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There is a law in the torah (and the meforshiim afterwards) to attach tzitzit to all four cornered garments that you will wear.

Ok. I understand that.

But where did it come to pass that some people say one is required to wear tzitzit?

If I am not wearing a four corned garment, why should I go out of my way to acquire one?

Is it a halachic obligation to? or is this just custom?

7

Very, very strong custom and halachic preference. Gemara says someone who wheedles his way out of a mitzva (e.g. by actively rounding the corners of his garment) is someone who, when Hashem gets angry, well watch out. More here. And specifically about tzitzis, here.

It's such an easy mitzva to do that why avoid it? Standard Jewish practice has become long ago to give ourselves the opportunity for one more mitzva.

Shortly before his death the Vilna Gaon cried that a mitzva like tzitzis only takes a couple of kopeks (well dollars today), but once we pass on there are no more chances to do mitzvahs.

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    The Gemara is talking about doing something active (as you say, rounding the corners of your garment) to get out of performing a mitzvah. Naftali is asking about our situation today, where all of our clothing comes pre-made without any corners at all. Must one go out of his way to acquire a special undershirt with corners, just so he can affix tzitzis to them? – user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 15:33
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    "It's such an easy mitzva to do that why avoid it?" Again, avoidance implies action (like modifying existing clothing to exempt it from needing tzitzis). This is merely "shev, v'al taaseh". A Jewish man who wears modern day clothing with no corners on it, violates nothing by not going out and buying a strange looking undershirt, just to have something that needs tzitzis. – user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 16:14
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    Minhag. Shel. Yisrael. – Shalom Dec 19 '11 at 16:41
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    Some argue that wearing an Italian black felt hat is "minhag Yisrael" Others would tell you that speaking Yiddish qualifies. The question asks "Is it a halachic obligation to [wear tzitzis undershirt]? or is this just custom?" I'm saying it's not a halachic obligation. You come back with, it's a custom. Can you admit, to answer the question, that there is no "halahic preference" to wear the undershirt? – user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 17:08
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    @Will. This minhag is in Shulchan Aruch and has been accepted by the entire observant population. That has halachic force. There still remains a halachic preference as well -- just as there is the "halachic preference" to do as many mitzvahs as we can. – Shalom Dec 19 '11 at 17:42
7

This is addressed explicitly by the major codes in the last siman of hilchot tzitzit.

Tur O.C. 24

אע"פ שאין אדם חייב לקנות טלית בת ארבע כנפות כדי שיתחייב בציצית אלא דוקא אם רוצה להתכסות בטלית בת ד' כנפות חייב להטיל בה ציצית מ"מ טוב ונכון להיות כל אדם זהיר וזריז במצות ציצית שיהיה לו בגד קטן מצוייץ שילבש אותו כל היום כי עיקר מצותה על זכירת המצות ובכל שעה ובכל רגע צריך לכך

Even though a man is not obligated to acquire a garment of four corners in order to make himself obligated in tzitzit, rather it is only if he wishes to cover himself with a garment of four corners that he is obligated to attach tzitzit to it, nevertheless it is good and proper for every man to be careful and punctilious in the commandment of tzitzit – he should have a small garment with tzitzit that he wears the entire day, because the main commandment is about remembering the [other] commandments and this is something that is needed every moment.

Shulchan Aruch O.C. 24:1

אם אין אדם לובש טלית בת ארבע כנפות אינו חייב בציצית וטוב ונכון להיות כל אדם זהיר ללבוש טלית קטן כל היום כדי שיזכור המצות בכל רגע

If a man does not wear a garment of four corners he is not obligated in tzitzit. But it is good and proper for every man to be careful to wear a small garment the entire day in order to remember the commandments at every moment.

Levush O.C. 24:1

אעפ"י שכבר אמרנו דציצית חובת גברא הוא אין פירושו לומר שחייב כל איש ואיש לקנות לו טלית בת ארבע כנפות ולעשות בו ציצית וללובשו שאין זה משמעות הכתוב אלא הכי פירוש המקראות של ועשו להם ציצית על כנפי בגדיהם וכן גדילים תעשה לך על ארבע כנפות כסותך שאם רוצה אדם ללבוש ולכסות בבגד שיש בו ד' כנפות חייב לעשות בו ציצית ואם לובשו ואינו עושה בהם ציצית הרי עבר מצות עשה ונענש אבל אם יש לו בגד של ארבע כנפות והוא מונח בתיבה אינו חייב לעשות בו ציצית רק כשלובשו ועל זה אמרנו דציצית חובת גברא הוא הג"ה ועיין לעיל סימן י"ט סעיף א' אבל אם ירצה האדם לעשות כל מלבושיו באופן שלא יהיה בהם ארבע כנפות ולכסות בהן הרשות בידו ובאופן זה יפטר אפילו כל ימיו ממצות ציצית אלא שמפסיד אותו השכר בעולם הבא שהיה מקבל אם היה לובש ציצית שיש בה חמשה לשונות למצות עשה והם ועשו להם ציצית וגו' ונתנו על ציצית הכנף וגו' וראיתם אותו וגו' והיה לכם לציצית וגו' גדילים תעשה לך וגו' לפיכך טוב ונכון ומוטל על כל אדם לקיים מצות ציצית רצה לומר שיקנה לו טלית בת ארבע כנפות ויעשה בו ציצית וילבשנו בכל יום לשם מצוה ויקבל שכר שקיים ה' מצות עשה שאמרנו ויהיה זהיר וזריז שיהיה לו בגד קטן מצוייץ שילבש אותו כל היום כדי שיזכור כל המצות בכל שעהא ובכל רגע

