“דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם ועשו להם ציצת” (ט”ו,ל”ח)
The מחבר (או”ח סימן ח’ סעיף ד’) writes מחזיר שתי ציציות לפניו ושתים לאחריו כדי שיהא מסובב במצות – one should make sure that two tzitzis are in front of him and two are in the back of him in order that he should be surrounded with mitzvos. The משנה ברורה (ס”ק ט’) brings from the מגן אברהם that the מנהג is to make an עטרה a crown out of silk to make sure that the tallis is put on every time the same way. The reason for this is so the tzitzis in front which are near his head are always in the front near his head and the tzitzis in back which are lower down are always in the back lower down. We find this idea by the Mishkan that the beam that was on the north side was always put there. Being near the head of the person is more חשוב than being in the back lower down and we don’t want to bring them down from their מדרגה. The מהרי”ל (הלכות סוכה) says that the walls of the סוכה should be put up on the same side every year. The אר”י ז”ל was not מקפיד that the same tzitzis should always be in the front. מנהג חב”ד is not to have an עטרה.
The מחבר (או”ח סימן י’ סעיף י’) writes מצנפת פטורה אפילו של ארצות המערב ששני ראשיה משלכים על כתפיהם וגופם, ואף על פי שמתכסה בה ראשו ורובו פטור כיון שעקרה לכסות הראש, דכסותך אמר רחמנא ולא כסות הראש – A head covering is not obligated in tzitzis. The Mishna Berurah there says that we make an עטרה for the tallis not because it is mainly used for a head covering rather so the two front tzitzis should always be in the front.
The ערוך השלחן however says that one should not make the עטרה out of gold or silver. By doing so it appears that the main purpose is to cover the head which would then render it a head covering which is פטור from tzitzis. This is also the opinion of the לבוש. Reb Moshe zt”l (אגרות משה או”ח ח”ה סי’ כ’ אות ג’) disagrees and is of the opinion that it is permissible to make the עטרה out of gold or silver, since it is only there as a סימן which way to put on the tallis. One should be נוהג כמנהג המקום. The ערוך השלחן says that the מנהג is to sew an extra piece on the inside of the tallis so it should not get ruined from the sweat. By having this piece one is also able to tell where the top part of the tallis is. It seems that in earlier times this was not the מנהג because besides for the אר”י ז”ל not being מקפיד to always have the same two tzitzis in the front, he also wasn’t מקפיד on the inside and outside of the tallis. If the מנהג was to sew on a piece to protect from the sweat, the tallis would be put on the same way every time.
The מלבי”ם says that if one also makes an עטרה of gold or silver in the middle of the tallis then it is permissible. The מנהג in Poland was to have an עטרה by the head and in middle of the tallis. The ערוך השלחן is still of the opinion that it is better not to have any gold or silver on the tallis.
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
¹Sources: משנה ברורה, דרשו, אוצר פלאות התורה,ערוך השלחן