Cleaning One's Glasses with a Tallit

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

It goes without saying that one is never permitted to use a tallit for a degrading or undignified purpose. This is true even after the tallit is worn out and no longer usable.[1] There is some discussion, however, whether a tallit may be used for routine or mundane tasks that are not necessarily degrading, such as cleaning one’s glasses, wiping away sweat, and drying one’s hands.[2] The Mishna Berura cites authorities who permit using a tallit for such things as well as those who forbid it. Although there is a strong case to be made against using a tallit gadol for mundane tasks, the Mishna Berura concludes, however, that it is permissible to use a tallit katan for such a purpose.[3]

The question remains, however, whether cleaning ones glasses (or any other similar purpose one might use a tallit for) is a routine conventional task or a degrading one. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach noted that people have a tendency to clean their glasses with both their tallit gadol and tallit katan. He expresses his displeasure with this practice and argues that cleaning one’s glasses with a tallit (gadol or katan) is degrading and disrespectful for the tallit and must not be done. He adds that this is forbidden “m’dina“, as a matter of halacha.[4] Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky held similarly and would not wipe his glasses with his tallit. This is the opinion of many others, as well.[5]

On the other hand, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is of the opinion that cleaning one’s glasses falls under the category of routine conventional activities and not something that is degrading. He says that people clean their glasses with even their finest garments and therefore doing so with one’s tallit cannot be considered an unbecoming thing to do.[6] Many other authorities rule likewise.[7] There are also those who rule that such uses of a tallit gadol or katan are permitted only in an emergency or in order not to lose time from one’s Torah study or prayer.[8]

As there is considerable disagreement on the matter one should conduct oneself stringently, especially with regards to using a tallit gadol to clean one’s glasses, or for similar purposes. This is consistent with the general rule that a garment reserved exclusively for prayer must be treated with extra reverence. For example, a tallit gadol, kittel, or gartel, may not be worn in a bathroom while a tallit katan can.[9] Those who choose to use their tallit katan for such things, however, are completely entitled to do so. It seems to be unanimous that once the tzitzit strings have been removed from a tallit gadol or tallit katan it is permissible to use the garment for any non-degrading purpose.[10]


[1] OC 21:2.

[2] See Ben Ish Chai, Lech Lecha 20; Chayei Halevi 3:2

[3] Mishna Berura 21:12.

[4] Halichot Shlomo 3 note 19.

[5] Kaf Hachaim, OC 21:10; Mishne Halachot 4:230; Chayei Halevi 3:2.

[6] Kovetz Teshuvot 1:3.

[7] Rivevot Ephraim 5:283, 7:264:1; Divrei Shalom 3:9; Minchat Aharon 69, both cited in Otzar Teshuvot 23. See there fore more.

[8] Rivevot Ephraim 5:283; Piskei Teshuvot 21 note 9; Chayei Halevi 3:2.

[9] OC 21:3; Mishna Berura 21:13; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 21:6.

[10] Piskei Teshuvot 21:1.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

45 comments

  1. It seems to me that OC 21:1 is ruling contrary to what you wrote in the first paragraph. The mitzvah of the tallit is a מצוה שאין בגופה קדשה. In fact, the prohibition of using the tallit for any “degrading” purpose applies only when the tallit has its strings still attached. You mentioned a tallit that is worn out and no longer usable. Wouldn’t this fall into the same category as one whose strings have come off?

    (Footnote 3, by the way, should say 21:2.)

  2. As there is considerable disagreement on the matter one should conduct oneself stringently
    ========================================
    How about “As there is considerable disagreement on the matter one should conduct oneself as per their mesorah/psak”? If your statement were historically correct, no matter would ever be resolved in a “lenient” manner (although I suspect your statement truly reflects prevailing hashkafa today)

    Question-how did tzitzit go from a mitzvah kiyumit on all clothes to a tallit gadol being a mitzvah min hamuvchar?:לבוש אורח חיים סימן ח

    מכל מקום מצוה מן המובחר הוא שיהא לכל אחד טלית גדול מיוחד שיברך עליו בבית הכנסת, משום צניעות והכנעת הלב. ואם אין לו טלית גדול או כשהוא בדרך, יוצא בזו:

    KT

  3. I don’t understand this. What if (as was always the case in the past and is sometimes today), the “tallit” is ordinary clothing with tzitzit attached? Shouldn’t that actually make the tallit katan (which exists only so we can wear tzitzit) *more* holy than the gadol?

