Yes, it’s an Irish holiday.

I get questions about my tzitzit a lot–mostly from other Jews.

Moments ago, here at the San Diego airport, I went through the full-body security theater scanulator.

My belt, which I usually use to hold the fringes in place, was not on because it has a terrorist belt buckle and was on the freedom-conveyor belt. Because of this, my fringes were flying all over the place.

So naturally, one of the members of the crack liberty team present asked, “Is it an Irish holiday?”

“No. He’s Jewish,” an even crackier member of the patriotism platoon said.

“Oh, it’s a Jewish holiday?!” the first one cleverly deduced.

“The fringes?” I said.


22 responses to “Yes, it’s an Irish holiday.

  1. David,

    I’ve actually got a few questions about tzitzit myself, which the Reform/Reconstructionist rabbis I’m usually around politely evade with the old “Well as Liberal Jews we don’t HAVE to wear them” chestnut. As someone who just started wearing them almost-full-time, I feel kind of ignorant to some of etiquette and rules of wearing them and no matter how much research I do I feel like I might be doing something wrong.

    I’m curious, did you have this sort of awkward transition period when you started wearing them?

    The belt idea never occurred to me…Thanks!

    • I didn’t have the awkward period because I started doing it while I was in Israel four years ago and I had the support of a few other liberal Jews who were doing it.

      I wear my fringes hanging out from under my shirt, but I used to find that they were always flying all over and shifting and being in places I didn’t want them. So I tuck the front two through my belt. I got the idea during hakafot last year. Some guys had talitot on and were dancing with the Torah, so they’d just shove part of their talit through their belt to keep it from falling off.

      • I had that exact same problem during Hakafot this year, and ended up just wearing my tallit around my neck like a towel rather than down my back like a cape to keep it from flying off while dancing.

        I’m gonna give the belt idea a shot. Thanks again for the idea!

  2. Also…the Irish wear fringes??

  3. I’ve been wearing them (tzitzit) for about 3 years now. My preferred style is to keep them completely tucked into my pants. Nothing (that I’ve seen) says they are for public display – just for my own awareness.

    Last month was my first time through the full-body scanners, which was followed up by a VERY thorough pat-down. I suspect that tucked as they were, the fringes resembled wires too much for the TSA’s comfort.

    “As liberal Jews…?” Heck, as ANY kind of Jew you don’t HAVE to wear them. Unless, you know, you translate “mitzvot” as “commandment” rather than “respectful suggestions if they don’t infringe somehow on your lifestyle”.

    • I’ve been wondering about that, as I’m getting ready to fly for the first time since going “full-time” with tzitzit (usually tucked in out of sight), and I was wondering if that would cause any difficulties. Any opinions whether it would make it easier to have them out when going through security rather than in? Out might get people’s attention, but in might lead to speculation about wires, etc. as you suggested.

    • Also, recall that there’s no real mitzvah to wear the arba kanfot, just that if you DO, you better have tzitzit on it. There are those who hold that arba kanfot is a universal minhag that has thus adopted a binding status, but no one will tell you that there is a mitzvah in the Torah to put it on. You could go your whole life without wearing any kind of tzitzit without, strictly speaking, violating a mitzvah.

    • I wear them out, instead of tucked, because I assume that it would be easier to forget to be reminded if they were tucked away. Also, I use them as an identifier the way some use a kipah.

      • So, if your tallit katan went missing for some reason one day, would you wear a kippah–as your identifier– instead?

        Also–and this seems like a ridiculously mundane logistics question, but I’m going for it anyways– how many tallitot katans (katanot?) do you have? Is one, washed fairly often, ‘normally’ enough for people who choose to wear it? Does the convenience of having more of them outweigh the cost and time of buying an extra one? I’ve thought about buying a second one to wear when the first one is in the wash.

        • Not ridiculous at all, Yakov. I often answer similar questions from liberal Jews who are new to daily tzitzit or who are just curious.

          I would not wear a kipah instead. I actually usually refuse to wear one unless it’s gonna cause a scene. That my tzitzit act as an identifier is ancillary to their main purpose. But it is a good additional purpose. I also just think that wearing them outside your pants increases the chances of them actually reminding you of something.

