Tzitzit – Size of Garment

I was always told that the size of the tallit katan (the small four-cornered garment worn under the shirt all day) should be 18”x18” on both the front and back. But recently I was told that the proper size is really 24”x24”. That would be rather large for a person my size. Is that the true requirement?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are many opinions about this. The Torah states, “Fringes you should make for yourself on the four corners of your garment that you will cover [yourself] with” (Deuteronomy 22:12). The implication, as understand by the Talmud, is that not any garment is obligated in tzitzit. It must be one which is sufficient to cover the person to a significant degree. How large is this? The Talmud writes that the garment must be large enough to cover the head and most of the torso (till the start of the legs) of a nine-year-old child, or alternatively large enough that a grown-up would occasionally wear it out of doors (Menachot 40-41). (This doesn’t mean wearing only that garment, but that it covers his torso in a respectable manner; it doesn’t look embarrassingly short.)

The Talmud’s description does not easily lend itself to precise measurements, especially since clothing styles are so different today. Needless to say, we’re not accustomed to wear tunics with a hole for the head. However, the main opinions today are that both the front and back of the tzitzit (after the hole for the head) should be either ¾ of an amah (cubit) long or 1 amah long (and wide).

How large is an amah? It is the measurement from a person’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger. So how large is that? There are three main opinions are to its size in modern units. The smallest is 48 cm or 18.9”, the middle is 54 cm or 21.25”, while the largest is 58 cm = 22.8”. Now ¾ of 48 is only 36 cm which is just over 14”. However, the preferred is to wear the full amah, so we recommend at least 18.9”. The middle size of 21.25” is even better, while if a person wants to be very meticulous, 22.8” is best.

Tzitzit are sold in set sizes today, so it’s easy to select the size you want. You should also be careful to buy one with reputable certification on it, especially that the strings were tied on for the sake of the mitzvah.

(Sources: Talmud Menachot 40-41, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 16:1, Mishna Berurah 1&4, Biur Halacha s.v. “l’shuk”, Igrot Moshe O.C. I 136, Laws of Daily Living pp. 219-21.)

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