Tzitzith are made of eight strings, four strings doubled over. They are attached through a small hole near the corner of a garment and contain five knots and four groupd of windings between the knots. The group nearest the corner has seven windings, the next eight, the next eleven and the last thirteen. Each string is two threads tightly twisted together. The tzitzith touch upon the deepest philosophical concepts of Judaism.
The Torah mentions tzitzith in Numbers 15:38 - Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them that they make tzitzith on the corners of their garments for all generations, and they shall place on the corner tzitzith a twist of blue (pethil). Also Deuteronomy 22:11-12 says: You shall not wear shaatnez, linen and wool together. But you shall make tassels (gedillim) on the corners of your garments, with which to cover yourself. Thus the three terms used are tzitzith, pethil, and gedillim.
The only other time in the Bible tzitzith appears is in Ezekiel 8:3 and it means a lock of hair. Referring to this verse, the Talmud tells us that tzitzith are a group of freely hanging strings resembling a lock of hair. Tzitzith must contain a number of loose strings, and that part is called the anaf.
Pethil means twisted string, but also has three other connotations. First, pethil means winding so we wind one of the strings around the rest, because of the wording in the Torah, 'on the corner tzitzith. Second, the string is twisted, two threads twisted together. Third, because twisting consists of joining and bending, the four strings are doubled over (twisted and bent) to make eight. The blueness of the twist reminds us of the priest's outfit in which blue threads are placed through holes, thus the strings are placed through holes in the corners of the garment.
Gedilim means hair or string bound together in a tassle, braid or rope. It is plural so it refers to double, so it alludes to the four doubled strings made into a tassel.
So the upper third, the braided part, is referred to as the Gedil, and the lower two thirds is referred to as the anaf.
to be continued
- adapted from Tzitzith by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan