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The Crown of Halacha

Tallis Katan & Chassidic Minhag – Over or Under?

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Rav Bloomenstiel

by Rav Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel, shlit”a

Question: It was the view of the Arizal that one should not wear his tzitzis exposed. Given the fact that the Arizal is the source of many Chassidic minhagim, to what would you attribute the phenomenon that Chassidim do not follow the Arizal’s direction and allow their tzitzis to hang outside their clothes? Is there something particular about the symbolism of tzitzis that causes Chassidim to abide by the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch instead of following the laws and minhagim of the Kabbalists, as they do in many other cases?

Answer: This is a good question.  You are right that, compared to other Ashkenazim, Chassidim tend to rely more upon the views of the Ari. However, the relationship between Chassidus and Kabbala is a tricky area. Let’s parse your question into two parts: 1) How much should we expect Chassidim to rely upon the Ari and, 2) Why don’t Chassidim follow the Ari with regard to tzitzis (the Ari wrote the tzizis should be concealed)?

Kabbalah & Chassidus

The first question gets us into the relationship between the Ari’s Kabbalah and Chassidus, which is a massive topic that could keep us busy for years.  I will only deal with it minimally here.

The Baal ha-Tanya held that when Kabbala and halakha conflict, a Chasid should follow the former. Yet, a survey of practices amongst various Chassidic groups today reveals this is not the absolute rule. As Chassidus has changed over the past 240 years, Chassidic practice has mostly come to base itself upon traditions evolved via dynastic transmission. The actions and teachings of the Rebbes determine the particulars of practice for many groups much more so than the broader vision of the early Chassidic fathers. Apart from the hanhoga of the Baal ha-Tanya, I’m not certain that, nowadays, there is a natural expectation for any Chassidus to follow the Arizal in any particular inyan.

There are many, particularly in Chabad, who will argue that this is incorrect and that Chassidim always follow the Ari as described by the Baal HaTanya.  This may be true for Chabad, but anyone who says such a thing is clearly not familiar with what the rest of the Chassidishe world actually does.  The Baal HaTanya’s ruling is just not universally followed today.  This may also be explained by the fact that many Chassidishe groups did not accept the Baal HaTanya as the final authority on Chassidic practice.  On this point there are many (again, particularly in Chabad) that will take issue.  Since this is a readily observable and verifiable fact, I am not going to devote more space to it here.

Today, it seems that the question which determines if a Kabbalistic custom is or is not adapted by a particular Chassidus is: “Does the minhag or practice fit into the paradigm and expression of Torah Judaism fostered by that Chassidus?”

 Tzitzis & Chassidus: Ari vs. Bais Yosef

It is only a hypothesis, but nireh li that the Mechaber’s opinion fits much better with one of primary emphases of Chassidus than does the Arizal’s. The Ari is quoted by R’ Chaim Vital in the Eitz Chaim, Shaar Tzitzit 1 as instructing that the tallis koton be worn under the clothing. Kabbalistically, the tallis koton corresponds to certain oros that are covered over or hidden. Therefore, the tallis koton itself should also be covered over or hidden.

This custom, like many kabbalistic practices, is essentially a mirroring below of a supernal structure/interaction above. Undoubtedly, it accomplishes many things for the wearer. However, these accomplishments, for most of us, are not so tangible or readily grasped.

The Mechaber’s requirement that the tzitzis be worn out is derived from the words of the posuk itself: “You shall see them and remember all the mitzvos of G-D,” (Bamidbar 15:39.)  Specifically, when the tzitzis are seen one’s awareness of HaShem’s mitzvos is heightened. This view of tzitzis as contributory to our active awareness of and connection to HaShem and his mitzvos is much more consonant with the chassidic value of deveykus, to constantly increase our awareness of and connection to ha-Kadosh Boruch Hu. For Chassidic ideology, this is may make the Mechaber the more attractive option.

However, according to those Chassidim who base their practice squarely upon the Baal ha-Tanya, we are left with a question. After all – even in Lubavitch the tzitzis are worn visibly. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutei Sichos 33 (p. 95-103) noted the contradiction between chassidic practice and the Ari Za”l, providing an answer that beautifully explains the custom. He wrote that the Ari actually wore a tallis gadol at all times over his clothing and an arba kanfos beneath his clothing (with the tzitzis fully concealed). The outer tallis was the chitzonius of the peulos of a Jew, the simple actions of mitzvos and the avoidance of aveiros.   The inner tallis was the penimuis, the inner growth and development that resulted from the actions of the chitzonius.   The Rebbe held that this practice was unique to the Ari and was not for public consumption. Therefore, he concludes that is enough for most Jews to wear the tallis koton under the shirt, yet leave the tzitzis exposed. In this way they are provided with a practical expression of the chitzonius and penimius.

This explanation works to explain not only Chabad practice, but Chassidic custom as a whole.  However, the idea of wearing the beged concealed but the tzitzis out as a compromise between the Ari and Bais Yosef is not original, but is brought by the Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav (who was the author of the Baals HaTanya), the Shelah, and the Mogen Avraham (O.C. 8:13) as the appropriate way to wear tzitzis. Today, this is the most widely followed custom.  One may contend that the Chassidim who wear their tzitzis with the entire beged over their shirts are holding like the Mechaber (O.C. 8:11, 24:1) who states that not just the tzitzis but the entire beged should be worn out and over one’s clothing. Yet, even these Chassidim usually wear a vest over the beged.   The Minhag Yisroel Torah O.C. 8:6 traces the custom of wearing a vest over the beged to concern for the Ari’s requirement that the tzitzis be concealed. 

Either way you parse it, concealing the beged and keeping the strings out is still compliant or, at least, a comprise with the view of the Ari.

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