Ben

May 252015
 

A large proportion of our customers are Sephardic. Recently we had a return customer who wanted a bigger talit, because he wants to start wearing it wrapped around him.

Hi, Ben. I bought a Beit Yosef Tallit from you two years ago, and you were able to put in the medium size tzitzit, tied 10-5-6-5 Sephardi. I’m looking to get a Talitania Malchut the same way but slightly larger, but wanted to clarify sizing with you.

Since purchasing the Beit Yosef, I’ve changed shuls, and in the more Western Sephardic atmosphere I’m in now, it’s very popular to wear the tallit, even a full size one, with all four tzitzit in front. However, my size 50 Beit Yosef is just fractionally too short in length to do this comfortably.

The Western Sephardic minhag (Spanish and Portuguese, much of Europe) is traditionally to wear the tallit wrapped around the upper part of the body, so it drapes across the back but then comes up over the upper arms, above the elbows, then either hang all four tzitzit in front or sort of hold them out. I’ve found by watching older men in shul that this makes it a lot less awkward for gathering the tzitzit for Shema, because one doesn’t have to reach around behind and fumble for the strings.

Thanks, Michael

It sounds to me like Michael needs a bit more in the length, i.e. if his present tallit were longer in back, he’d be able to bring it in front. When you move up a size, you gain an additional four inches in length.

The bigger number in our size tables refers to the length/width of the tallit across the shoulders, i.e. from one fringed side to the other. Our size chart shows typical sizes, but different companies have slight differences in their size 60 or size 70.

In addition to the advantages in terms of mechanics during Kriyat Shema, to my mind there is a halachic advantage. The Rishonim (e.g. the Rambam) talk about the requirement of עיטוף or wrapping. (And of course the Tzitzit Bracha says להתעטף.)

It’s harder for me to understand how עיטוף is achieved when the tallit is worn on the shoulders and draping down in front and back, compared to the Sephardic/Yemenite/German עיטוף Michael describes.

May 252015
 
Sometimes we get customers who divulge personal information when they send in a tallit or tzitzit question.

This will be my first Tallit which I hope (I believe by tradition?) will be able to hand down to my son at some point (unless I am incorrect in this?) I apologize about my ignorance as I consider myself a baal teshuva coming back to Judaism and learning about my roots and following the mitzvahs.

I had a few questions, I am particularly concerned about the Tzitzit. I understand that generally these should not touch the floor nor should Tallit be mixed in anyway with Linen, is this correct? The other thing is I understand that one should not allow the Tzitzit to come in contact with the floor. In our synagogue there is a tradition of touching the Torah as it is taken around or during Aliyah that we use the Tallit to touch the Torah without contact and kiss the Tallit? Is this correct?

I also had a question generally about cleaning, I assume that with wool it would be best to dry clean these? Do you recommend any particular way to clean this?

And last of all, in terms of sizing, I am about 5ft9 and ordered a size 60. I assume this will be full size tallit?

Sorry for all the questions as I am still learning and greatly appreciate your responses. Thanks, Jason

I told Jason there’s no need to apologize, explaining that most people don’t know very much about tallits and tzitzits. They buy a tallit every few years, or even once in a few decades, so they don’t know much either. That’s why we post a lot of information on our webstore.
The main mitzvah of the tallit is the tzitzit. I encourage my customers to learn how to tie, but to be honest, very few heed my advice. It’s pretty hard to figure it out using an online video. And Sephardic tying is harder to learn than Ashkenazi. But if sometime you have an opportunity to have someone teach you, I recommend you take the initiative.
I don’t know about handing a tallit down to your son. If you use it daily, it will start to wear out in a few years. And since it’s wool, it could start to yellow slightly after a few years. In fact, at some point tears might even start to form. The lifespan of a tallit is very unpredictable. I’ve seen tallits that need replacement after just a few years, and I’ve seen tallits that look fine after 20 years.
Some people grow very attached to their tallit and have trouble parting with it. This morning the man in front of me in Shacharit had a tear right in the middle of the back. (This happens to about 10% of tallits. Why at that particular spot is a bit of a mystery. I have a few theories…)If you ask me, a tallit that doesn’t look nice should be replaced. We are enjoined to do mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner (zeh Keli v’anveihu). People may feel an emotional attachment to their tallit, making it hard to part with it, but the point is to add honor to the tefillah.
Okay, enough editorializing.

