Wearing tzitzit is a major commandment, repeated three times in the Torah. Tzitzit is a sign of Jewish royalty, and touching it reminds the Jew of every single commandment. The critical part of tzitzit is a blue thread. Rabbis abrogated this commandment because Jews forgot the secret of blue dye—which was never secret or fixed in the first place. Rabbis replaced tzitzit with absurd-looking long tassels. The tassels were all white, and thus bereft of the biblical meaning associated with blue.

Attaching tassels to the hems of clothes was impractical, as ancient clothes commonly stretched to the ground. Numbers 15:39 enjoins us to look at tzitzit rather than touching them; they were placed too low to touch or pull, as modern tassels can be pulled. Tzitzit should be attached to all clothes, even at night. The rabbinical interpretation that looking is only possible during the daytime is implausible. Tassels are inconvenient to walk with, and even more so to sleep with.

Jesus accused the Pharisees of making their tassels long; the customary length of tzitzit appears to be short.

Deuteronomy 22:12 introduces a synonym for tzitzit: “Make yourself gdilim.” This rare word has to do with majesty, thus in 1Kings 7:17 it means wreaths. The common meaning of tzitzit and gdilim seems to be fringes; long tassels surely have nothing in common with wreaths. Num 15:38 speaks of tzitzit (singular) on canfei (plural), suggesting a single piece of tzitzit rather than four tassels. The Karaite reading of gdilim as “chains” (thus having tzitzit as plaids) is also possible.

Another hint comes from Exodus 28:33: the high priest’s clothes were hemmed with “pomegranates of blue, and purple, and red” threads. Though it is possible that high priests wore pomegranates while laymen satisfied themselves with tassels, no less likely is that common Israelites also wore pomegranate-like skeins, but only of blue threads. The skeins would be small—essentially knots—but many rather than four.

The same verse speaks of tzitzit of each edge (canaf). That is, if the garment has two bottom edges like a tunic, then tzitzit must be attached to each edge, namely two of them. Deut 22:12 changed that to a tzitzit on (presumably each of) the four edges.

Deuteronomy 22:12 mandates attaching tzitzit to four canfot of one’s clothes. That is traditionally interpreted as “four corners,” and clothes which lack four corners are exempted. In Isaiah 11:12, however, the same phrase refers to four ends of the earth. Isaiah didn’t imagine the earth to be cross-shaped or rectangular, but used the term “four corners” figuratively to denote directions. In 1Samuel 24:4, David cuts the canaf off of Saul’s robe—clearly a considerable piece that David later waved to Saul. In line with its main meaning of “wing,” canaf is a skirt of clothing, loosely its end.

In Samuel 24:4, the robe (meil) has canaf. A similar robe (meil) is described in Exodus 28:31-34, where its bottom is called shulim. The word shulim only comes in plural and seems to mean “folds.” The folds are many, not four: Exodus 28:34 describes their decoration as “round about.” The most expensive robe (meil) worn by high priests (Ex28:34) and kings (1Sam24:4) was likely a single-piece cloth. The meil robe lacked corners but possessed canfot, which therefore must denote bottom edges rather than corners.

At the same time, Deut22:12 attributes four canfot to csut (cf csui), which means any covering, from the covering of the Ark to a poor man’s sackcloth. In connection with csut, canaf can mean “corner,” but for the sake of consistency with other uses of canaf this word should be assumed to mean “edge.”

Num15:38 relates the commandment of tzitzit without mentioning the four canfot. Every instance of the commandment is presumed to be intelligible on its own. It is unlikely that the lawgiver omitted an important detail. The mention of the four canfot is merely a metaphor for “along the bottom edges.”

If such diverse clothes as sackcloth and high priest’s clothes possess canfot, then modern clothes likely possess canfot, too. Deut 22:12 concurs, using csut to relate the widest range of applicable clothing. The only restriction possibly implied by Deut 22:12 is that canfot should be attached to covering rather than just any clothes—that is, to the outermost piece of clothes. Num 15:38 speaks of a still wider range of applicable clothes: bigdei, any clothes, though most commonly outer clothes. By the time Deuteronomy was recorded, the inconvenience of attaching fringes to all clothes had become apparent, and Deuteronomy sensibly clarifies that the commandment is limited to outer clothes. It is wrong to limit the tzitzit only to garments which have four corners.

The rabbinical insistence on four corners created a need for tallit, a special piece of clothes with the required number of corners. It also conflicted with shaatnez commandment, a prohibition of wearing linen and wool simultaneously: woolen tassels are commonly attached to linen tallit. Sages recognized the problem, but instead of admitting that their tassels are incorrect, they lifted the shaatnez ban in this particular instance.

Mishna Kiddushin 1:7 exempts women from time-fixed commandments, including wearing tzitzit. The rabbinical law is ostensibly meant to free women for household work. That nonsensical approach flies in the face of the Torah, which addresses the commandments to the entire congregation. It is because the Torah speaks in masculine gender (a mixed gender in Hebrew) that we can be sure that women are under the same yoke as men—and must wear tzitzit. Rashi accepted women wearing tzitzit and ruled they must say blessing when donning it. It is unlikely that ancient women wore tunics, since a tunic reveals one’s legs. Women’s clothes lacked four corners, but likely included tzitzit.

It seems superfluous to discuss the connotation of bah in Deut 22:12: cover [yourself] in it. Though modern people don’t usually cover themselves in clothes (bathrobes and long coats are rare exceptions), the commandment clearly relates to any suitable clothes.

Tzitzit fringes are made with enigmatic ptil tekhelet.

Ciseh—to cover (with a tzitzit garment)—is related to cisa, throne. Tekhelet, blue sapphire, the ancient for lapis lazuli, the color of God’s throne. That traditional reading is supported by the etymological meaning of tekhelet, the color of dark-blue sunset sky.

Exodus 28:28: patil tekhelet is sufficiently strong to wear as a breastplate. Here patil is a noun. In Genesis 38:25, patilim is a plural noun. Numbers 19:15: tzamid patil alaiv—cover bound to it; here patil is used as an adjective.

Patil is an object made by a specific method, seemingly by twisting. Patil seems to be braid rather than thread. It should be put on the fringe (Num15:38) which does not quite imply plait into (betoh), as the tradition has it. Plausibly, the patil blue braid runs horizontally across the fringes which are attached throughout the bottom edges of garments. A horizontal blue line is consistent with the tradition of tallit: it has specifically horizontal lines which, according to some commentators, are reminiscent of the patil.

Fringes are not necessarily white, but can be of any color. They are not necessarily woolen, but being an extension of the garment, the fringes are of the same textile as the garment.

Tekhelet was available in quantities large enough that a high priest’s meil robe and various ritual clothes were fully dyed with that color. In Exodus 35:6, tekhelet is implied to be widespread among Hebrews, who are enjoined to bring it as an offering. The commandment to attach tekhelet fringes to each cloak would impose hardship on Hebrews if the dye had been produced in minuscule quantities from shellfish, as rabbis assert. The production of dye from shellfish presented a problem of kashrut, because shellfish is non-kosher, and extracting considerable amounts of shellfish meat could tempt the workers to eat it. Hebrews in the Sinai would have found it problematic to procure a sufficient quantity of shellfish dye. The dye is not particularly strong, and fades away with wear and washing, necessitating occasional replacement.

A possible source of deep sky-blue dye is woad, known as Asp of Jerusalem. Woad is produced from a plant common to steppe and desert zones, and thus common both to second-millennium B.C.E. Sinai and later to Judea. A chemically identical indigo dye is another possible source: expensive but sufficiently widespread in the Middle East and Africa that Hebrews could afford it.

The commandment to wear fringes with blue braid—the two signs of royalty or affluence—dispels the myth of mandatory Jewish humility.