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I was just learning Hilkhot Tzitzit, and in Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayyim Siman 11 Saif 12, and the Mechaber says:

מַלְבּוּשִׁים שֶׁבְּמִצְרַיִם הַנִּקְרָאִים גוחאש וְכֵן מינטיניש ודולאמאניש וקפטאניש ופיריגיש שֶׁבְּתוּגַרְמָה, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהֶם ד' כְּנָפַיִם פְּטוּרִים:

On this, the Rema says:

הַגָּה: וה''ה מַלְבּוּשִׁים שֶׁל גְּלִילוֹת בְּנֵי אַשְׁכְּנַז וּסְפָרַד הוֹאִיל וְאֵין כַּנְפֵיהֶם עֲשׂוּיִן שֶׁיִּהְיוּ ב' לִפְנֵיהֶם וּב' לַאֲחֹרֵיהֶם מְכֻוָּנִים זוֹ כְּנֶגֶד זוֹ פְּטוּרִים (בֵּית יוֹסֵף לְפִי סְבָרַת מַהֲרִי''ק):

It seems to be that the halakha is pretty clear that any garment which isn't four-cornered doesn't require tzitzit, as the Rema says that even in his time the clothes people wore no longer required them.

So, my question is: when did we start creating and wearing a tallit katan specifically so that we could fulfill the mitzva even though our clothes no longer required it? What's the history behind the idea of arba kanfot? Who started this tradition and where? Anyone know?

  • Surmising - Could this be a "Shev v'al ta'aseh" mitzvah? I.e., if we stopped wearing clothes that required tzitzit, how would we be able to fulfill the mitzvah, or rather, when? Maybe that's why the tallit kattan was invented? – DanF Oct 26 '15 at 21:08
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The following is not more than a contribution to an answer because it could be that the garment referred to in the gemoro quoted is a talis godol and not a tallis koton.

The Gemoro in Menachos 41a brings a story of R. Kattina. This indicates that although the obligation of tzitzis is on the garment and not on the wearer, one is liable for punishment in a time of Divine anger for not fulfilling a positive commandment (wearing a garment that needs tzitzis) when it could be fulfilled.

For an angel once found R. Kattina wearing a linen wrap,(14) and he exclaimed, ‘Kattina, Kattina, a wrap in summer and a cloak (15) in winter, and what is to happen to the law of zizith?’ ‘And do you punish’, asked R. Kattina, ‘a person [who omits to perform] a positive precept?’

‘In a time of wrath’, replied the angel, ‘we do’.

Now if you hold that the law of zizith is an obligation incumbent upon the person then that is why one would incur guilt for not wearing a garment with fringes; but if you hold that it is an obligation attaching to the garment, then why [is any guilt incurred] seeing that these garments are exempt? What then do you hold? That it is an obligation incumbent upon the person? I grant you that the All — Merciful would punish one who wears [without fringes] a garment that is subject to fringes, but would the All-Merciful punish one who wears [without fringes] a garment that is not subject to it?

— This is what [the angel] implied, ‘You find every excuse to free yourself from the law of zizith’.

(14) Which was without fringes, since it was mainly used as a night wrap. (15) A garment with rounded corners and so not subject to the law of zizith.

Shulchan Oruch 24a says that even though one does not have to purchase a garment to put tzitzis on it, …..מ״מ טוב ונכון להיות כל אדם זהיר וזריז ללבוש טלית מצוייצת כל היום כדי שיזכור המצות בבל רגע ….. nevertheless it is right for everyone to be careful to wear a tallis with tzitzis to remember the mitzvos.

Igros Moshe O Ch chelek 4, simon 4 says that this is a Minhag Yisroel.

Rav Roei Siton points out that in Morocco the minhag was only for talmidei chachomim to wear a talis koton. The Minhag Yisroel is therefore not without exceptions.

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The MaHaRShaL, Rabbi Shlomo Luria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Luria is credited with re-introducing the custom of Arba Kanfos, which had fallen into disuse once people stopped wearing garments requring TziZit.

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    This answer would be much more valuable if it contained a source for how you know that. – Yishai Aug 17 '16 at 20:54

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