Tzitzit: What are those strings anyway?



After we realize that the Torah is not done away with, and we start to reread our Bibles, one of the verses we run across is Numbers 15:38.  This is the verse where we are commanded to wear tzitzit, which is worded as fringes or tassel in most translations. Let’s look at the verses.


Numbers 15:38-40

“Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them to make tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue cord in the tzitzit of the corners. “And it shall be to you for a tzitzit, and you shall see it, and shall remember all the commands of YHWH and shall do them, and not search after your own heart and your own eyes after which you went whoring, so that you remember, and shall do all My commands, and be set-apart unto your Elohim.


Deuteronomy 22:12

Thou shalt make thee fringes(tassels) upon the four quarters(wings) of thy vesture(garment), wherewith thou cover thyself.


The command is to wear the tzitzit (H6734 fringes, tassel) with a thread of blue on the corners or borders of our garments.  These were to serve as a constant reminder for YHWH’s children to remember His instructions and not follow the world.  It’s also interesting to note that this commandment was given right after the commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy was broken.


It’s important to point out that wearing tassels was not something that started with the Israelites.  This was a style of dress that was in use by other Ancient Near Eastern cultures well before the commandment was given in Numbers 15 1  What set Israel apart was the thread of blue in their tassels.  In the Ancient Near East, blue was a very expensive color.  When people saw the Israelites with blue in their tassels, it was a sign of honor and royalty.  The blue dye used was from the Murex snail, and it’s estimated that over 12,000 snails were needed to make just 1.5 grams of dye.  To put it into perspective, in 200 B.C., one gram of this dye would be worth almost $200 today (Milgrom, 1983).  That’s $88,199 a pound in today’s dollars (figures adjusted for inflation).  The point is…This blue wasn’t cheap, so it’s highly unlikely that anyone besides the Israelites would have had blue in their tassels.


Next, we’d like to discuss a few issues around this commandment because there are many arguments and divisions today over the correct way to wear tzitzits. Some people wear a tallit katan, some have them on their belt, attached to belt loops, pinned to their skirt or shirt, and some people will only wear ones made by particular rabbi’s or only made by their own hands. We are not here to argue over the correct way to wear them.  What really matters is, are you wearing them, do they have blue as commanded, and are you wearing them for the right reasons?


Another question we get asked is should women wear them. The commandment was for all the children of Israel and doesn’t seem to be specific to men only but here is something to consider. In the Ancient Near East, the man is considered the head of the household, so he was the one who was out and about while the woman was usually within the home.  In Jewish tradition, the men are the ones that wear them.  We cannot say for sure that a woman should or should not wear them, but we have to ask, why would anyone claiming to be a child of YHWH not want to wear a symbol given by Him to remind us of His instructions?


Since corner or border (H3671 kânâph) is used within the commandment let’s look at this word more closely.


It is defined as wing, extremity, edge, winged, border, corner, skirt

*skirt, corner (of garment)


It’s also called a wing, as noted above, so let’s look at a few examples of this word in other places in scripture.


Malachi 4:1-6

“But to you who fear My Name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings (H3671).  And you shall go out and leap for joy like calves from the stall.


Now let’s look at an example given where healing was in the wings.


Matthew 9:19-21

And Y’shua rose and followed him, His taught ones too. And see, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the tzitzit of His garment. For she said to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I shall be healed.”


Mark 6:56

And wherever He went, into villages, or cities, or the country, they were laying the sick in the market-places, and begged Him to let them touch if only the tzitzit of His garment. And as many as touched Him were healed.


Luke 8:43-44

And a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who, having spent all her livelihood on physicians, was unable to be healed by any, came from behind and touched the tzitzit of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.


Even though our Messiah was sinless and didn’t need a reminder to keep the commandments, He wore them just as commanded and there was healing that came from them.  What better example do we need than our Messiah?  This, in a way, is similar to rings worn by married couples.  It is a symbol that represents who we belong to and shows our commitment to the Father and His instructions.  The world may see them as whatever they choose, but YHWH sees them as love and obedience.

