Jan 212016

I was kind of flabbergasted.

I know a Judaica dealer in downtown Jerusalem who’s not observant (yet). I asked him where he gets his 7 cm mezuzah scrolls. The 7 cm mezuzah is hard to procure; it’s quite small and most sofrim (scribes) are not trained to write that small. “Yehuda writes all of these parchments for me,” he explains. “A rabbi in Philadelphia told me to only buy from Yehuda.”

I took a look at the caliber of the writing. Not very impressive. Obviously he churns out a lot of mezuzahs at a low price. I asked the dealer how much he pays for them, and indeed it was quite a low price. I started to wonder whether these mezuzah parchments are reliably kosher.

Kosher mezuzah scroll“Do you run them through a computer check and a manual check?” I asked. The answer was no.

That’s bad news. I’d be willing to bet this dealer is selling a significant number of non-kosher mezuzah scrolls to people every year.

To ensure a mezuzah scroll is kosher, the checking process may be more important than the writing process.

There are different kinds of sofrim out there. Some take their time and write gorgeous mezuzahs. Others work fast and sell them to dealers at low prices, and the dealers — hopefully — then sell them to consumers at affordable prices. Although the high-end sofrim make much fewer mistakes that would render a mezuzah non-kosher, even they make mistakes.

I once saw a very conscientious sofer come back from asking his rav about a mezuzah he had spent a lot of time writing. Looking quite glum, he took out a pair of scissors and cut a big gash in the mezuzah. It was posul (non-kosher) and he didn’t want it to somehow wind up on someone’s doorpost. What was wrong with it? There was a reish that looked too close to a dalet.

How are mezuzah scrolls checked? Nowadays usually you run them through a computer scan using a program that can identify the letters. The software skims through the text to make sure there are no extra letters or missing letters. In other words, it’s looking for typos. This type of check is very common today, but is not mandated by halacha, obviously.

Then there is a manual check by a qualified mezuzah checker, known as a magihah. His job, for the most part, is to make sure all of the letters are properly formed (i.e. that the reishes don’t look like dalets, that the yuds aren’t so long that they start to look like a vav, etc.), to make sure the spacing is correct and to make sure none of the letters are touching. This is critical, because a very small mistake that can be easily overlooked could render the mezuzah non-kosher. Some dealers even check manually twice.


Dec 272015

This week I picked up a Chatanim Tallit from one of the Jerusalem-based distributors I work with. “You’re going to want to take the Chatanim off your webstore,” he advised me. “Mishkan Hatchelet is set to discontinue it.”

I was floored. How could they take the Chatanim Tallit off their product line? The Chatanim has been in production for at least a decade. The Prima A.A. is a nice wool tallit, good weave, good finishing work. But if you’re buying a tallit for a bar mitzvah boy or a groom, or a special tallit for Shabbos, you want to go up a notch. The Chatanim looks almost the same as the Prima A.A., but the weave is a bit tighter and the corner patches are wool instead of cotton.

Later that day I met with one of the Mishkan Hatchelet managers, and asked him if the rumor was true. He confirmed it. “So are they going to introduce a new top-of-the-line tallit?” I asked him.

“No, the top-of-the-line product is the Pe’er Kal,” he explained. The Pe’er Kal is usually marketed outside of Israel under the name Tallit Hamefoar.

I haven’t asked Shlomo, the CEO of Mishkan Hatchelet, or Sharon, the marketing manager, about the decision, but I can speculate. It seems like they feel the future is in nonslip tallit fabrics, namely Hamefoar and the Tashbetz Tallit. Since Hamefoar is still relatively smooth, apparently they are betting that over the next few years everyone who buys a nice tallis for Shabbos or for a chassan will be ready to make the switch to a textured weave.

For those who insist on sticking with the age-old smooth weave of the traditional wool tallit, the Prima A.A. is high quality, and can serve as a Shabbos tallis, especially if you upgrade it with a lining and/or side bands. Or you could go with the Kmo Turkish.

