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It seems obvious to me that in general it’s better to keep more mitzvot rather than fewer, but wearing tzitzit seems like a special case. I’ve asked rabbis in my community about this, but I want to ask here to solicit a more diverse response.

Numbers 15:39-40, the section read in the Shema that describes the meaning of tzitzit, says:

וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֮ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָתֻ֜רוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃ לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֺתָ֑י וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדֹשִׁ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.

I’m sure there’s plenty of commentary on this — and I would be honored to be taught more about it — but p’shat seems to me to be clear that tzitzit are the reminder to perform all mitzvot and not to subordinate them to going “after your own heart.” So what I’m wondering is, if tzitzit are an indication of following “all the commandments,” is it appropriate for non-Orthodox Jews to wear them?

Say one dresses liberally by mainstream American standards, let alone Orthodox ones, but wears tzitzit (and a kippah), too. One eats only foods that are nominally kosher, and only eats hechshered meat, but one does eat (vegetarian/dairy only) at non-kosher restaurants. One prays three times a day at the appointed times, but prefers or is at least accepting of egalitarian prayer. One keeps Shabbat in most ways but will still shut off appliances that are no longer being used on Shabbat in order to conserve energy and reduce environmental impact. One is, in other words, the ideal religious Conservative or Reconstructionist Jew, striving hard to incorporate mitzvot into one’s life but sometimes going against rabbinic interpretations for one’s own, personal, ethical reasons (“after [one’s] own heart”).

Should this person not wear tzitzit? Does wearing tzitzit make it a more serious problem to act in these religious but non-traditionally Halakhic ways because of Torah’s clear instruction to keep “all the commandments” while wearing them?

One obvious concern I can think of is marit ayin. Is it better to be seen by the community living this way without tzitzit than with them?

But even privately, what if one does not intend to follow “all the commandments,” at least as rabbinic tradition has conveyed them? Maybe one does aspire to keep “all the commandments” as they interpret them themselves, or in the way their liberal rabbi might interpret them, but certainly not in the way Halakhic tradition does. Is that not a conflict with the pasuk?

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The passuk is not saying that tzitzis are a proof to someone's adherence to the other commandments, it is saying that by wearing tzitzis one will come to perform the other mitzvos. If anything, wearing them is a sign of intention to grow, not an award for completion of one's job to.

If one is really worried about maaris ayin one can wear the tzitzis under their clothes. Or another option would be to wear them at home.

  • Indeed, but in my example, the person does not intend to follow “all the commandments,” at least as the rabbis have conveyed them. Maybe they do aspire to keep “all the commandments” as they interpret them themselves, or in the way their liberal rabbi might interpret them, but certainly not in the way Halakhic tradition does. Is that not a conflict? I have edited the question to clarify this. – Jon Mitchell Jan 8 '15 at 19:40
  • he doesn't accept them as ultimate true, he does accept them and just having temporally problem of keeping them?! – havarka Jan 8 '15 at 19:44
  • @ablaze i don't see why it is. I don't know how this mitzvah brings one to do other mitzvos properly. But perhaps the method is by eliminating all of the thoughts that impede our proper adherence to Hashem's words. In effect the tzitzis might nullify these very thoughts holding this person back from reaching their goals! – user6591 Jan 8 '15 at 19:45
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    M'nachos 43b: ותניא אידך וראיתם אותו וזכרתם ועשיתם ראיה מביאה לידי זכירה זכירה מביאה לידי עשיה. "'And you shall see it and remember... and perform': Seeing leads to remembering, and remembering leads to performing." – Fred Jan 8 '15 at 20:40
  • @ablaze It has nothing to do with what you intend. The pasuk is saying that it will cause you to observe the mitzvot, regardless of your intentions. I think that's the point this excellent answer id trying to convey. – Daniel Jan 8 '15 at 22:19
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I think that you are answering your own question.

First of all, the reason to perform G-d's commandments is because G-d said so. The goal of every Jew is to strive to reach this sense of faith and to act and understand the concept of being an Eved Hashem - a servant of G-d. (When Moses died, the Torah calls him an "Eved Hashem".)

Therefore, one is required to perform all mitzvoth without trying to reason as to why they are done or worse, if they should be done. They are not subject to a person's likes or dislikes. As a matter of fact, when we accepted the Torah, we said N'aseh Venishma - We will do, and then we will understand. Often, it is the overthinking that prevents us from performing mitzvoth, and that is counter-productive.

I am intrigued by your using the term "Non-Orthodox" in your question. I understand your thinking, as you have assumed that "Orthodox" equals "strictly observant". However, the requirement to perform all mitzvot is incumbent on all Jews. Thus, there is no classification or "sects", sectors, groups or anything else like that. Every Jew has an equal obligation; every Jew has equal potential; Most importantly, every Jew is required to strive to achieve his own standard of excellence according to his maximum ability and nothing less than that. Laziness or making excuses or invalid reasons to not perform a mitzvah is not even an option.

Wearing tzitzit is exactly the reminder, as you have stated, of this concept - not to stray after what the heart thinks! However, wearing Tzitzit is no greater or less important than performing any other mitzvah. As a matter of fact, one is not supposed to evaluate any mitzvah in terms of "importance" or in terms of its "reward". (Except in some isolated cases, the Torah does not state the reward for the performance of mitzvoth, anyway.)

