By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
A well-regarded first-grade rebbe from a local yeshiva laments that many of the talmidim in his class wear tzitzis that are invalid. The first time they wear a given pair of tzitzis they are kosher, but through subsequent washings the strings become a tangled mess. The question that must be addressed is: are first-graders obligated to wear tzitzis?
The Gemara says in Sukkah (42a), “A minor who knows how to shake a lulav is obligated in lulav; to wrap himself in tzitzis is obligated in tzitzis; to guard tefillin, his father must purchase for him tefillin.” The father does not necessarily have to purchase a lulav for his son, because he can make use of his father’s. (Although in the Diaspora many feel that a minor should have his own lulav.) A father must purchase tefillin for his son when he becomes of age, so that he may wear tefillin during davening.
The Meiri takes note that the Beraisa does not say that a father must purchase tzitzis for his son; it merely states that the minor is obligated in tzitzis. The Meiri explains that the mitzvah of tzitzis is actually an obligation to put fringes on the corners of a four-cornered garment that one happens to be wearing. Hence, there is no obligation to specifically purchase a four-cornered garment for one’s son. If the son who is of age happens to be wearing a four-cornered garment, the father should make sure that it has tzitzis attached to it.
Yet the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch both state clearly that one should purchase tzitzis for his son. The Bach takes note of the inconsistency and explains that nowadays it is the accepted custom to specifically don a four-cornered garment to obligate ourselves in the mitzvah of tzitzis. This is known as the tallis katan. Since a father wears a tallis katan, he must purchase one for his son when he becomes of age.
The Mordechai explains that a child is considered of age when he knows that two corners of the tallis katan are worn in the back and two corners are worn in the front. Further, the child must know how to hold the tzitzis properly during k’rias Shema. What age is that equivalent to? The Tur says a nine-year-old boy must wear tzitzis. The Bach says that the obligation begins earlier, at six or seven. The Shaarei Teshuvah quotes the Eliyahu Rabbah that a boy should begin wearing tzitzis at three years old.
What is one supposed to do with tzitzis that have become invalid and that one wishes to discard? The Shulchan Aruch (21:1) rules clearly that one may throw them into the trash. Yet the Rema writes that one should not throw them into the trash, because that is degrading. However, if they end up in the trash because one did not put them away, that is of no consequence. Many people wrap the tzitzis in a bag and then discard it.
It is interesting to note that leaving unneeded tzitzis on the floor or ground is not considered degrading. It is only degrading if one walks on them. This is clear from the Shaar HaTzion’s comment on the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch that one should not walk on his aravos after he has finished with them. The Mishnah Berurah notes that these halachos are the same for a shofar, lulav, and sukkah s’chach as well. The Pri Megadim writes that the same halachos apply to the walls of a sukkah. The Rema quotes the Maharil, who offers a third opinion, that one should be meticulous and hide his used tzitzis.
The mitzvah objects used by a minor have less sanctity than those used by adults. An esrog used for the mitzvah may not be eaten until Simchas Torah. Yet Rebbe Yochanan says that an esrog used by a minor may be eaten on Hoshanna Rabbah after it was used. Rav Shlomo Kluger suggests that perhaps Rebbe Yochanan intended that one may even eat an esrog used by a minor during the first days of yom tov or chol ha’moed. Perhaps similarly there is no need to be meticulous in hiding the tzitzis worn by a minor that are no longer kosher or needed. In any case, even adult tzitzis may be discarded in a dignified manner, according to the letter of the law.
There is a preference of reusing a mitzvah object for another mitzvah. The Mishnah says that worn-out priestly garments were turned into wicks and used at the Simchas Beis HaShoevah celebrations. As a practical example, the Maharil says that discarded tzitzis strings should be put to use for another mitzvah, such as being used as a bookmark in a sefer. The Shut Yad Chanoch says that one should reuse his esrog from Sukkos for his charoses on Pesach! That is assuming he kept his esrog away from chametz. The Rema quotes the minhag that one should reuse his hoshannos as fuel for matzah baking. Rav Chaim Kanievsky noted that it is a little peculiar that the Mishnah Berurah wrote that one should reuse his hoshannos for the burning of chametz and didn’t quote the Rema who suggests the alternative use of matzah baking. Presumably, the Mishnah Berurah was intentionally offering an example not cited in the Rema.
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Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.