Dec 242015
Tallit sizing can be a complicated affair, especially if you are trying to figure out sizing online.
This week we received an inquiry from a father in Chicago buying tallits for his two sons.
Trying to determine size of Tallit for my two oldest sons. They are uncomfortable using full size Talletim, of course, and I thought I would get them an intermediary size that would fit them up to their Bar Mitzvahs. (they are 9 and 7 and dont like the ‘holiday tallits’ they inherited from their grandfathers). I wanted to get a wraparound one like mine are but in a smaller size. Is 45 too large still? your sizing scale only goes to 45 but some seem available in 24? Is that 24 inches in the height of the back? thanks, Henry
In many Reform and Conservative congregations you see size 18 and 24, which are narrow tallits that sit on the shoulders and hang in front.

In Orthodox congregations (and sometimes in Reform or Conservative) people wear the tallit traditional style, with two tzitzit in front, and two in back, with the tallit draping down the back to the waist or the back of the thighs.  These tallits are sizes 45, 50, 55, 60, 70 and sometimes are available in size 80 or even size 90.

But there also is a third way to wear the tallit, which is sort of in between. A size 36 tallit (which is about 36 inches from the edge that rests on the neck to the edge parallel to the floor) is also designed to be worn with all four tzitzit held in front, but unlike the size 24, it covers much of the back and the upper arms. Since Henry used the word “wraparound,” I needed to clarify with him whether he meant a size 36 tallit, or the larger sizes worn traditional style.

In traditional Orthodox congregations a size 36 tallit is not common. According to the old Yemenite and German customs, a large tallit is worn but wrapped around with all four corners held in front. Some Yemenites even fold it in half so that it comes out pretty much the same dimensions as a size 36.

And there are also a small number of Sephardic Jews who apparently have a custom of wearing this size tallit in a similar fashion.
Dec 242015

Although I encourage my customers to try tying tzitzit themselves, most of them are not ready to take the plunge, and so we tie the tzitzit for at least 90% of the orders we receive. But this week we received a detailed inquiry from someone by the name of Bennett who wants to tie techelet according to the Vilna Gaon, and sent me a number of good questions.

G-d willing, I will be placing an order for a tallit in the very near future. I would also like to tie my own tzitzit, which I see to request that in the comments when purchasing. My question is actually about the tying method.

I am of Ashkenazim heritage and have resolved myself to the Vilna Gaon method. It is the one that my eye seems to gravitate to the most and without any other rationale, it seems like a good one.

I’ve found several good resources through your site and but I’m afraid I’m still unsure about a couple of things.

I was very happy to hear Bennett was taking the initiative to tackle tzitzit tying himself. It’s a valuable skill to acquire and it helps connect you to the mitzvah.

Ptil Tekhelet - Vilna Gaontying

Vilna Gaon tying

Vilna Gaon is quite straightforward. Basically you can just watch one of the online videos for regular white tzitzit, and then all you have to add on is switching back and forth from white shamash to blue shamash.

Here is our question-and-answer exchange:

* Is the blue string considered the shamesh? In a set of Raavad tzitzit you’ll find eight regular strings, four blue strings and four long white strings. So for every corner you take two white, one long white and the blue, even them on one side, insert them into the hole and make a double knot. On the other side two ends will be approximately even, and you’ll have one long blue string and one long white string to work with.

* Since there are both white and blue windings in Vilna Gaon, should one of the white strings also be longer? See above.

* Once the tzitzit is completed, should all of the strings end up being the same length? Chances are very slim they will end up the same length.

* If they’re not the same length, should they be trimmed, or retied? Definitely not retied. You can trim them, but take a look at this post first.

* When the tzitzit is complete, should the blue string still be longer than the white ones? It probably will be, but if you trim them, all of the tzitzit should be about the same length. According to my personal aesthetics it doesn’t look nice to snip them all in a straight line, but rather slightly different lengths.

* I would like to practice a couple of times before tying the actual tzitzit. I’m thinking that I can use simple masonry string that I have here at home and use 3 strings of one color and 1 string of a different color to emulate the tekhelet. What lengths should I cut my practice strings? The regular length strings, 120 cm, the long strings, about 150 cm.

