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As we discussed in the Halachas of Tzitzit, an Onen is not required to practice the commandment. From the death of a close relative until the time they are buried, the pre-mourner (Onen) must focus on burying their loved one. Thus, the pre-mourner is not required in positive commandments. Due to the pleasure of not having to do Mitzvot, this has led to many people not being buried for a very long time. If people would just enjoy Tzitzit.
Let’s get into the history of Tzitzit and undershirt development and why people are all of the sudden enjoying wearing Tzitzit.
Wool to Cotton
The first Tzitzit were wool. Back in the Balkan Peninsula in the 12th century, it was much easier to grab a sheep and de-hair it than to plant cotton seed.
Wool Tzitzit first became popular in Czarist Russia, sparking the growth of the Chasidic movement. It helped those living without decent heating in the Kiev and Lvov regions. This is why Lvov has been part of every country in Europe over the years. Bad heating. Wool Tzitzit helped with warmth and allowed Jews to learn Torah during the day.
Yet, it was itchy, which the snobs of Western Europe did not like. To quote a great student of a teacher who was educated by a rav, who was educated by a great rabbi and student of a sage, 'The itch of the Tzitzit tassels on my leg is enough. I don't need to walk around scratching my torso as well.'
The Joy of Cotton and Linen
It was the days before undershirts. Mind you. There were no undershirts, cotton was not readily available in the Pale, and there was a lot of discomfort. People were so mad, they even went out of their way to purchase Tallises to swing at others.
And forget the summers. The wool Tzitzit were so warm, people were sweating all the time. Showers were necessary daily, and drought was a natural result.
Thus came cotton Tzitzit. As Shlomo Yankel exclaimed, 'Now these breathe! It's hard to control on the skin, but it breathes.'
And then linen came along, and life was beautiful. Due to Shatnez (the law of not mixing wool and linen), people didn't have to worry about having to wear wool Tzitzit outside of Czarist Russia ever again. Tyranny came to an end.
Nonetheless, there was still a bit of undergarment movement.
Some fool decided to introduce polyester. Shlomo Yankel was in shock, and on behalf of the Jewish people he questioned, 'How does something so thin make me sweat more than wool?!'
Why people were creating new Tzitzit still was an anomaly. But we as Jews are innovative. Just look at the prepackaged Chanukah oil filled cups and Sukkot decorations with Santa Claus on them. Innovation never ceases with our people.
History Of Undershirts
Undershirts only developed in the early twentieth century. This explains why the Industrial Revolution truly took off in the 1900s. People needed more undershirts. The American forefathers were sick of having to put on a set of clothes under their clothes. The simple concept of short sleeve cotton against the body was revolutionary.
A second Revolutionary War almost took place when John Long suggested undershirts be made from wool. That was shot down. Literally shot down. And nobody heard from John Long again. Nonetheless, we are still stuck with his thermal underwear, also known as long johns. Greatly usable in the winter. The businessman he was, he did suggest we wear them during the summers as well.
It was at this moment, with the arrival of the undershirt, the modern Tzitzit became fully bearable. Though they were not required, even women insisted on wearing Tzitzit.
Rav Scheinberg was so comfortable, he decided to wear tens of Tzitzit at once.
The Tzitzit revolution was underway. We had cotton. We had comfort. We had normal undershirts. John Long was shot. Now what do we do? We make Tzitzit as small as possible.
Would Thomas Jefferson have worn Tzitzit if he had a decent undershirt? We will never know.
The tiny mesh Tzitzit era of the late 1980s. It was a very uncomfortable decade. Some people even stopped wearing undershirts. Comfort was forgotten.
The rabbis got rid of the mesh Tzitzit quite quickly, as mesh is a little too provocative.
Some Tzitzit were a single tiny cloth. A string with tassels attached. What the '80s did to the soul of our nation is still something we as a nation are rebounding from. It all can be traced back to David Lee Roth.
The Mesh Tzitzit also moved as much as a Tallis.
Undershirts with Buttons
Years went by and the undershirt was remembered. Fruit of the Loom reminded us of comfort.
Innovation never stops with our people, and the Hanes three pack price hike was too much for us to bear as a people. To quote, 'We need to make them into Tzitzit.' So, they created an undershirt Tzitzit that was with a button. Known as the buttoned undershirt fiasco of 1993, worst idea behind mesh, or the Neatzit Insurrection, this was the worst use of undershirts. Very loose, and a random metal button you had to snap on each side. Most mid-age Jewish men did not have the dexterity to look to the side and snap a button. And with the loose fit, our Jewish men put on an average of fifteen pounds when wearing Tzitzit.
When Jewish men were told they needed to start going to the gym to work on their agility for button snapping, they protested the undershirt button Tzitzit. The phase lasted three weeks, a mourning period. To this day you can find a pair of snappable undershirt Tzitzit in your dad's closet. In protest and due to the trauma suffered from Neatzit, Jewish men have not been to the gym since.
As a community, we went back to wool. Anything was better than a button. People found themselves sweating again. For some reason, the undershirt with a button was hated so much that our community reacted with hatred towards cotton.
Evolution of the New Undershirt Tzitzit Ends
Finally, some brilliant man in Israel in 2021 said, 'Why the button. Undershirts are comfortable.' A Tzadik. To quote Israel News Syndicates, 'Something good came out of corona.'
They took undershirts, cut the sides, got rid of the button, and everybody was comfortable. A thread count of a hundred forty. Fits nice and snug. It's a joy.
All the soldiers want Tzitzit now. The four cornered garment has taken off in the Israeli army. It's the stories of Jewish life saved. It's the story of the development of the modern-day undershirt Tzitzit and the comfort they offer. Either way, it's beautiful to see Jews practicing Mitzvot. And people are getting buried on time.
We as Jews are forever indebted to Fruit of the Loom. No thank yous were ever sent.
Epilogue to Our History
To wear the undershirt Tzitzit, if you want to smell decent, you still need an undershirt. Otherwise, after two days of Tzitzit you smell disgusting. And to this day the Tassels running down the legs itch.
Will they invent a Tzitzit leg separator?
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My kids take after me. Due to Kibud Av vEim, they always let me take first.
You get it? ‘Take after me' means to be like their dad. Instead, they let their dad fill his plate first, as per the Mitzvah to honor parents. Very good kids. If we can have a positive influence on the next generation with our puns, that is the blessing.
Giving Tzedakah, I like to know where the charity is going. That charity box in the front is for kids who need help with their artwork.