Do All Tzitzit Knots Need to be Double?

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: When I tied a pair of tzitzit, I tied a double knot to the garment and for the final knot, but for the three knots in between the chulyot (subsections of string wrappings), I tied single knots. Is that sufficient?  

Answer: The gemara (Menachot 39a) posits that the “upper knot” of tzitzit is a Torah-level requirement, as we learn from the Torah’s connection between tzitzit and sha’atnez. Most Rishonim (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 11; see China D’chayei 8, who cites dissenters) posit that a double knot is needed to connect the tzitzit to the garment, as we find that making a simple single knot is not a violation of Shabbat (Shabbat 74b).

 There is also a machloket what the upper knot is – the part closer to the garment or further away from it (see Mishna Berura 11:66). A relatively strong consensus holds that it is the one further away from the garment, where it also secures the gedilim (section containing all of the string wrappings). 

According to all opinions, your tzitzit fulfill all the Torah-level mitzva requirements, based on double knots both for the first and last knots. However, that does make the tzitzit fully acceptable. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 11:14), in describing the tying process, instructs to make a double knot in between every chulya. The only question is whether this is a full-fledged Rabbinic obligation or a lower-level matter. The practical difference, besides the degree of lacking in the present situation, is whether one may wear the tzitzit if he lacks an alternative pair and an opportunity to fix it.

Rava deduces from a halacha regarding a ripped string that one is supposed to make a knot between the chulyot (Menachot 38b). The gemara (ibid. 39a) deflects the proof by suggesting that knots were sometimes made but were not required. Many claim that while Chazal expected/preferred for there to be multiple chulyot and knots, basic Halacha only requires chulya with a minimum of three revolutions of a tzitzit string around the others (Mishna Berura 11:65). 

The preference of more chulyot and/or knots is due to their being reminiscent of a variety of themes and numerical values. We will mention a few (the Mishna Berura 11:65 cites some): There should be seven knots in each tzitzit corresponding to the seven firmaments, but we leave out two knots when we do not have techeilet (Shut Radbaz 2333) because it is the techeilet that reminds of the sky. The gematria of tzitzit is 600, and when one adds eight strings and our present-day five knots, it comes to 613. 8+5 is also the gematria of echad. The five knots also remind us of the five books of the Torah. Since the five knots are doubled, it is also reminiscent of the ten sefirot (a Kabbalistic concept). None of these numerical significances are absolute requirements, as is true of the number of wrappings (Mishna Berura ibid.), but they are religious/spiritual preferences.

It is also possible that some of the gains of knots in between the chulyot do not depend on there being halachic knots. Single knots also are able to hold each chulya in place, take up some space, which is important (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 11:14), and make the different chulyot, with their significant number of revolutions, noticeable. The fact that a single knot is more secure than usual when it is in the midst of a g’dil that is surrounded by double knots might also give it prominence (see Maaseh Betzalel to Rikanati, Tzitzit 3). Again, despite this, the Shulchan Aruch at least recommends double knots each time. 

There is another reason to want at least one of the middle knots to be a full halachic one. Sometimes the top knot starts getting looser, even to the point that it is no longer a halachic knot (see Living the Halachic Process IV, F-3). We are not usually overly concerned about this because the minimum requirements of the tzitzit are met when a minimal gedil is followed by a double knot. However, in your case, were the top knot to reach that point, there are no fallback knots after the beginning of the gedil.   

 

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

2 comments

  1. The question I then have is, to violate the melacha of tying/untying, would a Temani Chulya count towards that Melacha? It would then seem that that should be fine, and the only reason to still do a double knot as the first one is to me machmir to satisfy the Mordechai’s opinion. For more on this see https://www.tekhelet.com/tying-overview/ under “double or single knots.”

  2. R Mann,

    You are assuming that the middle three knots when trying tzitzis without tekheiles are to separate chulios, that our 7-8-11-13 or 5-10-6-10 patterns of windings are chulios.

    I don’t think they fit a single definition of chuliah, though.

    I’m gong to explain in detail for other readers.

    R Natrunai Gaon and the Raavad understand the gemara as requiring chulios of 7 to 13 windings, alternating color — a white winding, a blue one… etc. But since each chuliah must start an end with white windings, the Ashkenazi group of 8 or 3 out of 4 of the windings by those who use Shaim Havayah counts couldn’t be their kind of chuliah. Maybe the minhag the Rama records of 7-NINE-11-13, but I doubt that’s the sho’el’s situation.

    The majority opinion is that the gemara requires 7 to 13 chulios of three windings.

    The Rambam defines each chuliah using knots. Teimanim use a knot with three windings on the outside as their chulios. Shulchan Arukh haRav uses a daisy-chain of side loops to group the windings into threes. (Where there are double knots for the 7-8-11-13, so two of those chulios are interrupted and resume on the other side.) Either way, the double knots can’t be for Rambam chulios, as they aren’t 3 apart and there are too few of them.

    Tosafos, the Chinukh, and the Gra define chulios as groups of 3 windings in alternating colors. For the knots to be between chulios, our windings between the knots would have to be in multiples of threes.

    What all but the Teimanim traditionally have is 5 knots to fulfill the Mekhilta. The Mekhilta which has the gematria of ציצית is 600 plus 8 strings plus 5 knots equals 613. And the knots aren’t about chulios.

    The Rambam has one knot per chuliah by ignoring the Mekhilta. After all, by his rules the gemara’s talk of chulios would take precedence.

    Rashi says the problem of how to understand both the gemara and the Mekhilta doesn’t need resolution unless one wears tekheiles. When wearing only lavan, there is no obligation of chulios or their knots. So, according to him we are simply following the Mekhilta, and don’t have chulios at all.

    And that does seem to fit the number of windings between knots.

    But I can’t think of a single way to understand this question in terms of the knots being a means of separating chulios, given the assumption that the sho’el is following one of the traditional winding patterns for tekheiles-less tzitzis.

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