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Posted on July 15, 2015 in Answering Tough Questions, The Torah Today

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About the Author

Jeremy lives in North Louisiana with his wife and three children. He grew up in Methodist and Baptist churches most of his life. His pastor, who also happened to be his Uncle, started realizing that Torah was still an important part of our relationship with God and began to incorporate Torah into his messages. Jeremy set out on a mission to prove his Uncle wrong and dove head first into the Word. He failed in his quest to disprove his Uncle and came to realize that the whole Word still applies to believers today.

Responses (8)

  1. […] Read More: Tzitzit: What are those strings anyway? | Torah Babies […]

  2. Lori
    November 26, 2015 at 3:39 am · Reply

    I would like to share a couple of things I have come to understand concerning Tzitzits…
    The commandment is to “The Bnei (sons) of Yisrael”…which is why many woman do not wear them. However…Leviticus 11 also addresses “The Bnei of Yisrael”…so if it’s not necessary for woman to wear Tzitzits…it would also mean that women are excluded from the dietary law. Obviously, we know that isn’t so! Hebrew is a masculin/feminim language…however, when addressing a group the masculin form is always used.
    Woman need to wear Tzitzits…it’s as simple as that. My daughter says…”why wouldn’t woman need this reminder seeing as how Eve was the one led astray to begin with!” Good point I think!
    Also…even though our shirts are often-times “round” at the bottom…we believe that if The Father can find four corners to a very round earth…we can find four corners on a t-shirt.

    One more thing…I believe a connection in scripture could be Exodus 28:28-30. The Breastplate of Right Ruling for Aaron was square and bound to him by a blue cord…his was to be worn over his heart…for us, The Commandments are to be in our heart.
    For this reason as a connection to the scriptures…I make mine of gold, purple, and scarlet…and use one blue cord. ????

    • TorahBabies
      November 27, 2015 at 10:47 pm · Reply

      Very great points, Lori! We agree 100%

  3. Anon
    November 27, 2015 at 10:20 pm · Reply

    Saw a video someone took where they went to one of these snail farms in Israel and the owner got upset when he was questioned about their use on tassels and wanted the camera turned off. He confessed that there is virtually no way to get every speck of the snail’s dead carcass separated from the blue dye, thus rendering the dye unclean. We are commanded not to touch the dead carcass of an unclean animal. To me this verifies that this dye would not have been, and should not be, used to make tassels.

    • TorahBabies
      November 27, 2015 at 10:54 pm · Reply

      Hi Anon,

      That is a question that is brought up often! We are eventually going to do a teaching on Sin vs Unclean because so many people group both statuses together. Being unclean is not a sin though. We are not commanded to not touch the carcass of a dead animal, just that we are unclean if we do. If it’s a sin to touch a carcass then every time someone did a sacrifice they would be in sin.

      There’s also the fact that they have found ancient Israelite clothing and tested it, proving that it was dyed blue/purple with the murex snail.

    May 17, 2016 at 10:58 am · Reply

    Scripture doesn’t say that we need a blue thread from “a certain snail.” It just says we need a blue thread but my question is….When the Israelites left Egypt walking through the desert, where were they exactly when the whole camp stoned the one disobedient man to death? Right after that is when YHVH said to make TzitTzits with the blue thread. So we need to pin point where exactly they were at that stoning. Our Creator must have supplied a way to color the thread blue so they could be obedient to His command.

  5. Rav Isaac Soria
    June 27, 2016 at 7:55 pm · Reply

    In Jewish tradition and according to halacha, the commandment to wear tzitzit is no longer binding because we no longer wear four-cornered garments. We wear them to partake of a positive mitzvah, not because they are required now with modern clothing.

    • Jackie Bourg
      July 28, 2016 at 9:14 am · Reply

      To Rav Soria
      Do you have supporting Scriptures to what you just said?
      Isn’t G-D the same yesterday, today and forever and HE changes not?

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