  4. simon-if you check the shulchan aruch by the siman you mentioned, you will see that, while he says that passul tallitot are no longer objects of kedusha, and can be used as any other utensil, this is with the caveat that they cannot be put to a disgraceful use because of bizui mitzva.
    nachum- as i understand it, the reason tallit gadol is more holy is that unlike the tallit kattan, which is worn all day, the tallit gadol is specifically set aside for davening.

  5. r. enkin:

    to connect your posts on tzitzit and sefarim, eretz hemda has a teshuvah concerning the propriety of kissing a sefer torah with tzitzit

  6. Thanks Abba! Please try to fidn the link if you can.

    Ari Enkin

  7. Simon-

    I dont think there is a contradiction at all. OC 21:1 is speaking about the tzitzit strings and says one cannot do anything degraging with them. It seems that one can do soemthing “mundane”, though. There is a machlokes whether the strings need geniza. I am not sure what you are referring to. Perhaps I am missing something.

    I checked the footnore reference again. I beleive I have it noted correctly.

    Ari Enkin

  8. Joel-

    I like where you’re coming from. Really. But I think this si an exception to your rule. This is not a matter of minahg or even what your father does. It is a matter of whther the activity is permissible or forbidden. If you want to know which way to wind your tefillen or whether to place asher yatzar immediately after elokai neshama — then yes, ask your dad.

    This is not an issue of mesorah, it is more one of am ha’aratzus.

    Ari Enkin

    Ari Enkin

  9. Nachum-

    No. The holier item is the one reserved exclusively for prayer, regardless of all other considerations.

    Ari Enkin

  10. r. enkin:

    what’s your email

  11. Abba-

    rabbiari AT hotmail DOT com

    Ari Enkin

  12. I can’t help but think of the tallis as a shmatte in this situation. Maybe others’ perception would be different. But in any case… it occurs to me that wool is probably not the best material for this anyway, in terms of scratches on plastic! Do your glasses a favor and use water & soap, or microfiber, or at least cotton…

  13. Ari–

    you are right that this isn’t like the order of certain birkot hashachar, but you are wrong on the need to be strict across the board –this is a machloket haposkim, one just needs to have a rav and then follow that Rav’s psak. it is more like whether you can open soda bottles on shabbat. there are poskim who say yes and those who say no, and there are people who are noheg (legitimately) like one side or the other –i.e. there is no “right” answer.

    To illustrate why your contention is off, think of it this way –should the person who asked the shai’ala to Rav Eliyashiv or Rav Ephraim Greenblatt (both of whom you cited as being lenient on this) be strict about it?

  14. Carlos-

    You put it very well. I’m in.

    Ari Enkin

  15. “This is consistent with the general rule that a garment reserved exclusively for prayer must be treated with extra reverence. For example, a tallit gadol, kittel, or gartel, may not be worn in a bathroom while a tallit katan can.”

    is tallit used exclusively for davening? do we use it any other time? if so, why not at mincha – since it is still daylight? is there really any connection between davening and the mitzvah of tzitzit – besides being our current day custom? does the tallit katam mikayim mitzvah of tzizit at all – since there is no atifah – hence a different bracha? when did the custom of wearing a tallit during davening first begin? tallit katan?

    in shiur on tzizit a rav – from the brisker clan – made the comment that halachah lemaaseh there is no reason why you cannot take your tallit gadol into the bathroom. does anyone know a source for this?

