R. Joseph Karo (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 8:9) codifies the following law:

קודם שיברך יעיין בחוטי הציצית אם הם כשרים כדי שלא יברך לבטלה

Prior to making the blessing [on the tzitzit] he should look at the strings of the tzitzit [to see] if they are valid, so as not to bless in vain.

Various commentaries discuss why the concern is specifically that the blessing will be in vain if the tzitzit are invalid, rather than the fact that the person will be wearing a four-cornered garment without tzitzit (in violation of the express biblical command).

R. Yechiel Michel Epstein in Aruch Hashuchan O.C. 8:14 quotes a bunch of opinions relating to this matter and rejects each of them. In 8:15 he expresses his own opinion, which is that inspecting the tzitzit is not a real requirement. This is clear from the words of the Rosh (the source for this idea). It is not a requirement because you are allowed to rely on the chazakah that the tzitzit were valid and are thus presumed to still be valid until proven otherwise. Thus, even if it turns out that the tzitzit were not valid, there is no problem of wearing a garment without tzitzit or of making a blessing in vain, since at the time that you put it on and made the blessing you had every right to do so, relying on the chazakah.

However, it is an act of piety to check the strings beforehand, because even if you did nothing forbidden by donning the garment (that in actuality did not have valid tzitzit) and making a blessing, at the end of the day a blessing in vain still came from your mouth.

וברור הוא שמעיקר הדין אין חשש בזה דמקורו הוא מהרא"ש והוא כתב בלשון זה בסוף הל' ציצת והחרד על דבר ה' יבדוק קודם כדי שלא יברך לבטלה עכ"ל ובתשובה כלל ב' כתב שהעולם לא נהגו לבדקו דמוקמינן אחזקה ע"ש וזה אינו אלא ממדת חסידות ולכן כתב חשש ברכה לבטלה ולאו משום דחמירה טובא כמ"ש מקודם אלא דלענין טלית בלא ציצת אף אם ימצא שפסולה מיד יפשטנו ומקודם לא עבד איסור כיון שמדינא היה מותר ללובשו מטעם חזקה אלא דלענין ברכה לבטלה נהי דאין עליו עונש כי היה מותר לו לברך מטעם חזקה מ"מ סוף סוף הוציא ברכה לבטלה מפיו ולכן ממדת חסידות יש לו לבדוק

It sounds like he is saying that there is something inherently bad about a blessing in vain even in a context in which the blessing was entirely permissible. What is the nature of this "badness", and why doesn't it also apply to the fact that at the end of the day you also still wore a garment without tzitzit? I.e. both acts are normally forbidden, and both acts are permitted in this case for the very same reason. So why is one of the acts still considered "bad" while the other one is not?

  • Do you happen to know whether the Aruch HaShulchan paskens that ברכה לבטלה is דאורייתא or דרבנן? – DonielF Feb 3 at 18:30
  • @DonielF In O.C. 271:35 he writes: דגם ברכה לבטלה הוי כאיסור דאורייתא. But I don't think it's so relevant to this question because it sounds like it's not an issue of halachic severity (since he says that both acts are entirely permissible). – Alex Feb 3 at 18:47
  • Yes, but perhaps if it's a דאורייתא we'd want to be strict anyway, even if it's technically permissible. – DonielF Feb 3 at 18:50
  • @DonielF If it's technically permissible then no דאורייתא was violated, so what are we being strict for? In any case, wearing a garment without tzitzis is also דאורייתא, albeit only an עשה. (Also he doesn't mention that as part of his reasoning.) – Alex Feb 3 at 18:53

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