שביניהם.

And what is the measurement of a chuliyah (link)?

A [beraisa] was repeated: Rebbe would say that it is so that you can wind once, then again, and a third time.

[Another beraisa] was repeated: If you minimize -- do not have less than seven, and if you maximize -- do not have more than thirteen.

If you minimize -- do not have less than seven, corresponding to the seven heavens.

If you maximize -- do not have more than thirteen, corresponding to the seven heavens and the spaces between them.

Most rishonim explain the gemara to mean that one should have 7 to 8 chuliyos, each of three windings.

However, it could be understood that the second beraisa is answering the first question -- the size of a chuliah is 7 to 13 windings, and the number of chuliyos isn't being discussed.

Here's the Raavad on Hilkhos Tzitzis 1:7, quoting Rav Natrunai Gaon:

תב הראב”ד ז”ל /א”א/ זה הסדר אין לו שרש ולא ענף ולמה יותר בתכלת מבלבן שהוא מין כנף וממנו מתחיל ובו מסיים ובכריכותיו הוא ממעט אין זה כי אם שגיון גדול, והגאון רב נטרונאי ז”ל סידר אותו יפה סידור נאה מאד על דרך שאמרה ההלכה, וכמה שיעור חוליא כדי שיכרוך וישנה וישלש אתכלת קאי, ותנא דתנא הפוחת לא יפחות משבעה על הכריכות קאי שהן שלש מן התכלת וארבע מן הלבן מפני שמתחיל בלבן ומסיים בלבן, קושר תחלה סמוך לכנף קשר אחד בחוט לבן ובחוט של תכלת והוא שנקרא קשר העליון ואחר כך כורך שני חוטין אחד של לבן ואחד של תכלת עד שש כריכות והשביעית לבן לבדו וזהו שבע שאמרנו והן חוליא אחת ואלו הכריכות כולן על ששה החוטין המשלשלים והמשולשלים בכנף ובענין זה עושה ה’ קשרים ובין כל קשר וקשר חוליא של שבע כריכות כאשר אמרנו, ונהגו לעשות חוליא אחת בשני קשרים סמוך לכנף ושתי חוליות בסוף הגדיל עם שלשה קשרים ובאמצע כורך בלא דקדוק בין מכונס בין מפוזר בתכלת ולבן עכ”

In short, he has each chuliah being alternating white-blue-white-blue... white -- always begin and end with white, with a minimum of three windings of blue, and therefore 4 of white -- for a minimum total of 7.

The problem with the more common understanding (Rashi, Rambam, Tosafos, Chinukh...) is that 7 to 13 chulios would mean 8 to 14 knots. But the Sifri (and the Tanchuma) famously quoted by Rashi (Bamidbar 15:39), says only 5 knots as part of how the tzitzis remind us to do the mitzvos:

שֶׁמִּנְיַן גִּימַטְרִיָּא שֶׁל צִיצִית שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת, וּשְׁמוֹנָה חוּטִין וַחֲמִשָּׁה קְשָׁרִים הֲרֵי תרי"ג

Because the gemmartria total of tzitzis [90+10+10+400] is 600, with the 8 strings and the 5 knots equals Taryag [the 613 of mitzvos].

Notice there is no problem according to the Raavad and Rav Natrunai Gaon. The gemara doesn't say the number of chulios, so the Sifri's 5 knots can be fulfilled with 5 knots with chulios of 7 to 13 windings between them. Exactly what Ashkenazim and many Sepharadi communities do. (Other Sepharadi communities have 10-5-6-5 windings, where three of them don't reach the minimum. Either they hold that only one chuliyah has to reach the minimum, or they do not hold like this opinion; see the next idea.)

But the Mordechai (on Menachos ad loc) gives another resolution, or at least a temporary avoidance of the problem. He says that chuliyos are a law in tekheiles. If one is wearing white strings, there is no grouping the windings into threes, and no number of groupings. And he holds this is why Rashi and Tosafos tell you to follow the Sifri, and do not say anything on the beraisa we quoted above which would imply otherwise.

And we know Tosafos do NOT hold like the Raavad; they have chulios of three windings white, then three blue, then three white -- each a chuliyah.

