Do tzitzit need to have five knots? What about Yemenite tying?

Posted by Ben G. on 19th Aug 2016

There's a lot of confusion and ambiguity over the question how one should tie techelet tzitzit. Recently we received this email from a customer who ordered a tallit with Rambam tying.

"I was just approached about the Talit Gadol that I have received with the 13 chulyot tying method. And I was told that it is invalid and not up to standard according to Halacha because it does not have 6 knots [sic. he means 5 knots]. I was very surprised because I know how strict and careful your company is to provide the correct tying. Are the wraps themselves knots? I didn't know what to say. I'm assuming that they are just unfamiliar with the minhag. Thank you for your time. By the way, I love the tallit. and the tzitzit. I'm sure we can figure it out."

I wrote him the following reply, which may be helpful for anyone out there wondering about Rambam/Yemenite tzitzit tying.

I'm glad you gave me the benefit of the doubt, despite the comment. I have a feeling the person who spoke with you is not so familiar with techelet tzitzit. You might want to refer him to this blog post, especially the last two paragraphs [below].
The next question, then is what about Rambam tying? Can we argue with the Rambam? If you look up the various descriptions of how to tie techelet tzitzit in the original sources, you will find certain ambiguities. But the Rambam is quite clear (as usual). It's right there, step-by-step, in the beginning of Hilchot Tzitzit in the Mishneh Torah.
There are a lot of Yemenites who follow the Rambam to this day, and who tie their tzitzit exactly they way we tied yours. In fact, when I first learned how to tie Rambam, I went to two Yemenites in my neighborhood.
Perhaps one may argue that he is not a Yemenite, and therefore should not rely on the Rambam. I don't think that's correct in the case of techelet, where nobody has a chain of tradition.
There are a significant number of Ashkenazim in Eretz Yisrael who also rely on the Rambam's tzitzit tying method. Once a yeshiva student asked Rav Dov Lior, "Regarding all these people out there who tie according to the Rambam, who are they relying on?" 
Rabbi Lior retorted: "The Rambam!"

What he meant is that the Rambam is one of the most prominent Rishonim, and in this case can be considered authoritative enough to be relied upon.
Regarding halachic authorities who propound Rambam tying, see remarks by Rabbi Mois Navon here.