Sep 292014

If you are thinking of tying techelet tzitzit on your next tallit or tallit katan, but are not sure which tying custom to follow, you’re not alone.

With all white tzitzit, usually there’s nothing to decide: if you’re Ashkenazi, you tie Ashkenazi, if you’re Sephardic, you tie Sephardic, if you’re Chabad, you tie Chabad. But since it’s highly unlikely your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents had techelet tzitzit, you have no tradition to follow, and are left in a bit of a quandry.

The first thing you need to know is that tying techelet tzitzit according to the Ashkenazi or Sephardic custom is not the correct way to go about it. These customs were developed in the absence of techelet, but the Gemara provides many details about how to tie tzitzit and the Ashkenazi and Sephardic tying customs for all-white tzitzit do not meet many of the requirements in the Gemara.

Namely, the Gemara speaks of chulyot, saying you must have a minimum of seven and a maximum of thirteen. Normally chulyot are understood to be sets of three windings. Thus, for example, the Vilna Gaon writes that you should do thirteen chulyot as follows: after the first double knot, do 3 windings using the white shamsash string, three with the blue, three white, and three blue, i.e. four chulyot. Then make a second double knot. Repeat this sequence another three times so that you have a total of 12 chulyot. Then do one final chulyah of white and tie a final double knot.

Some of the other approaches, such as Sefer HaChinuch and Amram Gaon, are quite similar, while the Rambam and the Arizal have different approaches regarding how to create the chulyot.

If you insist on following the standard Ashkenazi or Sephardic tying custom, at least be sure that the very first and last windings are white, a basic requirement that the Gemara states unambigiously.

If you have the opportunity to delve into the topic, you’ll find the discussion starting on Menachot xxb. To see images of the primary techelet tying approaches, refer to this guide.

From a halachic standpoint, even more important than which tying custom you follow  is how many strings of blue you use. We know four tzitzit strings must be tied onto each corner. Once they are tied you see what appears to be eight strings hanging down. The Torah refers to a פתיל תכלת in the singular, but does that mean one of the four strings, i.e. one complete string of blue, or one of the eight strings, which would be achieved by using one string that is half blue and half white? The Rambam holds that one of the eight strings must be blue, while the Raavad holds that two of them must be blue. (The Tosefot has another approach according to white half of the eight strings should be blue.)

The Arizal and others agree with the Rambam, while the Gra, Sefer HaChinuch and others side with the Raavad. In practical terms, some say that today, in the absence of a mesorah, Ashkenazim should follow the Raavad, while Sephardim should follow the Rambam. But not all rabbanim agree with that approach, and it is recommended that you consult your rabbi on this question.

Sep 032014

It’s fairly rare that a customer asks me not to tie the first knot on the tzitzit too tight. That’s why I was surprised to see this note a customer added to an order for a white-on-white Beit Yosef talit.

Please see that the tsitsit be tied on both tallitot to have flat corners. That is, that the first knot is not so tight that it crumples the corner more than just a very small amount. I was told that they tied the first knot tight to prevent movement of the strings around the corner of the garment. However I am a little particular about the corners and personally I think the stiff corners of the Beit Yosef prevent that. Thank you, Dean.

Dean is actually quite right, but the truth is we would have done the same even without receiving the request.

There is a halacha, mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, regarding how tight to make the first knot of the tzitzit (O.C. 11, 15). On one hand, we want the tzitzit to fall along the side of the tallit so that it hangs right alongside the corner when worn (“notef al hakeren“). If that first knot does not keep the tzitzit snug alongside the tallit, they are liable to make their way around the corner to the other side, so that when worn the tzitzit hang from the bottom edge parallel to the ground, rather than the fringed side.

On the other hand, if you make the knot very snug, according to some opinions, scrunched up fabric does not count when measuring the distance from the hole to the edge. The minimum distance is about 4 cm. The hole is usually positioned 5 cm away. So if you bunch up the fabric too much, according to these opinions the tzitzit are not considered attached to the kanaf.

Notably Lubavitch has a very innovative solution that allows them to have their cake and eat it too: They don’t scrunch up the fabric at all, but add a second hole, looping the shamash through it before the first winding, thereby anchoring the tzitzit to the correct side of the tallit.

Those who follow the Chazon Ish bunch up the fabric a lot, and many Sephardim are careful not to bunch up the fabric at all.

Some tallits have stiffer corners than others, which helps the tzitzit stay in place. High-end tallits, such as Chatanim, Hamefoar and Beit Yosef (as Dean notes) feature stiff wool corner patches for this reason. And sometimes decorated corners, notably on Yemenite tallitot, are very stiff.

Aug 242014

Do you ever get distracted looking around shul on Shabbos? On Shabbos we’re supposed to leave our weekday endeavors behind, avoid talking about money matters, etc., but as a tallit seller, I’m at a distinct disadvantage: How am I supposed to forget about talleisim while surrounded by dozens, sometime hundreds, of Shabbos talleisim hanging and swaying?

I spent this Shabbos in Rechasim, near Haifa, where I spotted a tallit I just couldn’t ignore. The congregation was very conservative chareidi. At least 80% wore standard black-striped tallitot with the standard leaf and diamond design atara. A few nonslip tallits could be seen (not Tashbetz, but the type that looks smooth enough that you can’t discern it from an old-fashioned tallit at a distance of two rows). My own tallit was a Kalil lightweight, which I chose to save luggage space. After about a year of daily use, it still looks new enough for Shabbos use.

Then there was the guy next to the bimah.