          I own many sets. I often pick up one or two more during the annual summer tzitzit sale. I usually wear one set for two or three days at a time, before tossing them in the laundry. I was them in individual delicates bags in the washing machine, but I hang-dry them.

          I think it’s totally worth to have several. I’ve also notices that people who own many sets tend to have tidier, whiter tzitzit.

  4. I’m assuming that at least one of the reasons David and Yakov wear tzitzit is because they have chosen to hearken to the Torah commandment to do so. Although the commandment gives a reason, to remind oneself by the wearing of all the other commandments, doing so would seem to carry the added value of reminding other Jews that they are obligated at least by those mitzvot that, in a Reform framework, push their buttons.

    As a non-tzitzit wearer, other than on my Shabbat tallit, I find the Irish holiday response as good as any when the question stems from ignorant curiosity, but I think I’d be tempted to go a little more on the attack than Yakov apparently does when the source of the question ought to know better.

    Many years ago, I attended a bar mitzvah at the shul where I had grown up, in a city where I no longer lived. My childhood rabbi greeted me in the reception line after services with, “I see it takes a bar mitzvah to get you to shul these days.” For once in my life, I came back with the right comeback on the spot: “No, Rabbi, I go to shul every shabbos. It takes a bar mitzvah to get me to your shul.”

  5. David,

    Why do you refuse to wear s kippah?

    Don’t you get weird looks from other Jews trying to figure out a guy who wears tzitzit out, but goes bareheaded? (I’m not saying that avoiding weird looks is a reason in itself to wear a kippah, but to me the two goes together like a horse and carriage…)

    • Reason #1: I hate being told what to do. No one will ever tell you to use this siddur, not that one you brought with you. No one will ever tell you that you can’t daven in this community or that community if you don’t have tzitzit on. There is no reason I can find as to why this ritual, out of all of the Jewish rituals out there, has become a line in the sand. Yet, kippot have come to occupy a bizarre emblematic place in Jewish life, which leads me to the second reason….

      Reason #2: The kippah seems to occupy a mere symbolic place in Jewish life. Despite what everyone says about being reminded that God is above you, there is no consensus on the historical reason for kippot. I don’t like doing things for no reason. And if the only reason we can come up with is that kippot symbolize God’s location at a higher altitude than us, then I am not interested in engaging with this ritual. It becomes a theological absurdity.

      And as for the notion that kippah and tzitzit are a natural pair, let’s consider first that they have no relationship whatsoever, except that both are articles of clothing. One is a biblical injunction, the other a minhag–albeit a minhag with tremendous traction. (But, given my distaste for the literal application of minhag hu halachah, I’m not interested.)

      Isak, it is interesting that you think the two articles of clothing are tied together. Most Jews I meet think it’s totally ordinary–whether they think it good or not–to wear a kippah, but not tzitzit. So it’s normative, in the collective Jewish consciousness, to engage in a particular minhag, but to ignore a full-fledged law that bears a resemblance to the minhag. That brings me to my third reason….

      Reason #3: Not only do I not think that there’s a whole lot in the discussion of tzitzit and kippot that makes no sense, but I also think that people have an obligation to point out things to make no sense. So, in wearing tzitzit, but no kippah, I am a living testament to why the whole thing makes no sense.

  6. Pingback: Annual Tzitzit check-up | The Reform Shuckle

  7. Twice in the last six months, I’ve had questions from the TSA about my tzitzis. I was wearing a t-shirt on both occasions, and each TSAer asked me to lift the shirt so they could see what the strings were attached to. I cannot begin to speculate on what they thought they were going to find.

  8. Pingback: It’s still an Irish holiday. | The Reform Shuckle

  9. I once had Israeli security come zooming up to me as I fiddled with mine. They clearly were worried I was adjusting some sort of suicide vest. Second only to my favorite Israeli security story, which went like this –
    Security Guy goes through my bag, finds tfillin
    SG: Whose are these?
    Sarah: Mine
    SG, thinking I misunderstood his hebrew, speaking louder and more slowly: No, whose are these? Your husband?
    Sarah: No, they are mine
    SG: Sigh, no, no, no. You aren’t aloud to carry things that belong to other people. WHOSE ARE THEY? Your brother?
    And so on. I ended up having to put them on.
    Good times.

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