Shaatnez

Let’s talk about linen. Shaatnez is not an issue you have to worry about with the vast majority of tallits. Once I had a fancy atara (neckband) I wanted to put on a wool tallit, and then I started to think it looked like the atara was made of linen. If you sew linen and wool together, you violate a mitzvah. So, I took it to a professional shaatnez checker. He also thought it looked like linen, but under the microscrope determined that it wasn’t.
Normally shaatnez issues come up with suits and certain other types of garments. Certain third-world countries tend to use linen (e.g. in the filler material) more than others. This is quite complicated and not my area. Try to find information online and ask your rabbi.

Tzitzit touching the floor

It’s considered disrespectful to let your tzitzit drag on the floor. But there’s a difference between someone who sits, sees his tzitzit are on the floor and is too lazy to do anything, compared to someone whose tzitzit inadvertently touch the floor for a moment while putting it on, kissing the Torah, etc.

Size 60 tallit

I told Jason a size 60 should work well for him. It’s considered a medium size tallit and will hang down in back to mid-thigh on him. A size 70 might be a tad too long on him, which would mean more work during tefillah to keep it rested in place on his houlders.
Also sometimes someone wants one tallit for weekday use and another tallit for Shabbat. In that case he may want a manageable size for weekdays and a longer tallit for Shabbat. But again, I think a size 60 is definitely a good place for you to start.
Sometimes a kohen will go one size up to make Birkat Kohanim easier, but that doesn’t make much sense to me if you don’t live in Israel, where the custom is to do it every day.

Kissing the Sefer Torah

Some people kiss their hand and then touch the Torah, others will touch it with their tzitzit, and some actually bend down and kiss the Torah with their lips. In terms of halacha, what you need to know is that we never touch the klaf, the leather parchment, of the Sefer Torah. When you have an aliyah the baal koreh shows you where he’s going to start reading, and since he is reading for you, you need to know. So you touch the spot to make sure you know the place. And since you can’t touch it with your hand, you use the tzitzit (or the Torah band during Minchah).

Tallit cleaning

My Shabbat tallit needs cleaning about once in 2-3 years. Last time I had it dry cleaned I was very pleased with the outcome. Some people have greasy hair that darkens the underside of the tallit on the top and some people sit at Kiddushim in their tallit and then it’s just a matter of time before a greasy piece of kugel, or worse, falls on their tallit.
If you go to a local dry cleaner, you need to explain to them that the tzitzit can easily get tangled up and ruined. Here in Israel they know how to deal with a tallit. If possible, you might want to try to have it dry cleaned when you happen to be in a religious area in a major city or Israel.
May 152015
 

In frum circles, until five or ten years ago, I’d say at least 90% of all men brought their tallit and tefillin to weekday Shacharit in a regular zippered tallit and tefillin bag cover made of nylon. The idea is that you need something to protect and show off your fine velvet tallit and tefillin bags, and carry them under your arm.

Cheap nylon covers will fall apart after just a few months, whereas quality covers last significantly longer.

At one point mine fell apart and I decided I wasn’t go to buy a new one. I had an unimpressive velvet bag set, priced at around $15, so I didn’t see a need to provide protection, and I felt the plastic detracts aesthetically. I realized that my tallit bag was roomy enough to put the tefillin in, without a tefillin bag at all. (According to halacha, you have to be careful not to grasp your tefillin before your tallit, so I would put the tefillin inside the folded tallit with the fold right next to the zipper, making it impossible to get to the tefillin before removing the tallit.)

