Menachot 43 – Tzitzit and Priestly Garments

In yesterday’s daf (Menachot 43), the Gemara made a passing reference to the bigdei kehunah, the priestly garments.  The Gemara was troubled by the opening statement of a braitta which declared that “all are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzit: Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites.”  Is this not obvious?, asks the Gemara.  To which the Gemara responsds that:

כהנים איצטריכא ליה, ס”ד אמינא, הואיל וכתיב: לא תלבש שעטנז צמר ופשתים יחדיו גדילים תעשה לך, מאן דלא אישתרי כלאים לגביה בלבישה הוא דמיחייב בציצית, הני כהנים הואיל ואישתרי כלאים לגבייהו לא ליחייבו, קמ”ל, נהי דאישתרי בעידן עבודה, בלא עידן עבודה לא אישתרי.

It was stated particularly on account of Kohanim. For I might have argued, since it is written, “Thou shalt not wear shatnez, wool and linen together,” and [it is followed by,] “Thou shalt make thee twisted cords [i.e., tzitzit],” that only those who are forbidden to wear shatnez must observe the law of tzitzit, and as priests are permitted to wear shatnez [in their priestly graments] they need not observe [the law of tzitzit]; we are therefore taught [that Kohanim, too, are bound].  For although while performing the service [in the Temple] they may wear [shatnez] they certainly may not wear it when not performing the service.

That is, it is possible that tzitzit would only apply to non-Kohanim whose clothes are normally bound by the restrictions of shatnez, and not to Kohanim, one of whose priestly garments, the avnet, or belt, actually must be made out of wool and linen strands – that is, shatnez.  Stated another way, Kohanim who wear bigdei kehunah would not wear tzitzit, whereas Israelites who do not wear such garments, would wear tzitzit.  This possibility suggests that tzitzit function as a type of bigdei kehunah for non-Kohanim.   For those of us who do not wear bigdei kehunah, who are bound by the restriction of shatnez in our garments, we have tzitzit to serve as our religious garments.

This implied comparison of tzitzit to bigdei kehuna is maintained, I would argue, even in the Gemara’s conclusion.  While in its conclusion the Geamra rejects the exemption of Kohanim from tzitzit, this is only because they are also bound by the restriction of shatnez when they are not wearing their bigdei kehunah and not serving in the Temple.   Stated another way – Kohanim also need tzitzit, because they are not always wearing their bigdei kehunah!  For this new type of bigdei kehunah, for these tzitzit, apply outside the Temple, in all places and perhaps even at all times.  Thus, even Kohanim must wear them – all our obligated in tzitzit!

It is worth noting that this comparison of tzitzit to bigdei kehunah has come up before.  It was subtly present in the Gemara earlier (42b) which derived certain laws of the techelet from the use of that dye in bigdei kehunah (although comparisons are also made to uses of dyes in other contexts as well).  It is more explicit in Tosafot (40b, s.v. Techelet) who quotes Rabbenu Tam as stating that if a garment is shatnez because of the addition of tzitzit strings, that the a person would never transgress shatnez by wearing such a garment, even if the person was exempt from tzitzit (like a woman), or even if it was worn at a time when the mitzvah did not apply, like at night.  Tosafot states that this should be compared to the bigdei kehunah regarding which a Kohen does not transgress shatnez even if he is not doing the service.  Tzitzit, like bigdei kehuna, are exempt from the restrictions of shatnez.  In other words, a garment with tzitzit functions like bigdei kehunah!

Now, Tosafot is aware that the simple sense of our sugya is that a Kohen is bound by teh prohibition of shatnez when he is not doing the avodah.  Tosafot states that the Gemara only means that he is bound if he is wearing non-bigdei kehunah, garments not wholly designated for the avodah.  And then Tosafot goes one step further, and states that even if a Kohen does transgress when wearing his shatnez bigdei kehunah at a non-avodah time, this would not be the case regarding tzitzit:

דהא כתיב (דברים כב) לא תלבש שעטנז גדילים תעשה לך לומר שבמקום גדילים תלבש שעטנז משמע דכל לבישה שרא רחמנא… אבל בגדי כהונה לא לביש אלא בעידן עבודה

For that which it is written: “You shall not wear shatnez… You shall make for yourself fringes.” is saying that in a place of tzitzit you may wear shatnez – and that teh Torah is permitting all types of wearing of garments… However, priestly graments are not to be worn when one is not doing the service [and thus, if they are worn, they are not functioning as bigdei kehuna, and one would violate shatnez].

That is, normal clothes which have tzitzit retain their status whenever they are worn.  Their very definition is that they are our day clothes, upon which we put on tzitzit – thereby making our day clothes a type of bigdei kehuna.  But they are a type of bigdei kehunah which are more universal than real bigdei kehunahi – they are bigdei kehunah that we wear at all times and in all places.

Now, the implied comparison of things that we wear to bigdei kehunah is not new.  We encountered it before in refernce to the tfillin, where the Gemara (Menachot 36b) states that one must constantly feel his tfillin, so that he be constantly aware of its presence, just as the high priest needed to be constantly aware of the tzitz, the gold headband on his forehead.  The tzitz, a highly unusual garment, finds its parallel in the tfillin, also a highly usual grament.  These  two, because they are not classic clothing, do not pretend to be such.  They have their special purpose written directly upon them: “Holy to God,” on the tzitz and the Shema and all four of the parshiyot written on the parchments in the tfillin, and the shin of God’s name written on the outer box.  These two garments call upon the wearer to focus on their presence on his body, and to keep his mind directed towards God.

