ARBA' KANFOT("four corners"):

The "four-cornered garment"; a rectangular piece of cloth, usually of wool, about three feet long and one foot wide, with an aperture in the center sufficient to let it pass over the head, so that part falls in front and part behind. To its four corners are fastened the fringes (Ẓiẓit) in the same manner as to the Ṭallit. It is therefore also called the "small ṭallit" (ṭallit ḳaṭon).

The Arba' Kanfot and the Ṭallit.

The Arba' Kanfot, like the ṭallit, is worn by male persons in pursuance of the commandment, as recorded in Num. xv. 37-41 and Deut. xxii. 12, to wear a garment with fringes. But while the ṭallit is thrown over the upper garments only in the morning service, the Arba' Kanfot is worn under the upper garments during the whole day. In putting on the ṭallit the benediction to be pronounced reads: "Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who hath commanded us to wrap ourselves in fringes" (). The conclusion of the benediction on the Arba' Kanfot reads: ". . . and hath commanded us the commandment of fringes" (ShulḦan 'Aruk, OraḦ Ḥayyim, 8, 12). Among the Ashkenazim the ṭallit is used by males over thirteen, while the Arba' Kanfot is provided also for children as soon as they are able to put on their clothes without assistance.

Origin of the Arba' Kanfot.

There is no trace of the Arba' Kanfot among the Oriental Jews of the Middle Ages (compare Leopold Löw, "Gesammelte Schriften," ii. 320, Szegedin, 1890; Israel Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 287, Philadelphia, 1897). It may be assumed that it was adopted by the European Jews in the times of persecution, when they had to refrain from exhibiting the garment with fringes. The wearing of such a garment as an outer robe was therefore limited to the synagogue, while the precept to wear fringes at all times was fulfilled in the wearing of the Arba' Kanfot. Some superstitions have gathered round the wearing of the Arba' Kanfot in Eastern districts; the placing of a piece of "afiḳomen" in one of the corners of the Arba' Kanfot was supposed to avert the evil eye(see Afiḳomen). In Moravia the Arba' Kanfot is often left on the body in the grave.

[The oldest mention of the Arba' Kanfot is found in the code of Jacob ben Asher, about 1350 (Ṭur OraḦ Ḥayyim, xxiv.). who refers to Mordecai as quoted in the "Bet Yosef"), where, however, the custom is merely alluded to (Mordecai's annotations to Alfasi, § 945, ed. Vienna, vol. i., 82c.).—D.]

Arba' Kanfot.(Reproduced by permission from the collection in the United States National Museum.)
  • Men. 38 et seq.; Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, Ẓiẓit; ShulḦan 'Aruk, OraḦ Ḥayyim, 8-10.
A. J. M. C.
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