  16. Ruvie-

    1. It is synonomous with prayer, albeit, as you mention, not all prayers.

    2. There is no inherent connection between prayer and tallit. Prayer without a tallit at anytime is still valid. We where a tallit at Shacharit a) in order to ensure that the mitzva is fulfilled with a wool garment b) to ensure tha those who dotn wear a tallit katan will at least get the mitzva of tzitzit for a short time in the morning and c) to have a gamrent reserved exclusivley for prayer.

    3. It is also a sign of authority, which is why the chazan wears one even when others dont. (in the olden days only rabbis wore tallitot)

    4. Atifa is not m’akev the mitzva and is only a chumra

    5. I know of no source that permits you to take a tallit into the bathroom

    Ari Enkin

  17. >This is not an issue of mesorah, it is more one of am ha’aratzus.

    What do you mean by that? You wrote “As there is considerable disagreement on the matter one should conduct oneself stringently.” There is considerable disagreement in countless areas where it is “permissible or forbidden” according to different views. Is the rule then that “one should conduct oneself stringency” where there is considerable disagreement – that is, in many if not most things?

  18. S.-

    I guess I was just over reacting to Joel’s thought that this issue is one of “mesorah”. It is not. It is one of the pesak you get from your Rav, like Carlos spelled it out, above.

    Ari Enkin

  19. r’ enkin,

    why do we need a garment exclusively for prayer? originally weren’t tzizit put only on garments like cloaks? outer garments that one wears in the street?

  20. Ruvie-

    There is an inyan to have a garment reserved exclusively for prayer (OC 98:4) and a tallit conveniently fulfills that role.

    Also of interest: The tallit also serves the custom/requirement to wear a white garment on Shabbat, in the event that one is not wearing any other white garment.

    Ari Enkin

  21. I think a systematic treatment of the status of the talis gadol/katan would be in order before having this conversation.

    as for halacha le’maaseh, it seems like its between wiping your glasses with your talis and eating salmon!

  22. R’ Carlos,
    My point exactly.
    KT

  23. >I guess I was just over reacting to Joel’s thought that this issue is one of “mesorah”. It is not. It is one of the pesak you get from your Rav, like Carlos spelled it out, above.

    Then his question about stringency stands. Teyku.

  24. “5. I know of no source that permits you to take a tallit into the bathroom”

    I remember this has come up before and just looked quickly. I think I am remembering Doron Beckerman’s (last) comment in:
    https://www.torahmusings.com/2011/01/taking-a-hat-into-a-bathroom/

    Not that I would advocate doing so, to be clear — nor do I think would he.

  25. r’ einkin – on the question of the tallit in the bathroom it seemed that originally the mechaber says that it is permissible but the mishnah berurah qualified it to only a tallit katan. isn’t a tallit used outside of prayer? e.g. under a chupah.

  26. “There is an inyan to have a garment reserved exclusively for prayer (OC 98:4) and a tallit conveniently fulfills that role.”

    What the SA says there is
    וראוי שיהיו לו מלבושים נאים מיוחדים לתפלה
    It talks about clothes in general, not a specific garment. It sounds like a recommendation that your appearance be presentable for prayer. Putting on a tallit, which has no value as a piece of clothing (except at toga parties?), and is often faded/fraying/otherwise ugly rather than beautiful, would be quite a distortion of this line of the SA.

  27. R. Enkin – I think the connection that you make between tallit and sacharit prayer are tenuous at best. I dot think there is exclusivity here. Coincidental maybe. Is there an obligation to wear a tallit if one does not own a 4 corner garment? Please explain why the mechaber allowed one to wear it into the bathroom.

  28. source for wearing a tallit to the bathroom:

    The Nimukei Yosef (Hilkhot Tzitzit) demonstrates that one may enter the bathroom with a tallit on. His proof is based on the case of R. Yehuda, who according to the gemara in Menachot 43a wore his tallit all day long (this surely included some trips to the bathroom!). obviously a tallit is just not use for davening per the gemera.

  29. MiMedinat HaYam

    all this does not apply to the talit katan / t-shirt, since the manufacturers pay appropriate royalties (i.e., they have proper protexia.)