But if the tzitz has its counterpart in the tfillin, what is the counterpart for the standard bigdei kehunah, those clothes that do not stand out, nor have their purpose inscribed upon them – the underwear, the cloak, the belt, and the hat?  The counterpart of these are the garments that have tzitzit placed upon them.   Not a special mitzvah garment, like a tallit, but one’s everyday clothes, that have these tzitzit handing from the hem. These subtle fringes, which are of the very material and color of the garment itself – hakanef, min kenaf – it is these fringes which designates these garments as special and, while not requiring constant attention as the tfillin or the tzitz, nevertheless, subtly mark one’s garments as special, and subtly remind a person about his or her function in life and in the larger world.

It is in this way that  tzitzit are more powerful than tfillin.  Unlike the tfillin, the tzitzit are not a tashmishei kedusha, they do not have God’s name or Torah verses upon them.  Nevertheless, precisely because they are not this holy, they can go anywhere, and can be worn at any time.  One can wear tzitzit in a bathroom; one can wear tzitzit on Shabat; one can wear tzitzit the entire day, even when it is not possible to pay constant or even regular attention to them.  They are more powerful than bigdei kehunah which, our Gemara notes, have no function outside of the Temple.  Tzitzit, on the other hand, are with us at all times and wherever we go.

The universal nature of tzitzit extends to the people who wear it as well.   For while the possibility of women being obligated in tfillin is not given much play in the Gemara, the Gemara (43a-b) seriously considers the possiblity that women are obligated in tzitzit, and this is stated specifically in the braita into which the Gemara reads the implied comparison of tzitzit to bigdei kehunah.  Tzitzit are a truly universal garment.

Tzitzit, then, function as bigdei kehunah that can be worn at all times and in all places and by all people.  They allow us to bring the role of the Kohanim, which is limited to certain people and to one very specific place, and to take it to the larger world.  By turning our garments into bigdei kehunah, we turn ourselves into Kohanim outside the Temple, are we define that our sphere of religious, God-oriented activity will be the world at large. 

This idea, of framing our activity in the larger world as a taking of the avodah and the kedusha of the Temple and brinding it to the larger world, was already stated by the Rashba in reference to the hand-washing that we do every morning:

ואם תשאל מאי שנא תפלת השחר מתפלת המנחה וערבית יש לומר לפי שבשחר אנו נעשים כבריה חדשה דכתיב (איכה ג כג) חדשים לבקרים רבה אמונתך צריכים אנו להודות לו יתברך על שבראנו לכבודו לשרתו ולברך בשמו ועל דבר זה תקנו בשחר כל אותם הברכות שאנו מברכים בכל בוקר ובוקר ולפיכך אנו צריכים להתקדש בקדושתו וליטול ידינו מן הכלי ככהן שמקדש ידיו מן הכיור קודם עבודתו

And were you to ask, why is the Morning Prayer different from the Afterrnoon Prayer and the Evening Prayer [prior to which we do not make a blessing when we wash our hands]?  The difference is that in the morning a person is created anew, as the verse states, “They are made new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Eicha 3:23).  Therefore we have to thank God, that God has created us for God’s honor, to serve God, and to bless in God’s name.  It is for this reason that the rabbis instituted all those blessings that we make in the morning [so that we may give thanks to God for having created us and everything in the world.]  Therfore, we must also sanctify ourselves with God’s sanctity and wash our hands from a vessel, just like a Kohen who would sanctify his hands from the laver before he would begin his service in the Temple.

Responsa of Rashba 1:191, quoted in Beit Yosef, OH 4 

 In closing, it is worth noting that in its discussions of tzitzit, the Gemara constantly refers to two special garments – the סדין – the linen tunic, and the טלית שכולו תכלת – the cloak which is fully techelet, sky-blue.  Now, both of these present special problems – the סדין in  that placing the wool techelet strings will make it shatnez, and the טלית שכולו תכלת in that the two “white” strings now have to be the same color as the techelet strings.  Nevertheless, it is unusual the dgree to which the Gemara keeps on circling back to these two garments, and in particular, it is unusual that the Gemara does not just refer to the latter garment as a טלית של תכלת.  Why does the Gemara always insist that it is כולו תכלת. 

The answer, I believe, is quite obvious.  For it os exactly these two garments – the simple tunic worn on the body, and the outer cloack – which directly parallel the two primary bigdei kehunah which the Kohen wears on his entire body.  First there is the כתונת. the simple tunic, worn by all Kohanim, which is linen.  And then there is the מעיל, the outer cloak, whcih is worn by the Kohen Gadol, and regarding which we are told:

ועשית את מעיל האפוד כליל תכלת

And you shall make the cloak of the ephod, fully techelet.

Shemot 28:31

The cloak which is fully techelet is none other than the מעיל of the Kohen Gadol!  It is truly through the wearing of the tzitzit that our clothes become bigdei kehunah, and that we are able to be like Kohanim.  Kohanim whose sphere of activity is not limited to the Temple, but Kohanim who wash their hands each morning, prepared to serve God and to bring kedusha in the world.


About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
This entry was posted in Conceptual, General Interest, Menachot, Tefilin, Tzitzit and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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