My next tallit and tefillin bag set is going to be more expensive, because, well, you get what you pay for. Almost invariably the materials and workmanship on a $30 or $40 set are much higher caliber than with a standard $15 or $20 set (although in some cases you may be paying for for elaborate embroidery design with inferior materials).

Also, attractive tallit and tefillin bag sets lend honor to the mitzvahs of tallis and tefillin, so I’m willing to pay an extra $10 or $20 to honor these cherished mitzvahs.

Tallit and tefillin bag cover with strap

In the last decade someone realized that it’s too much work to carry the nylon bag with tallit and tefillin inside without a carrying handle. So he invented a hybrid bag with a big nylon “window” in front to show off the embroidery. These quickly became popular and today I would say they are essential for just about every bar mitzvah boy. My sons like them not just because the carrying handle and shoulder strap make life much easier, but also because they like all the pockets to stash things in. If you buy one for your son, it’s a good time to teach him the enormous importance of learning to turn off the ringer on his cellphone (if he has one) before going into shul or yeshiva. These bags come in three sizes: small for just tefillin, medium for tallit and tefillin and large for those who have two sets of tefillin (Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam).

I have seen that some tallit shops in Jerusalem are starting to introduce the idea of a regular bag with no “window,” and I predict this will eventually gain some popularity.

Tefillin carriers

Another option is Tfidanit tefillin carrier. These are very popular among soldiers and commuters who need sturdy, dependable protection for their tefillin. It also has a tefillin bag cover that wraps around the tefillin carrier, and can be attached for single men who don’t wear a tallit. If you are travelling and need real protection for your tefillin, but cannot afford the Tfidanit, you should be able to find a very strong square tupperware piece that can do the job. But be aware that once used for tefillin you cannot later convert it for use for any mundane purpose (unless you stipulate a t’nai) before you start using it for tefillin.

You can find imitation tefillin carriers for much less, but they are vastly inferior to the Tfidanit.

May 152015
 

Undershirt tzitzit were introduced onto the tallit katan market about two decades ago. But I suspect there were similar designs many years ago. If you open up the Chayei Adam to Hilchot Tzitzit 11, 9, the Chayeh Adam [Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 1748-1820], describing various tallit katan designs and whether they would require tzitzit, writes, “And therefore one must be careful with the tallit katan made in our country [probably referring to Saxony and Prussia] that the sides be mostly open; not like those tailors who make a tallit katan and sew it along the sides and leave a hole for the arms and then sew beneath the hole and leave it open, and measure only beneath the arms, which is clearly a mistake, because then [the garment] is not considered to have four kanfos, and we can say with near certainty that one who receites [the Tzitzit Blessing] recites a blessing in vain.”

Indeed, this problem does come up. I know of one importer who made a batch of about 30,000, all of which were definitely more closed than open along the sides.

Note that Mishkan Hatchelet’s patented design on their undershirt (“Cotton Comfort“) eradicates this problem entirely, because the sides are almost entirely open, with just a narrow band fairly high up holding them together.

What about the hechsher? Take a close look, and you’ll see that the hechsher is on the tzitzit strings and the tzitzit tying, not the tallit katan garment. One rav I spoke recently with expressed surprise that a rav would supervise tzitzit tying on a garment that does not require tzitzit. But that fact is that even with traditional cotton tallit katans, you won’t find a hechsher on the beged.

Another issue is the tzitzit holes. They should be positioned 5 cm from the sides of the tallit katan. If the hole is 4.5 cm or 5.5 cm, that’s fine, but if it’s under 4 cm or over 7 we start to run into questions.

Some poskim are against the whole idea of undershirt tzitzits, saying the tallit garment must be a bone fide garment, not an undershirt whose task is to absorb sweat. In my opinion, even according to that opinion, a tzitzit t-shirt would be fine, because it is clearly designed to serve as a genuine garment, not just as an undershirt.

