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Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 24 (4, 5) says

4 Some have a custom to look at their Tzitzit when they reach the verse "And you shall see them," and to place [their Tzitzit] on their eyes. This is a beautiful custom. Addition: Some have the custom to kiss their Tzitzit when they look at them, and all of this is a way of showing love for the Mitzvah (Beit Yosef).

5 When one looks upon the tzitzit he should look at the two fringes in front of him that have ten knots in total that remind him of his existence, and they also have sixteen strings and ten knots that count as twenty six as in the [letters in the] divine name.

The Artscroll and many other siddurim advise one to gather all 4 tzitzis before saying Shema and to kiss them in the third paragraph of the Shema. I observe that most people gather all 4 tzitzis and not the two as stated by the Shulchan Oruch. Why is this?

Related: Kissing Tzitzis during Shema

  • IIRC the Artscroll says to gather the when saying the paragraph of Ahava Rabba and it mentions "arba kanfor ha'aretz" -- mentioning 4 corners and gathering 2 wouldn't make sense. – rosends Aug 7 '16 at 11:41
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As already source by Noach miFrankfurt in his answer, the German Minhag and likely original minhag Ashkenaz, was only to hold the front corners. This is also the practice of the Vilna Gaon (as recorded in the siddur Eizor Eliyahu), because he strongly felt that it was important for tzitzis to be worn with two of them in front and two in back.

The Shulchan Arukh says only take 2 tzitziyos. (Orakh Chaim 25:5. In the Beis Yoseif the author of the Shulchan Arukh cites the Hagahos Maimon end of ch. 3. The Beis Yoseif also mentions that the Avudraham considers the whole practice of holding tzitzis during Shema to be yuharah, an egotistical holier-than-thou, but only because the masses don't do it. And therefore the Avudraham's ruling would not invalidate following a general minhag to do so.)

As for meaning... The SA explains that brings 16 string and 10 knots visible, corresponding to the gematria of the tetragrammaton (10 + 5 + 6 + 5 = 26 = 16 + 10). The Magen Avraham ad loc says the 10 knots correspond to the 10 Sefiros.

The Kaf haChaim (ad loc #8) explains this custom is to hold the font tzitzios in the left hand, as it's closer to the heart. He also mentions the position of the Ari, that one takes all four corners in both hands.

The Levush (#2) speaks of holding "the tzitzis" in one's left hand, next to the heart. This rather authoritative decisor who tends to give weight to accepted Ashkenazi rulings of his era is a bit ambiguous. "The tzitzis" would seem to mean all four; but as we saw in the Kaf haChaim, the left hand is more the two string practice.

The Arukh haShulchan (who started before the Mishnah Berurah, but wrote Orach Chaim later) also says "the tzitzis", and says one takes them in the left hand, but holds them in both when getting ready to kiss them for Shema. (#3) In the Be'eir Heiteiv, the Mishnah Berurah appears to rule similarly. So, both of the major codes written at the end of pre-War East European Jewry rule like the Ari -- 4 tzitzis, both hands, at least while kissing if not the whole time.

Getting to contemporary rulings: R Herschel Shachter rules one should follow the Shulchan Arukh and only use two. (But then, his Brisker background makes it more likely he would rule like the Vilna Gaon than the more common East European custom.)

  • What's R' Schachter's Brisker heritage? I thought that only his rov (the Rov) was a Brisker. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 12 '16 at 12:52
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    I meant rebbe-talmid chain "heritage", not genetics. I temporarily replaced it with "background", but I am open to suggestions for better wording. – Micha Berger Aug 12 '16 at 15:26
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According to Tefilloh Sefas Yisroel (p. 33), while the halacha (or more accurately, minhag) as brought in Shulchan Aruch and numerous other sources is to hold the two front tzitzit, it is brought in the name of the Yosef Ometz (R' Juspa Hahn of Frankfurt a/M) that holding all four corners is a chiddush of R' Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi (see also יוסף אומץ רפ”ט, where he brings both opinions).

  • "the halacha, as brought in Shulchan Aruch" Isn't the ShA also just bringing a custom? – Double AA Aug 7 '16 at 16:22
  • @DoubleAA, I agree with your assessment. However, in my experience, even where Sh"A brings a custom, it's widely regarded as halacha now, despite the intentions of the Mechaber and numerous other poskim. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 7 '16 at 17:49
  • @Noach MiFrankfurt: is it still German minhag practised today to only hold two? – Jakub Feb 22 '17 at 18:14
  • @Jakub, it varies by family. I hold two. – Noach MiFrankfurt Feb 22 '17 at 18:15
  • Thanks. I wish there was a reference on Yekke minhag - in English! – Jakub Feb 22 '17 at 18:18
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According to the Vilna Gaon, as brought in Sefer Maase Rav, #39, only the front 2 tzitzios are gathered. The 4 tzitzios are never brought together bec "lihisataif" means 2 in the front and 2 in the back. Nor is there any kissing of tzitzios not in krias shema nor after baruch she.amar.

  • A belated welcome to Mi Yodeya, Joel! – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 12 '16 at 12:54
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    FWIW, this doesn't answer the OP, it gives a p'sak from the Gr"A, but does not approach why 4 tzitziot are taken, rather than two. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 12 '16 at 12:55
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There are many, many different kavanot (mystical intentions) for the tzitzit.

Those requirements that relate to the concept of 'atifah' are not constant. This is demonstrated by the idea that one can adjust the tallit gadol during the course of the entire prayer service. This can range from 'atifah gamurah', meaning like the Yishmaelim which is done generally at the time of first donning the tallit and saying the blessing, and according to some during the recital of the Amidah, to simple 'atifah' which includes having the talit on ones head but not wrapped like the Yishmaelim to simply according to the practice of your community. For details, see Siddur Tehillat HaShem, Pg. 11 citing Shulchan Aruch HaRav, and Siddur MiKol HaShanah im Da"ch and Siddur HaRav.

Concerning the idea of gathering up and holding the 4 corners and tzitzit at the time of reciting Shema, this relates to one of the kavanot in Shema corresponding to saying 'Echod'(אחד). One is to have in mind that HaShem is one (א) in the seven Heavens above and on the Earth below (7 plus 1 totals 8 which is ח) in the four directions or four corners of the Earth'(ד). (See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Vol.1, 61:6) The four corners of the earth correspond to the four corners of the garment and so this relates to the concept of the final redemption. These four corners also correspond to the four letters of HaShem's name, both as it is written and as it is pronounced.

Another part of that kavanah is while gazing at the four tzitzit together one is to note the 5 double knots, which total 10 single knots and the 8 threads. The total is 18 and the 4 corners together gives a total of 72. This relates to one of the earlier kavanot in Shema dealing with the idea of dedicating ones life to revealing how G-d is one and His name is one.

The name in question is the name comprised of the 72 triplets which totals 216 letters (3 times 72). This name is the tikkun for the corresponding 288 sparks of gevurah (רפ״ח) which resulted from what is called 'the shattering of the vessels'. The first 216 of these are these are repaired through what is called 'the service of refinement'. That corresponds to three times 72. 72 is also the gematria of 'Chesed' (חסד) while the gematria of 'Gevurah'is 216 (גבורה).

The fourth and final 72 from the total of 288 is what is brought into revelation at the completion of the final redemption. This corresponds to G-d's name which relates to the concept of 'tzelem' (צלם), namely that name mentioned in Shemot 3:14. This is derived from a particular kavanah for the word 'Va'ed' (ועד) at the end second line of the Shema.

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    Citing sources for your claims would improve your answer vastly. – msh210 Aug 10 '16 at 19:19

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