Even though we have already said that tzitzit is an obligation of the person, this does not mean that each and every man is obligated to acquire a garment of four corners and make tzitzit on it and wear it, as this is not the implication of the verse(s). Rather, the explanation of the verses "ועשו להם ציצית על כנפי בגדיהם" and "גדילים תעשה לך על ארבע כנפות כסותך" is that if a man wants to wear and cover himself with a garment of four corners, he must make tzitzit on it. And if he wears it without making tzitzit on it he has violated a positive commandment and will be punished. But if he has a garment of four corners but it is sitting in a box, he is not obligated to make tzitzit on it unless he wears it. This is what we meant by "tzitzit is an obligation of the person". (Gloss: See earlier 19:1.) But if a man wishes to make all of his clothes in such a way that they will not have four corners and cover [himself] with them, he is allowed to do so. And in this manner he can exempt himself from the commandment of tzitzit even for his entire life, except that he will lose out the reward in the world-to-come that he would have received if he had worn tzitzit which has five terminologies of positive commandment, and they are:

  1. ועשו להם ציצית
  2. ונתנו על ציצית הכנף
  3. וראיתם אותו
  4. והיה לכם לציצית
  5. גדילים תעשה לך

Therefore it is good and proper and incumbent on every man to fulfill the the commandment of tzitzit, meaning to say that he should acquire a garment of four corners and make tzitzit on it and wear it every day for the sake of the commandment, and he will receive reward for fulfilling the five positive commandments that we mentioned. He should be careful and punctilious to have a small garment with tzitzit that he wears the entire day in order to remember all the commandments at all times.

Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 24:2

טוב ונכון להיות כל אדם זהיר במצוה זו ללבוש טלית קטן כל היום כדי שיזכור המצות בכל רגע

It is good and proper for every man to be careful in this commandment, to wear a small garment the entire day in order to remember the commandments at every moment.

4

I think the logic is "if you can, then why not?" I don't see why anyone today shouldn't wear it. If you are embarrassed then there is Deot that say you can tuck it in (although Lechatehila, according to Sephardadim and Ashkenazim they should be exposed). If it is dangerous tuck them in. If you playing sports, you certainly can remove them. Why not do a mitzva if possible? I heard in the name of the Alshich HaQadosh that once someone puts on the Talit they are performing 613 Miswot. So why not wear Tzitzit? If you can, the Yalkut Yosef says (siman 8 I believe) that if one can and he doesn't there is a big Onesh involved. So just do it. It is also a protection, as we learned in Masechet Shabbat. There are many benefits in wearing Tzitzit.

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    Menachos 41a says that someone who doesn't go out of his way to wear tzitzis may be punished DURING TIMES OF DIVINE WRATH. So, if you live under threat of pogrom, or anti-semitic fascism, or the most anti-Israel Pres.... ....alright everyone, let's put on those undershirts!!! :) – user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 17:15
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    All kidding aside, we are blessed to live in a time of peace and prosperity for the Jewish people, this is certainly not a time of Divine Wrath, so it seems that today, someone who chooses not to wear a special four-cornered undershirt receives no punishment at all. – user1095 Dec 19 '11 at 17:17
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Lechatehila one should always Tzitzit (Shulhan Aruch 24:1). The language Maran uses is "Tov" meaning Lechatehila (see Emet LeYaakov of HaRav Yaakov Peretz Shelit"a).

3

Rabbeinu Yona (writing in the 1200s) in Shaarei Tshuva (3:22) has some quite relevant words

Now, although the commandment to wear tzitzit applies only to one who has a four-cornered garment, and if he does not have such a garment, he is not obligated to buy one, nevertheless our Sages stated (Menachot 41a) that in times of trouble, one will surely be punished [for the lack of fulfilling the mitzvah]. This is due to the fact that he did not desire in his heart the beauty of the mitzvah and its reward, so as to bring about the obligation upon himself, and to purchase a four-cornered garment in order to make himself tzitzit on its corners.

2

Reb Moshe (in אגרות משה או"ח ד' סי' ד) writes to his son Reb Dovid, that even though theoretically there is no obligation, now that it is the minhag, it is forbidden for anyone to go without tzitzis.

The Shulchan Aruch 24:6 writes that there is a great punishment for one that does not wear tzitzis.

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    +1 for the first part but are you sure you reading correctly the SA? Isn't he speaking of one does not wear tzitzit on a four-cornered garment? See beginning and end of 24:1 – mbloch Jun 5 '18 at 4:07
  • @mbloch - The ילקוט מעם לועז at the end of parshas שלח, brings the מדרש that is the source of this Shulchan Aruch. He writes וגדול עונשו של זה המבטל מצות ציצית ואינו לובש עליו ט"ק וכו. Which is clear that it is referring to one that doesn't wear a four cornered garment. – פרי זהב Jun 5 '18 at 4:21
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    I understand but still don’t see how your reading of 24:6 fits with the language used in 24:1 which is much softer and with the language in the Halachot brought in the second answer on this page – mbloch Jun 5 '18 at 4:53
0

שו"ע הרב ח:א. כל הקורא קריאת שמע בלא ציצית מעיד עדות שקר בעצמו והואיל שכל אדם צריך להיות זהיר וזריז להקדים המצוה בכל מה דאפשר לכן תיכף ומיד אחר נטילת ידים שידיו נקיות ויכול לברך יתעטף בציצית: Whoever recites Shma without tzitis is bearing false testimony on himself, and since everyone is supposed to be quick to do the mitzvah as soon as possible, therefore, right after you wash netilas yadayim, that your hands are clean and you can make the blessing, you should wrap tzitis.

ח:כ. אם רוצה ללבוש הטלית קטן מיד בקומו כדי שלא ילך ד' אמות בלא ציצית... If you want to put on the talis katan right when you get up inorder that you shouldn't walk 4 amos without tzitis...

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