Dear Rabbi Simon,
I hope it’s OK to trouble you with a question/discussion that I was having with a friend:
Essentially – does one need/is one obligated to wear a begged katon (tzitzit)?
I was putting forward the view that this is a must, a mitzvah, something that one cannot absolve oneself of. That minhag of the Jewish People essentially becomes Halacha. Whereas the other party was of the opinion that only if one decides to wear a four-cornered garment does one need to then put tzitzit on it. But the choice is really at the discretion of the individual…
Who is right?
TY for your interesting Q.
Strictly speaking, you and your friend are both right. The mitzvah of tzitzit is mentioned explicitly in the Torah (more than once, including in the third paragraph of the Shema), and as an easy, tangible, inexpensive, and continuous mitzvah, one who neglects it demonstrates (or would seem to demonstrate, at least) an indifference to mitzvoth generally. Remember, on his deathbed the Vilna Gaon is said to have clutched his tzitzit and declaimed that in this world, one can fulfill a mitzvah continuously for the price of a few roubles, but in the Next World, even the greatest saint cannot fulfill as much as a single mitzvah, for any cost.
As you rightly say, the practice of the Jewish People is to deliberately seek out and don a four-cornered garment for this purpose.
Nevertheless, since the obligation is stated WRT a garment of four corners specifically (think of a toga), one who is not wearing such a garment cannot fulfill/is exempt from the mitzvah.
For more on the subject see this short halakhic essay: http://www.tallit-shop.com/tallit-katan-mandatory/
Rabbi Rashi Simon