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The Mishna in Menachos 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?


(see Sefaria for translation of sources that led to this question: Menachos 38a-40a)

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  • 2
    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
  • 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
  • @DoubleAA That is my question. What is it in this gemorra that could make anyone think we pasken like Rebbe. Or is there another gemmora?
    – avi
    Jul 8 '12 at 7:03
  • Some Achronim say the aseh of tzitzis is doche aseh of ticheles. They give different svaras why tzitzis is greater than ticheles.. Cli Chemda says since tzitzis is lidoros is doche ticheles which isn't lidoros...
    – Shlomy
    Apr 19 at 1:35
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The Maor HaKatan (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 linen 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 "אלא". 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.

1

The Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 1:4 writes:

הַתְּכֵלֶת אֵינוֹ מְעַכֵּב אֶת הַלָּבָן וְהַלָּבָן אֵינוֹ מְעַכֵּב אֶת הַתְּכֵלֶת. כֵּיצַד. הֲרֵי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְּכֵלֶת עוֹשֶׂה לָבָן לְבַדּוֹ. וְכֵן אִם עָשָׂה לָבָן וּתְכֵלֶת וְנִפְסַק הַלָּבָן וְנִתְמַעֵט עַד הַכָּנָף וְנִשְׁאַר הַתְּכֵלֶת לְבַדּוֹ כָּשֵׁר‏

The absence of the blue thread does not bar the use of the white fringe. Nor does the absence of the white fringe prevent the use of the blue thread. How so? If a person has no blue thread, he puts in the white fringe alone. So too, if the white fringe and the blue thread have been attached and the white fringe has been severed and diminished up to the corner of the garment and only the blue thread was left, it is fit for use.

The Kesef Mishneh explains the logic and I gathered (though I didn't pour 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." The techeilet becomes its own mitzvah. Hilchos Tzitzis 1:9 gives the method for tying plain white threads.

Interestingly, the Rambam closes out the second perek (2:9) by writing:

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

Not to attach white fringes to one's garment is more culpable than to omit the blue thread. For the white fringes are procurable by all, while the blue thread cannot be obtained in all places and at all times on account of the need of the special dye, of which we have spoken.

This references the braisa on Menachos 43b quoting R' Meir which, it seems, shows that the gemara accepted the idea of plain white tzitzis.

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  • 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.
    – rosends
    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.
    – rosends
    Jul 5 '12 at 17:03
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Very interesting set of responses. But I'd point out that your initial claim about the gemara is just wrong. It says nothing like, 'essentially a "Are you crazy? How could the Mishna say this?" They then comment that "Obviously...' Don't mean to criticize, but this is just a misreading. None of this is there at all.
The gemara actually says, "Shall we say that the mishnah [which said that white and techeles don't need one another] differs from the opinion of Rebbi [who holds that they do]?" Then the gemara has a long discussion that finds a way to fit Rebbi's opinion in with the mishnah.
That does not prove that we must therefore hold like Rebbi - we can still hold like the tanna who disagreed with him and who had a simpler reading of the mishnah. And in fact the major poskim down to the Tur and Shulchan Aruch and all authorities after them AFAIK stick with the simple reading of the mishnah: the white threads do not need the techeiles threads.

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  • 1
    This answer is incorrect. When the Gemara works hard to try to understand one opinion it is a traditional sign that the halacha is like that opinion. Like all rules it has its exceptions when other rules contradict it etc., but your claim that it is irrelevant is incorrect.
    – Double AA
    Apr 19 at 0:48
  • "Irrelevant" I didn't say: You are quoting the claim of the Baal Hamaor, which the Ramban responded to, and apparently all Rishonim afterwards agreed with the Ramban. It isn't irrelevant, it's insufficient. This doesn't change the fact that the initial claim about the gemara is wrong. If the questioner paraphrases a gemara I have a right to expect that he does it right. Especially when his follow-up question is, "how did they ignore the Gemora"?
    – MichoelR
    Apr 19 at 0:54
  • 1
    It's not the claim of the Baal Hamaor. It's a universal principle that discussion in the Gemara is an indication that halacha should follow that view. Whether other factors outweigh it here is what the Baal Hamaor and Rambam are debating.
    – Double AA
    Apr 19 at 1:04
  • All true, but you aren't answering my point. You can't use that principle to say, well, what the questioner said.
    – MichoelR
    Apr 19 at 1:16
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    Even if you think his summary of the sugya was overly imprecise, when you say "Nothing of this means that we must therefore hold like Rebbi" it's incorrect. The gemara working on the opinion of rebbe does mean that.
    – Double AA
    Apr 19 at 1:36

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