What about undershirt tzitzit for boys? Does it have to be more open than closed along the sides? I really don’t know, you’ll have to ask a qualified rabbi. On one hand, the mitzvah here is chinuch, not the actual mitzvah of tzitzit, and in any case the garment probably does not meet the minimum size requirement, but on the other hand he is probably reciting a bracha on the tzitzit, which can be problematic — especially if he is beyond bar mitzvah age.

Apr 152015
 

Sometimes we have customers who have a special atara (tallit neckband) they want to attach. They intend to buy a tallit from us without the atara and sew on a unique atara they have from a previous tallit or made by a talented embroiderer.

Once we had a customer  and wanted to treat himself to a very nice tallit after having completed learning the entire Gemara from start to finish,. His wife made him a spectacular atara and we sent him a very nice nonslip tallit with double-knotted fringes and Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit.

If you would like to order a tallit without an atara, that’s a relatively simple request. The standard practice is to simply remove the atara the manufacturer puts on the tallit. (Two traditional tallits, the Chabad and the Echt Turkish, are made with no atara.) All this really requires is a stitch remover, a steady hand and patience.

Normally we take care of it for our customers. But it’s not always advisable.

  • It can add an extra 1-3 days to the order processing time.
  • Although sewing on an atara is also quite simple, if you have the new atara sewn on by someone who’s never done it before, just to be on the safe side, it will make their job very easy if they can see where it’s supposed to go (lined up right at the tip and on the upper side, of course) and how it’s supposed to look.
In Israel you can find seamstresses who charge just a few dollars for the work, but in the US and elsewhere seamstresses/tailors might charge more. I recommend you check the price in advance, to make sure you don’t get overcharged for a very simple task.

In many cases it may be best to opt for a nonslip tallit (Hamefoar, Tashbetz, Malchut, Beit Yosef Nonslip, Chabad Prestige, etc.), because sometimes when you take off the atara it leaves faint stitch marks, but I’ve found that with the nonslip weave fabrics that doesn’t happen. This means that if your embroiderer makes an atara that’s a tad shorter, you won’t have to worry about seeing stitch marks.

Apr 132015
 

The following is an exchange with a prospective customer who seems to be debating whether he wants to wear a cotton tallit katan or a wool tallit katan. Although I found some of his questions a bit surprising, I think the exchange may be instructive for some other people out there interested in buying a tallit katan.

With wool tallit katans, do I wear it against my skin? What is the general custom for wearing one? Thank you for your time.

No, you can’t wear wool against your skin (try it and you’ll see what I mean). Even our Wool Comfort undershirt style tzitzit is not meant to be worn against your skin. You need an undershirt. It is made from a very soft wool, but it’s still itchy.

(I once told a customer who asked a very similar question that there’s no such thing as wool that can be worn against the skin. I was wrong. He was from New Zealand, which is one the the world’s leading producers of wool, and he gave me a quick lesson on Merino wool.)

People who don’t like to wear three layers choose a cotton undershirt style tzitzit garment.

How would I wash the wool undershirt tzitzit?

Personally I wash mine by hand, but I think woolite and a gentle cycle, cold water should be fine. The real problem is the tzitzit. Even on a gentle cycle they can get horribly tangled. Did you even buy one of these? If not, there are ways to improvise. You can tuck the tzitzit into a sock and tie it up tight and wrap rubber bands around it.

Thank you very much for the response. I know someone who wears the wool against his skin and he is an observant Jew. So I wasn’t sure if it was against halacha or not. Are there special undershirts for wool katan use? Or can just any cotton shirt work?

What if they made wool katans with a special thin soft lining that is only on the inside. The inside that touches the skin? But without commiting shatnez? It would be interesting. It beats 3 layers.

If I may ask, what is it that you wear? Do you wear wool katans?

I have both cotton and wool.

There are some opinions that wearing the garment against your skin (cotton or wool) is inappropriate. Not against halacha, strictly speaking, but sort of showing a lack of respect for a mitzvah item. But a tallit katan is in essence a regular garment, so it does not have the kedusha of items like a mezuzah or tefillin. According to that opinion, which is a stringency that not all poskim concur with, because a tallit katan is used specifically for the mitzvah of tzitzit, it’s more than just a regular garment. These opinions state that an undershirt is meant to absorb sweat, so creating a tzitzit garment that serves that function is disrespectful.