    (satire)

  30. Amazing! You are being more machmir than R.Elyashiv.-)

  31. Ruvie –

    You are right. As I mentioned in a previous comment, tallitot where worn all day, by rabbis. Hence, yes, it was not a garment reserved exclusivley for prayer.

    I think the nimukei yosef is dealing with a tallit worn all day long, but I havent looked it up.

    Ari Enkin

  32. Ruvie-

    A tallit’s use outside of prayer is not as a garment. It is used, like you say – for a chuppah, or to cover a table for Torah reading, etc.

    Ari Enkin

  33. Dear anonymous-

    Although what you are saying might be technically true, the reality is that you are somewhat ‘yotzai’ having a garment reserved for tefilla with your tallit.

    This is especially true for us centrist orthodox folks who dont have hat and jackets to put on for davening. Hence, the tallit serves this purpsoe, or perhaps that ruling of the S.A. is more of a middat chassidus than a true requirement.

    Ari Enkin

  34. Let’s remember that it every single halachic source written until about a hundred years ago (and, in most parts of the world, another thirty years or so after that), “bathroom” means something very different from what we have today, an issue with real halachic consequences. (In homes, at least, the bathroom is often the cleanest and most pleasant-smelling room in the house.) And while none of us would do this, urinating in tefillin is perfectly OK.

    Also let’s remember that halacha does not recognize anything called a “tallit.” The bracha is “lhitatef ba*tzitzit*,” not “tallit.” Until 1000 or 1500 years ago, a “tallit” was what people *wore*.

  35. Nachum-

    You’re right, but keep in mind that we pasken l’chumra regaridng even our bathrooms today. (R’ Moshe calls it “safek beis hakissei” and is machmir in all cases but one).

    And today, a tallit IS a garment reserved EXCLUSIVELY for prayer.

    Ari Enkin

  36. Ruvie-

    It is generally understood that the Mechaber is referring to a tallit katan.

    In any event, the Piskei Teshuvot has a nice back-and-forth on the issue and comes out that M’IKKAR HADIN it is permissible to go into a bathroom with a tallit but the unanimous minhag is to be machmir.

    Ari Enkin

  37. r’ enkin – thank you for the clarification from piskei teshuvot _ would that mean you would qualify your statement in the post? on the mechaber – i would say it is a reinterpretation of what he wrote as oppose to what he originally meant (did he switch from tallit gadol to tallit katan without word changing in the same perek? when did the tallit katan become universally adapted on a daily basis?

  38. r’ enkin – do you think this – tallit into the bathroom – is an example of changing of definitions – tallit/tzizit and beit hakisa – and culture (bathrooms, tallit for only prayer) change previous established halacha?

  39. Ruvie-

    I think this is to be found in the original sources and -this at least- is not something that is evolving.

    Ari Enkin

  40. Ruvie-

    I think we should go with the flow of the Mishna Berura that he is refferring to a tallit katan, though your hypothesis is not all that far out.

    Ari Enkin

  41. You quote Rav Eliashiv as being lenient. Doesn’t his teshuva specifically talk about a tallit katan? I don’t think he mentions a tallit gadol. One might extrapolate this from his comments, but that would be conjecture. What do you think?

  42. R’ Steve-

    Ultimately, his words are tallit katan, true, but he does mention “habegged hachi chashuv”, which would inluce a tallit, as well as a Hugo Boss suit. 😉

    Ari

  43. During my Parshat ha’Shavua reading on Friday evening, I happened to notice this in my Hertz 2nd Ed Chumash:

    ‘By the thirteenth century it has been unusual for Jews to mark their ordinary outward garments by wearing fringes. But, the fringed garment had become too deeply associated with Israel’s religious life to be discarded entirely at the dictate of fashion in dress. Pope Innocent III in 1215 compelled the Jew to wear a degrading badge; the fringed garment became all the more an honourable uniform, marking at once God’s love for Israel and Israel’s determination to “remember to do all God’s commandments and be holy unto his God” ‘ (I. Abrahams).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Abrahams

    Googling “Israel Abrahams Fringes” yields some further information.

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