Which gives us another potential resolution. If chuliyos are defined by switching colors, one need not begin and end each chuliyah with a knot. And so Rav Amram Gaon only has one double knot, then alternating bands of three windings: blue, white, blue, and so on for 13 windings. (The windings themselves are the outside of a different kind of knot, in case you're wondering how they stay with no knot at the bottom.) A simple solution if you follow the gemara to the exclusion of the Sifri.

The Chinuch and the Tosafos each describe ways of breaking up the chulios into groups with 5 double knots. Because they hold chuliyos are three windings of the same color. Which really justifies the Mordechai's position that there is no need for chuliyos without tekheiles -- you can't switch colors when all the windings are white!

One last approach (which is two) to chuliyos is the Rambam's. He defines chuliyos as being separated by knots.

The Yemenites understand the Rambam as ignoring the Sifri and therefore has no conflict to deal with. Which could well be; he gives special authority to the Mishnah, Tosafta, Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Bavli over Chazal's other works like the Sifri. And so they have a double knot, 13 chulios of windings that are the outside of their own knots, and then a double knot. There are bapts between the chulios. The first winding of the first chuliah and the last winding of the bottom one are white.

The Baal haTanya implemented the Rambam's idea by implementing two kinds of knots. The Sifri is taken as describing 5 double knots. These are separated by 7, 8, 11, and 13 windings, respectively, as per normal Ashkenazi custom. BUT, on the side of the windings is a "daisy chain", the "shamash" string loops back every third winding to group them into chuliyos. This means: knot - 3, 3, 1 - knot - 2, 3, 3 - knot - 3, 3, 3, 2 - knot - 1, 3, 3, 3, 3 - knot

Notice that two of the chulios are not in a single side-knot, but are split by double knots.

  • You missed some options. Tosfot isn't missing the 5 knots. Tosfot says tying for each Chuliya means 1 knot for Chuliyot of both colors. Then 7 Chuliyot is exactly 5 knots. The other option there is the top knot is a double knot and the bottom one is a triple knot. After all it's 5 knots not 5 double knots. – Double AA May 21 at 19:28
  • @DoubleAA what you are talking about is what I tried to say in the paragraph that opens “The Chinuch and the Tosafos...” I didn’t know the last one -2 knots of 5 oarts. source? – Micha Berger May 21 at 19:45
  • But the chinukh uses 13. I thought you were just talking about where to put 5 knots among 13 Chuliyot, not a principled rule of tying after 1 of each. My understanding above would indeed obligate 8 knots if using 13 Chuliyot, whereas the Chinukh would say always have 5 and just distribute them in some manner. – Double AA May 21 at 19:47
  • The same Tosfot וכן נוהג רבינו תם לעשות אותן ה' קשרים ב' בסמוך לטלית וג' סמוך לפתיל משום מעלין בקדש ולא מורידין really a beautiful solution – Double AA May 21 at 19:52
  • @MichaBerger I see you are avoiding the whole subject of a distinction being made between tallit gadol & tallit katan. I have been looking over Halachot Katanot from Rabbeinu Asher ben Yechiel & also Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman who seem to note the distinction I brought from Rabbi Shalom Messas z”l in my comments to Sam. Any thoughts? Good answer by the way. – Yaacov Deane May 21 at 21:21
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At least one chulya of 3 is a necessary requirement. The Gemara explains this explicitly that one chulya is necessary and a chulya is defined as 3 wrappings (whether they have to be complete wrappings or just look like 3 is a discussion in the poskim). Seven is the preffered minimum and thirteen is the maximum amount. (Simple reading of the gemara is the 7 and 13 numbers are referring to chuliyos,however see Tosfos which indicate a minimum for krichos).

Text of the Menachos 39a:

ואפילו לא כרך בה אלא חוליא אחת כשרה ונויי תכלת שליש גדיל ושני שלישי ענף וכמה שיעור חוליא תניא רבי אומר כדי שיכרוך וישנה וישלש תאנא הפוחת לא יפחות משבע והמוסיף לא יוסיף על שלש עשרה הפוחת לא יפחות משבע כנגד שבעה רקיעים והמוסיף לא יוסיף על שלש עשרה כנגד שבעה רקיעין וששה אוירין שביניהם

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