The Appearance of a Meticulously Observant Jew

Visible Tzitzis (Tassels)

Some time ago, I wrote about complaints voiced by IDF soldiers against
their officers who ordered them to tuck their tzitzis (fringes) into
their pants. Such an order runs counter to the Torah which rules that
the tzitzis should be ever viewable because they remind us at all
times of our Torah obligations. It is thus written , “That you may
look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do
them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes,
which incline you to go astray” (Numbers 15:39).

True, Kabbalistic works state, in the name of the Holy Ari, that the
tallit (small four-cornered garment) should be worn as an
undergarment, but the Magen Avraham (8:13) explains that this ruling
applies specifically to the garment; the tassels, however, must be
visible. And he adds that it is very unlikely that one who keeps his
tzitzis covered has actually fulfilled the commandment.

The soldiers continue, thank God, to fulfill this Torah commandment,
and their tzitzis hang freely from their uniform for all to see,
despite various threats.

The Sephardic Custom

Yet, I was asked: It is well known that the Sephardic custom is to
wear the tzitzis under one’s clothing (as R’ Ovadia Yosef rules in
Yachveh Daat 2:1). Why, then, did I not state that my ruling applies
to Ashkenazi Jews alone?

Answer: First of all, it should be pointed out that this is the ruling
of R’ Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 8:11): “Basically, the
mitzvah of wearing a small tallit involves wearing it over one’s
garments, so that one will see it continually and remember the mitzvot
(commandments). ”Furthermore, our mentor, R’ Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen
Kook, head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshivah, would encourage his students
to wear their tzitzis outside of their clothing, and he made no
distinction between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.

However, I was told by R’ David Chai HaCohen, one of R’ Tzvi Yehudah’s
leading students, that he once asked R’ Tzvi Yehudah if his ruling to
wear tzitzis outside of one’s garments applied to him as well, for his
family’s custom (R’ David Chai HaCohen’s uncle was an important Torah
scholar and a faithful follower of the Ben Ish Chai) was to wear
tzitzis under their garments. R’ HaCohen told me that it was clear to
him that he would abide by whatever ruling R’ Tzvi Yehudah gave. R’
Tzvi Yehudah told him that he did not have to wear his tzitzis outside
of his clothing. Based upon this ruling, R’ David Chai HaCohen
instructs his Sephardic students to wear their tzitzis under their
clothing.

However, in my own humble opinion, it appears to be proper, today,
even according to Sephardic custom, to wear one’s tzitzis outside of
one’s clothing. This is because, in previous generations, North
African and Eastern Jewry were accustomed to wearing a kind of large
shawl which did not allow them to cover their tallit and at the same
time display their tzitzis. They had to choose between wearing their
entire tallit on top of their clothing, revealing everything (in
accordance with Shulchan Aruch) or to conceal everything (in
accordance with the Holy Ari), and they adopted the latter path.

Today, though, we all wear shirts and pants, and there is no problem
concealing the tallit while at the same time revealing the tzitzis,
fulfilling the commandment according to all opinions. And this would
actually appear to be the opinion of the Holy Ari, for he writes that
a person must look at his tzitzis frequently during the course of the
day (Shaar HaKavanot 7:3). My own humble opinion is that because over
the generations people became accustomed to concealing both tallit and
tzitzis, many continue this practice even today. However, in truth, it
is proper to wear the tzitzis outside of one’s clothing.

Furthermore, practically speaking, there is great value in wearing the
tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, for by doing this a person
expresses his allegiance to the Torah and its commandments, and he is
reminded to perform the commandments. This is in keeping with the
plain meaning of the verse, “That you may look upon it, and remember
all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

In a secular environment, at work or in the army, it is very important
for an observant Jew to wear something which shows that he is
meticulous about fulfilling the commandments and that he is not
ashamed to perform them in the presence of people who are liable to
make fun of him. By doing this, it becomes easier for him to endure
trials.

A person who dresses in a Haredi (ultra-orthodox) fashion, with a
black hat and suit, is less in need of this distinction, for all can
see by his clothing that he is Haredi. In the army, however, this
changes; the tzitzis become important because everybody wears the same
uniform. In the workplace, as well, it is very important for a Jew to
make himself distinct through his tzitzis, the unique garment which
the Torah commands us to wear.

Conclusion

Even if a person generally upholds the Sephardic custom (which goes
back to the time when Sephardic Jews would dress in long shawls) of
wearing his tzitzis under his clothing, when serving in the army it is
best to wear one’s tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, in a manner that
they be clearly visible. The only time one must tuck them in is during
camouflaged training, and, of course, while carrying out operations in
enemy territory.

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