Nov 292015
We often get inquires from parents asking about proper sizing for a bar mitzvah tallit.
​What size do you recommend for a bar mitzvah boy who is under 5 ft. that will STILL fit him properly when he is an adult??  Thanks,  Donna​
I had to tell Donna the truth: she’s asking for the impossible. Imagine going into a clothing store and telling the salesperson you need a suit that will fit your 13-year-old son now and still fit him properly when he’s an adult.

Of course in the case of a tallit, it is somewhat different. Because a tallit is worn loosely, you do have some leeway.

In many cases, the simple answer to the bar mitzvah tallit sizing question is to go with a Size 24. But to be sure, do the following:

  1. Try our Tallit Size Wizard>>
  2. Watch this 30-second bar mitzvah tallit sizing video>>
  3. Contact us, and be sure to tell me whether you are looking for the type of narrow tallit worn on the neck and hanging in front, or the traditional type that drapes down the back
If you are interested in a size 24 tallit, but the bar mitzvah boy is short (say 5′ or under) and you are concerned that a standard size 24 would be too long, we might be able to offer a solution. In most cases a standard size 24, which is about 72 inches long, will work at the bar mitzvah and for many years to come.

A tougher question is in the case of a tallit worn traditional style, draping down the back. If he’s short and you order a size 45, he’s likely to outgrow it within just a few years. But if you buy a larger size (e.g. 50 or 55 or 60) it might be very cumbersome for him to wear at the bar mitzvah and even in the years to come.
Nov 292015

If you are shopping for tefillin gassot online, you may have come across options labeled “Mehudar 1” or “Mehudar 2” or “Mehudar 3” etc. in reference to the parchments.

These labels are somewhat arbitrary and are determined by the tefillin seller. There is no universal scale for tefillin parchment writing quality. One tefillin dealer may consider a given set of parchments “kosher” or “kosher l’chatchila,” whereas another dealer would say the same parchments are “mehudar.” Options for “Mehudar 1” or “Mehudar 2” etc. are approximations. I know of one online tefillin dealer who offers Mehudar 1, Mehudar 2 and Mehudar 3 as options in the tefillin gassot he sells. These descriptions may be somewhat misleading, because in my opinion his Mehudar 1 should not be called “mehudar” but merely “kosher.”

Typically a tefillin dealer with have at least a dozen sets of tefillin parchments in stock. No two will be exactly the same level of writing quality. In fact, even two sets of parchments written by the same sofer will vary somewhat in quality.

Tefillin GassotThe key factor is that the parchments are kosher beyond a doubt from a halachic standpoint, i.e. no letters are touching, none of the letters looks like a different letter (e.g. a long yud, a short vav, a long vav that could be mistaken for a nun sofis). This is up to the sofer (scribe) and the magihah (parchment checker).

Beyond that, the level of artistry of the parchment is important to some, since we are enjoined to fulfill mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner (zeh Keli v’anveihu). Just as the battim should be painted nicely, the corners and edges should be shaped nicely, the straps should be crafted well, so too we want our tefillin to be attractice on the inside, to the extent that we can afford. A sofer with nicer writing can command a higher price for the parchments he writes.

For many people it’s not easy to shell out another $100 or $200 for mehudar parchments, but keep in mind that chances are good that the parchments you buy will last a lifetime. If you go out to buy a car or do renovation work, would you be willing to spend an extra $200 for better quality?

Go to tefillin page>>>


Nov 292015

Recently I receive an interesting question from a prospective tefillin buyer looking for top quality, expensive tefillin:

For the ribua regel, does it make a noticeable difference having someone do that in terms of how precise the shaping of them is? I am trying to balance price with quality. At this point I have to rule out miksheh purely because of money. I would be able to afford ribua regel in about 6 weeks. Would you suggest I wait to buy until then?

With ribua regel, you’re not paying for better quality, you’re paying for a halachic hiddur. There are certain mitzvahs that require that you prepare the object with specific intent (e.g. see Kosher Tzitzit Strings: A Matter of Intent). In our generation the question has come up whether a machine can have intent to do a mitzvah. Let me clarify: of course a machine cannot have intent, but perhaps when the person operating the machine presses the button, his intent counts for what the machine then carries out. This is the question behind machine matzahs or hand matzahs, machine-spun tzitzit strings or hand-spun tzitzit strings, regular tefillin gassot battim or ribua regel. The question varies slightly according to certain small differences in these examples, but for the most part it’s the same question.

