My seven-year-old came running in with an emergency the other day – his tzitzis had gotten tangled in his remote control jeep!
It wasn’t the first time we’ve had a tzitzis mishap, and definitely won’t be the last. As I helped him disentangle himself, I wondered how soon I’d be replacing this particular pair. And what I should replace it with – more of the same, or something new this time?
Buying and caring for Tzitzis (or tzitzit to many) can be a fairly challenging endeavor for mommies. After all, most of us have never worn a pair ourselves, so how are we supposed to know what works best for our superactive little guys? What’s the deal on taking care of them, anyway? And when is it time to say goodbye to those gray, tattered fringes?
Over the five years of my career as a mommy of tzitzis wearers, I’ve discovered a couple of things which should help you out.
Where to Buy Tzitzis
Your little mitzvah boy’s turning three and ready to transition into the stage of tzitzis wearing? Where do you go, and what do you get? Here are some essential tips:
1. Tzitzis strings need to be made and tied for the sake of the mitzvah, so always buy a pair with a hechsher on it.
2. Look for 100% cotton tzitzis, since these are the most breathable in the summer.
3. Although T-shirt tzitzis (e.g. Neatzit, Perfzit) have become popular for kids, ask your local rabbi before before investing because many rule that tzitzis should not be worn against the skin. If you get the green light, t-shirt tzitzit are a great option because they are comfortable and don’t ride up and give that lopsided effect.
4. Tzitzis with pictures (mitzvah train tzitzis, alef-beis tzitzit, etc.) are be cute for beginners, but they show through light-colored shirts, so get a plain pair for Shabbos too.
5. Sizes: Tzitzis sizes vary depending on the company, and they don’t always correspond to clothing sizes. If the package isn’t closed, hold the pair up and imagine it on your son’s body. If buying tzitzis online, it’ll probably tell you which size corresponds to which age.
How to Wash Tzitzis
You’ll soon discover that tzitzis strings rarely stay white after exiting the packaging – and no, we can’t dye them all blue either. Instead, we do the best we can, and purchase new ones before every major holiday or event. Here are a couple of tips from the trenches:
7. Experienced mothers offer various opinions on the best way to wash those tzitzis. Some place them in a zippered laundry bag and toss them in the washing machine; others fold them carefully into a sock and tie the top, and then put them into the washing machine; and yet others only wash them by hand. Whichever method you use, beware of the following:
8. Never rub the tzitzis ties – they unravel really quickly. And although you can tighten the ties yourself, most rabbinic authorities hold that women should not insert the tzitzis strings into the holes to begin with. If one of the knots comes undone, it’s best to have a man retie it.
9. If you employ one of the washing machine methods above, straighten out the strings as soon as they exit the wash, or they’ll turn into an unsightly looking tangle that never quite straightens out.
10. Never put a pair of tzitzis into the dryer; always line-dry instead.
Is it Time to Say Goodbye?
Between getting tangled in bike wheels, caught in tree branches, and twisted up in belt loops, those eagerly purchased tzitzis sure don’t last very long. How long can you hold onto them, and when are they definitely ready for the next step?
12. Be prepared: Invest in at least three or four pairs for your little one. They get dirty easily, especially when worn during dinnertime, play time, and other exciting times of life.
13. Unraveling knots and strings do not invalidate the tzitzis, unless all five of the knots have unraveled. But they’ll last longer if you reinforce the bottom knot every so often.
14. If one of the four tzitzis strings has torn out of the garment completely, it’s invalidated. But if the strings have torn at the bottom (e.g., from getting caught in a bike or other such events), the tzitzis are still kosher – as long as the knots remain.
15. When the tzitzis are beyond repair, they shouldn’t be disposed of in the regular trash. Either wrap them first and then toss them, or place them in genizah (depository for holy objects).
Meanwhile, I’ve gotta get back to my little boys.
Anyone got any other great tzitzis tips?
C.B. Gavant is a writer and editor who lives in Jerusalem with her family.