Having said all this, I realize very well, that the concepts I stated are easier said than done. Nonetheless, a person must strive to do his best, and as Ramba"m himself suggests in Sefer Mada, every person has the ability to become as great as Moshe, and one is not supposed to diminish his own abilities or think this is impossible. Thus, everyone has the ability to become a true Eved Hashem.

One need not worry that his performance of any mitzvah comes into conflict with his non-performance of any other mitzvoth. Pirkei Avot 4:2 says that the performance of 1 mitzvah "pulls along" (i.e. causes) the performance of another mitzvah. BTW - the same Mishnah states that one should evaluate the importance of performing a mitzvah against what is lost by not performing it. I.e. - not in terms of punishment, but the missed opportunity & spiritual growth that would be lost in non-performance.

My understanding of Marit Ayin is that it applies to something that you're not supposed to do, not to something that you should do. If you wear your tzitzit outwards and people in your community scoff, let them! It's their problem, not yours!

  • The Torah there actually describes Moses's greatest trait as "knowing God face to face". – Double AA Jan 8 '15 at 19:51
  • That’s a good answer, but I guess another way of phrasing my question would be, if one who wears tzitzit is not seeking to keep “all the mitzvot” — or if one is seeking to, but only outside of rabbinic tradition — is one keeping the mitzvah at all? – Jon Mitchell Jan 8 '15 at 19:56
  • @ablaze I don't follow your reasoning. If a person wears the tzitzit, in what way could he not be observing the mitzvah at all (assuming proper beged, knots, etc.)? – Daniel Jan 8 '15 at 22:16
  • @Daniel Because the pasuk above says that part of the commandment of tzitzit is to remember “all the commandments” and “do them” and not go “after your own heart.” If one wears tzitzit but goes after one’s own heart while doing so, is the mitzvah of tzitzit complete? – Jon Mitchell Jan 8 '15 at 23:48
  • @ablaze if only all of us who wear tzitzis fulfilled all of the commandments and never went after our own eyes/ hearts! Doing so does not make the mitzvah incomplete, however; the Torah is telling us what the mitzvah of tzitzis should accomplish, not what it entails to be a complete mitzvah. See the difference? – הנער הזה Jan 11 '15 at 1:47
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The only issue that might act against wearing Jewish clothing is if it caused "Chilul Hashem".

A man who wears Jewish garb and cheats in business or commits other aveiros is not "frum". It doesn't matter how long their peyot are etc. Tzitzit hanging out would be "chilul hashem" as it gives an appearance that "this is how Jews behave".

One should say "it is better that he does not cheat in business" rather than "better that he didn't wear tzitzit".

If that is the basis of your reason not to wear them, then maybe. He does one mitzva less but perhaps also one serious aveira less too, so it balances.

The issues you mentioned though, e.g. switching off an electric appliance in your home (have you never heard of timeswitches? And if the device is off due to a timeswitch you can unplug it so it doesn't come back on again, although you can't unplug the timeswitch itself). But in any case, none of these would cause Chilul Hashem so I see no reason why you'd drop the performance of a mitzvah.

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This is a very interesting and insightful question. I think if you ask any non-Orthodox rabbi whether you are permitted to wear tzitzis even though you are a non-Orthodox Jew, they will tell you that you are permitted. Although you raise a potential objection, I don't believe that is something that would trouble non-Orthodox rabbis. If it did, then wearing tzitzis on their Tallesim would also trouble them.

However, as a social matter, you might be discouraged from wearing tzitzis, since this is "something the Orthodox do and we don't do," and people may think you are becoming Orthodox.

Keep in mind that you already may be fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis, if your tallis is kosher. Most non-Orthodox tallesim are not kosher because they are too small (and even if they are big enough the tzitzis may be non-kosher if they were not made with the right materials or for the sake of the mitzvah.)

Wearing tzitzis under one's shirt (aka, tallis katan) is not a mitzvah, but rather a custom (meant to allow one to continually fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis). The custom is so universal that it is deemed to be required among Jewish men (kind of like kitniyos for Ashkenazim).

I would think there is nothing wrong with you wearing tzitzis, even though you identify with non-Orthodox Judaism. (Though you would have to ask an Orthodox rabbi about the maris ayin issue if you want to wear them out in public, since some Jews might mistakenly think you're Orthodox and then think that Jewish law permits you to eat in a non-kosher restaurant.)

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Yes, you should wear it, every mitzvah purifies certain body limb in your body!

sharei kedusha at the beginning

And you can still wear it, and put the strings inside your pants.

mishna berurah hilchot tzitzis siman 8 seif koton 25 http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%A9%D7%A0%D7%94_%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%94_%D7%A2%D7%9C_%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%97_%D7%97%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%97#.D7.A2.D7.9C_.D7.91.D7.92.D7.93.D7.99.D7.95

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    Can you source your answer? – Scimonster Jan 8 '15 at 19:33
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    Ok but does the negative effect described by the OP outweigh the benefit you describe? – Double AA Jan 8 '15 at 19:33
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    nobody would see them, where is the negative effect? – havarka Jan 8 '15 at 19:34

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