When it comes to getting the job done, i.e. making the matzahs, making the tzitzit strings, making the tefillin boxes, it makes a world of difference. In the case of tefillin, the tefillin maker has a big mishapen lump of leather that he has to trim down to a perfectly square box. To shave away leather he uses a cutting tool that works something like a spinning drill bit. With regular gassot, the machine is electric. With ribua regel the cutting tool is driven by leg power. Not only does the tefillin craftsman work up a sweat, but it also takes him longer to do the work.

If I’m not mistaken HaRav Eliashiv zt”l ruled that regular gassot are fine, but yours is definitely a question to ask a qualified rav.

Nov 292015

Wool has always been the tallit fabric of choice from a halachic perspective, because, as the Shulchan Aruch notes, only a wool tallit or garment is required to have tzitzit. Since tzitzit is the raison d’etre of the tallit, wool is preferred because by wearing a wool tallit you fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit d’oreisa (at the Torah Law level). A tallit made out of a different type of fabric – cotton, silk, etc. – only fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzit at the Rabbinical level.

However, the Rema, based on the Tosefos, rules that all types of material require tzitzit d’oreisa, and his ruling was accepted as the Ashkenazi custom. (This halachic dispute, by the way, is the reason why some Sephardim wear only wool tzitzit garments, even in summer.) Therefore, according to the Rema, a tallit made of silk or cotton is fine.

Lightweight Wool Tallit

From a practical standpoint as well, wool offers a number of advantages. It looks nice, hangs well, lasts well over time and resists stains. Many people break out in a sweat just hearing the word “wool” but from my experience, wool worn loosely is not any warmer than other fabric. A more pertinent question is how thick the fabric is and how well the weave breathes. For those who want a super lightweight tallit, I recommend the Kalil (a.k.a. Klilas Yofi) or the Tashbetz without a lining.

Nov 272015

Most traditional wool tallits are 100% wool, but the Malchut Wool Nonslip Tallit takes the meaning of “all wool” to a new level. On many high-end wool tallits, the corner squares are also made of wool (as opposed to synthetic or cotton). On the Malchut Tallit, not only are the corner patches made of wool, but even the atara (neckband) is made of wool. The only two tallits I know of that have a wool atara are the white-striped Malchut, made by Talitnia, and the Beit Yosef Tallit (and Beit Yosef Prestige and Beit Yosef Tashbetz), made by Mishkan Hatchelet.

Interlaced fringesMost dealers would probably agree that the Beit Yosef has a higher quality weave, but the Malchut has two rows of interlaced fringes, which is typically found on more expensive tallits.

Black-Striped Malchut Wool Tallit

All of the above applies to the white-striped Malchut Tallit. The black-striped version has the same weave, but has standard fringes and a regular synthetic atara. It is very similar to Tallit Hamefoar, made by Mishkan Hatchelet.


Nov 262015

I’m no expert when it comes to wedding planning, but I can offer a few tips that be useful to Jewish brides and grooms.

Not all grooms wear a tallit during the chuppah ceremony. Originally this custom was predominantly found among Sephardic Jews, but in recent years it seems to be gaining traction among Ashkenazi Jews as well.

If the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah – right there next to the bride – obviously the color is important. And since some men are not so wise when it comes to coordinating colors, input offered by the bride/mothers/wedding planners may be vital. (For instance, a groom might not have the insight to realize that a bright white tallit does not work well alongside an off-white bridal dress, or vice versa.)

Whether or not the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah, there is also a widespread custom for the bride (or her parents) to buy the tallit as a gift. Personally, if their budget allows, I think it’s a nice touch to add a tallit bag with the groom’s name embroidered on it, not so much for the wedding, but so that every Shabbos morning, when he takes the tallit out of the bag, it connects him back to his wedding day and his wife.