Shatnez is not an issue here because the fabrics involved here are wool and cotton. The prohibition is against a combination of wool and linen. Cotton and linen are not the same thing. Linen is made from flax/linseed.

Mar 312015
 

This week we received an inquiry from a customer thinking of buying a set of handspun tzitzit strings, but first he wanted to know the difference between the two types of rabbinical supervision. Was one more stringent than the other?

Hi Ben,
I was wondering about the hashgachot on your tzitziot. In particular, I was wondering what the actual difference between getting them certified by R’ Ovadia זצ”ל or R’ Wosner שליט”א actually amounted to. Are there different standards for the petilim in each community, or is it just arbitrary? Thanks, Noah

Usually I provide very succint replies, but this question hit a tender spot, and I couldn’t keep from editorializing a bit.

It’s very arbitrary, I explained to Noah. I was told by two seasoned Mishkan Hatchelet workers that both are made on the same production line, with the same workers and even the same mashgiach! So what’s the difference? The rav who is signed on the hechsher.

I also know from experience that if you try to explain that to prospective customers, some of them will still have a strong preference for one over the other. Sad, but true. And that’s why the company markets the same tzitzit under two different hechshers.

I also know of a tzitzit strings company that used to make their tzitzit strings under a good hechsher, but eventually realized they were losing a segment of the market that wanted the Eda Charedis of Jerusalem hechsher, so they come out with a different brand. Same tzitzit, only the hechsher, label and brand name were different. Both were sold side-by-side in some stores, with a 2- or 3-shekel price differential.

You often see similar thinking and behavior patterns with food hechshers and political parties in Israel.

When the geula comes, I’m sure Klal Yisrael will get beyond this type of thing. Chazal instituted certain halachas to distance Jews from gentiles, not Jews from Jews.

 

Mar 292015
 

For our customers looking for a lightweight tallit we recommend the Tashbetz, but some people want a tallit on the heavy side, a tallit they can really feel on their shoulders. This week we got an inquiry from a customer who bought a tallit from us a few years ago, and now he’s thinking of getting a heavy tallit, but he was a bit concerned about the heat factor.

Hi Ben,
Is the Echt Turkish tallit very warm? Is it suitable for summer?
Best, Greg

I told Greg that while the Echt Turkish is a heavy tallit, some people do wear it in summer. Some shuls blast the air conditioner all summer, so if you don’t wear it walking to and from shul, it doesn’t make much of a difference. And since it’s worn loosely, some people don’t feel added warmth. It’s really a personal thing.

I have a lot of customers who insist on a very lightweight tallit. Personally I think it may be a bit imagined in some cases. You know, people hear the word “wool” and immediately start feeling hot. The truth is wool worn loosely works well in the heat. There are a lot of desert dwellers who wear wool. In my shul the air conditioner is often barely running and often I wear the tallit over my head and wear it to and from shul, so for summer use I have a lightweight tallit.

Postscript: My reply to Greg apparently was persuasive. He ordered an Echt Turkish with a silver atara. But truth be told, personally for my next Shabbos tallis I’m still debating between the Kmo Turkish and the Echt Turkish.

Mar 262015
 

We offer a wide range of tzitzit and tzitzit tying options on just about every talit and talit katan we sell, but the extensive number of options can be overwhelming for some of our customers. This week I had a number of email exchanges with a customer who bought a tallit from us and now wanted to buy his first talit katan. I could tell from his questions that he was not very clear on how to order tzitzit, so I wrote a complete explanation, laying out all of the relevant terms.

Hello Ben!
Do you sell any extra extra large tsitsit katan Beit Yosef?
What size would it be? And how much? Thank you, David

I’m pretty sure it was important to David to have Sephardic tzitzit, but he didn’t know how to relate that. Since some of these concepts may be a bit unclear to other visitors to our blog and website, I’m copying all of the details here:

I think you may be confusing “Beit Yosef” with Sephardic tzitzit tying. Let me explain all of the terminology to avoid misunderstandings in our communications.

Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote two tremendous halachic works: Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch.

The tallit you bought is named after his early work, Beit Yosef. But that’s the tallit itself, not the tzitzit.

Almost all Sephardim want their talit gadol (prayer shawl worn in synagogue) and talit katan (tzitzit garment worn all day under your shirt) to have Sephardic tzitzit tied on.

There is no difference between the tzitzit strings used to tie tzitzit. The difference is the way they are tied. There are four main tzitzit tying customs:

  • Ashkenazi
  • Sephardic
  • Yemenite/Rambam
  • Chabad/Arizal

The term Sephardic tzitzit means they are tied in such a way that a ridge spirals around on top of the windings. There are four sections of windings.

On a talit gadol almost all Sephardim have the custom to do the have the following number of windings: 7-8-11-13, just like Ashkenazim and Chabad.

On a talit katan, most Sephardim have the custom to tie the tzitzit with the following number of windings: 10-5-6-5. The gematria for 10-5-6-5 is Hashem’s name, therefore many people refer to this tying pattern as yud-kay-vov-kay.

Not all Sephardim are clear on all of these details. Many will just say, “I want Sephardic tzitzit.”

There is also one more Sephardic tzitzit tying custom known as Ben Ish Chai. This is fairly rare. We almost never get orders for Ben Ish Chai.

We can tie tzitzit according to any tying custom, no matter which product you choose.

On almost every product page you will see three options to select: size, tzitzit and tzitzit tying.

If you’re looking for a talit katan, in the product description you will see a size chart. Each product has a different sizing system (e.g. the sizing for a cotton talit katan and a wool talit katan are not the same; for example, size 9 cotton = size 6 wool).

Under the tzitzit option you select thin, medium, thick, etc.

Then under the tzitzit tying option you would select Sephardic 10-5-6-5 or Sephardic 7-8-11-13.

Mar 082015
 
This week a customer ordered a size 60 tallit for a soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy, and added a note regarding the size.
Please confirm prior to processing that this is a good size for Bar Mitzvah boy, with the hope that it will last him into adulthood.
Thanks, Tracey ​
The truth is, I think Tracey should choose a smaller size. I wear a size 60 and I’m 5’7″. It drapes down in back to mid-thigh on me, which is just right. I could get away with a size 70, and have sometimes toyed with the idea for my next Shabbos tallis, but for now I’m sticking with a size 60.

Tracey didn’t tell me how tall her son is, but I’m guessing he’s in the neighborhood of 5′ to 5’2″. I think she should consider going with a smaller size for two reasons:
  • In my opinion, when introducing a child or a young man to a mitzvah, it’s important not to make it feel burdensome. A tallit that is too big means you’re constantly trying to prop it up on your shoulders and distracted during tefillah. A tallit is essentially a garment, and nobody likes to wear clothes that are too big on them.
  • A lot of parents want a tallit that “he can grow into,” but you have to keep in mind that again, a tallit is like clothes. Many parent would like to buy a suit “he can grow into,” but realize that a suit that fits a 13-year-old is probably going to be too small on him just one year down the road, and the chances of it fitting him two years later are extremely slim.
A size 50 is usually a safe bet for a bar mitzvah boy. When he grows it won’t hang down as long on him, but on the other hand, it won’t look rinky-dink for a few years. It just doesn’t look as elegant when it doesn’t hang down long.

I think a tallit that is too big is a big problem, whereas a tallit that is too small is a small problem.

We made a two-minute video showing a bar mitzvah boy (5’1″) wearing different size tallits. It’s quite amateurish, but still helpful.

All of the above is, to a certain extent, editorializing, since some people like their tallit long and elegant, while others prefer a more manageable length. This of course applies not just to bar mitzvah boys, but to anyone trying to figure out the right size tallit to buy.