FRINGES (Hebr. "ẓiẓit"):

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Threads with a cord of blue entwined, fastened to the four corners of the Arba' Kanfot and the Ṭallit and pendent, like a tassel, in conformity with Num. xv. 38-40 and Deut. xxii. 12.

The ẓiẓit consisted, according to Bet Shammai, of four threads of white wool and four threads of blue, but according to Bet Hillel of two threads of each (Men. 41b). The "arba' kanfot," or "ṭallit ḳaṭon," was worn by day as an undergarment. The regular ṭallit, as an overgarment, was used only during the morning prayer.

A relaxation of the ẓiẓit observance has been noticeable since the Jews adopted the costumes of their Gentile neighbors, exceptions being readily made in the case of modern outer garments (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ. Ḥayyim, 10, 12). Indeed, it appears from the Tosafot that the wearing of ẓiẓit was not general even in the thirteenth century (see Shab. 32b; B. B. 74a; Ḳid. 61b).

To the wearer the ẓiẓit were a reminder of the duty of the Jew toward the Law. Like the phylacteries on the head and arm, and the mezuzah on thedoor-post, the ẓiẓit on the garment was a token of God's love for His people Israel (Men. 43b). In fact, they served as the Jew's uniform, whereby he was recognized and distinguished from the Gentile. Hence a Jew must not sell a fringed garment to a non-Jew unless the fringes are removed.

Resh Laḳsh, picturing the future reward of the pious, declares that no less than 2,800 servants will attend every Jew who has observed the ẓiẓit regulation, quoting Zech. viii. 23: "In those days . . . ten men . . . out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt [Hebr. "a corner"] of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you." By calculating seventy standard languages, and multiplying the four corners by ten, the number 2,800 is obtained (Shab. 32b). It is narrated that the ẓiẓit once saved a ḥasid from sensuality, having appeared as living witnesses and "slapped him in the face" as a reproach (Men. 44a).

Blue and White.

The blue cord entwined in the fringe was its principal attraction and distinction. R. Meïr asked, "Why blue?" The answer was, "Because this color resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the "Chair of Glory," of which it is said, "Under His feet . . . a sapphire stone" (Men. 43b).

The blue cord of the ẓiẓit was dyed with the blood of the "ḥaluzn" (snail), which appeared but once in seventy years (Men. 44a). The ḥalzun was scarce even in Mishnaic times; hence the authorities agreed that the blue cord might be dispensed with, and that white-wool threads alone need be inserted (Men. iv. 1). R. Meïr remarks that the punishment for dispensing with the white threads is greater than for dispensing with the blue, inasmuch as the latter is difficult to obtain, whereas the former is within everybody's reach. He uses the illustration of a king commanding one of his servants to procure a seal of clay, and another to procure a seal of gold; both having failed to comply, the king punishes the former more severely for neglecting such a simple and easy task (ib. 43b).

The Ḥalzun.

Some suppose that "ḥalzun" was another name for Haifa or the Bay of Acre. Haifa was known, in the Greek-Roman periods, as "Purpureon," from the purple-dye industry, which, with the extensive fishing of the ḥalzun, made the city famous. The area for ḥalzun-fishing, according to the Talmud, extended to the Phenician border, (Shab. 26a; see Rashi). It was also found on the mountains, as appears from Sanh. 91a. Doubtless there were various species of ḥalzun; some identify the Helix jointhina as one. It appears certain, however, that the genuine ḥalzun was found only in the land apportioned to the tribe of Zebulun, whose descendants were mostly engaged in this traffic (Meg. 6a; comp. Sifre, § 354 [ed. Friedmann, p. 147a]).

The Zohar is authority for the statement that the ḥalzun was found also in the Sea of Galilee (Zohar, Ex. Beshallaḥ, p. 48b; Lev. Beha'aloteka, p. 150a, ed. Wilna, 1882). The city of Luz is mentioned as the place where the tekelet was dyed (Soṭah 46b). Maimonides explains that the blood of the ḥalzun is red, and was chemically prepared to produce the tekelet-color ("Yad," ẓiẓit, ii. 2). As the traditional color of tekelet is sky-blue, the ordinary purple ḥalzun of Haifa was probably not the genuine tekelet ḥalzun, although its dye may have been chemically changed to sky-blue. Perhaps there was also a rare blue species, such as is mentioned in the Talmud.

R. Gershon Enoch, in his "Sefune Ṭemune Ḥol" and "Petil Tekelet," recently published, attracted considerable notice by advocating the restoration of the blue cord in the ẓiẓit; he declared that the ḥalzun dye is obtainable in Italy, which place, he says, is referred to in Ezek. xxvii. 7 as the "isles of Elishah" (see Targ. Jonathan). He even secured there a specimen of the blue-blooded "fish-snail," and had some wool dyed, which he sold to the Ḥasidim at an exorbitant price, for use in their fringes. Mordecai Rabinovitz, in "Oẓar ha-Sifrut" (vol. iii.), criticized Gershon Enoch's innovation, and disputed his claim that he had found the ḥalzun, principally because the dyed material did not retain its color, and because the ḥalzun proper is found only in Palestine.

  • Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, §§ 365-370;
  • Schwartz, Palestine, p. 197, Philadelphia, 1850;
  • Pal. Explor. Fund, 1877, pp. 187-190;
  • Emden, Maṭpaḥat Sefarim, pp: 22, 23, Cracow, 1871;
  • Oẓar ha-Sifrut, iii. 126, ib. 1889-90;
  • Eisenstein, Code of Life, part i., ch. iii.
J. J. D. E.
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