He wore a Yemenite tallit with netted fringes. It definitely stood out, but I sell this tallit, so that’s not really what drew my attention. It was the tallit corners that kept drawing my gaze. He had removed the square fabric that serves to reinforce the tallit corners and added decorated patches on both sides of each corner. This is fairly standard on a Yemenite tallit. The thing is, those patches were solid, with no holes. You could only see the tzitzit emerging from the stitches at the edge.

The Torah explicitly tells us that tzitzit must be tied onto the corner area (kanaf) of the garment/tallit. But I’m not sure this tallit would be considered to have tzitzit on the entire kanaf.

Do we say that the tzitzit are indeed attached to the tallit itself and those patches are mere decorations added on, and are not considered an integral part of the kanaf?

Or do we say this tallit has a three-layer kanaf, with tzitzit tied onto one of those three layers?

I tried to catch the local rabbi to ask his opinion, but didn’t find a chance to talk to him, and then later thought it might be for the best not to cast dispersions on the tallit of one of his congregants. For now the question remains unanswered.

Aug 072014

We get a whole lot of tzitzit questions, but this one was fairly unique.

Hi Ben – I would like to get tzitzit for a musician that I manage who is XL and gets very hot on stage and we need something very cool with Lubavitch knots – is that possible?

The question of how to wear tzitzit without getting overheated is actually very common, and is probably on many people’s minds at this time of year. So I’m pasting my reply in full:

Thank you for your inquiry. The first question is does he wear cotton, or does he insist on wool?
If, for halachic reasons, he insists on wearing wool, then go to this page and look at the Kalit and the Wool Comfort.
If cotton, then we’re up to question two: The traditional type, worn on top of an undershirt and under a shirt, or the undershirt type? The latter is worn directly on the skin in place of an undershirt, thereby cutting the three layers down to two.
You can see all of our cotton options on this page. The basic undershirt type would be either the PerfTzit or the Cotton Comfort, which are basically the same idea with a slightly different design.
Another option you might consider is the Sport Tzitzit, also on the cotton tzitzit page. Note that it has sleeves.
All of these products should have a Chabad tzitzit tying option available. But if he’s very particularly about the diagonal Chabad tzitzit holes, you’ll only find that on traditional wool and cotton tallit katan garments. All of the options discussed here have a single hole on each corner.
Jul 292014

Most people are looking for either a traditional tallit with black striping (or white-on-white), or a colorful tallit, but there are also plenty of tallit buyers looking for a nice gray or gray-striped tallit, which I suppose in some ways is somewhere between the traditional black-striped look and vibrant striping.

The options available are factory-made wool tallits with gray striping, handmade wool tallits with gray striping or handwoven tallits in wool, cotton or silk, with gray striping, or even a gray base color.

In the realm of traditional-looking wool tallits with gray stripes, we have a Maalot tallit with gray and hints of burgundy and gold. Be aware that not all sizes are available, so you might want to check with us before placing an order. Another option is the Tashbetz with gray and silver, a very popular tallit featuring an anti-slip fabric.

Among modern designs, you will find two Yair Emanuel tallit sets, one gray-on-gray and one gray-on-cream. Both are made of raw silk and feature geometric striping patterns. Moving up in price, Galilee also makes an attractive handmade gray-striped tallit known as the Gray Classic.

And finally, Gabrieli Hand Weaving offers several designs on a gray base: the Gray & Black, the Joseph’s Coat Gray, which has vibrant rainbow striping on a gray base, Storm Clouds, which has more sheen with hints of green and gold, and the Gray & Silver.


Jul 202014

We often get tallit size inquiries. Obviously it’s a problem sizing someone for a tallit when he can’t try it on. But fortunately perfect tallit sizing is not critical. Since a tallit is worn loosely, you have some leeway. It’s not like buying a t-shirt where you have to get the fit just right.

This week we received an inquiry from someone debating whether to buy a tallit in a size 60 or a size 70.

I think I want to order the blue Prima A.A. Tallit for weekday,s and the Malchut Tallit for Shabbat. Both with thick Ashkenazi tzitzit. I am still worried over whether I should go with a size 60 or a size 70. If I get both tallits in a size 60, and I feel they are too small, can I swap for 70?  Thanks, Zach.

It’s a good thing Zach asked, because since we are located in Israel, returns and exchanges are problematic. You have to pay for shipping three time (to you, back
to Israel and again to you) and we do not refund the amount for the tzitzit we tie on.
I suggested to Zach that he try to do either of the following:

1) Find someone with a size 60 or 70 that you can try on. Remember, the difference between sizes is four inches.
2) Order the Prima A.A. Tallit in a size 60 and wait until it arrives. Then decide if you want to go with a size 70 for the Malchut Tallit. It’s actually fairly common to have a slightly bigger tallit for Shabbat. The smaller size is more practical, the larger size more elegant.

I told Zach that if he wanted to go with the second plan, we could send him a coupon for free shipping on the second tallit.

Jul 162014
One of our customers just expressed concern and asked whether we are managing to maintain operations, getting tallit and tzitzit orders out without delay.
Shalom Achi,
We are davening for you everyday! Just wondering if you are able to fulfill orders to America right now with all that is going on.
Kol tuv,  Akiva
All is well. Thank you Akiva, along with other customers who have expressed their concern. The truth is we haven’t experienced any problems or slowdowns. Our main tallit supplier is located in Beersheba, so they might have some production work slowdowns, but that won’t be felt for at least a few weeks.
We have only experienced one five-minute delay when a rocket got shot down out of the sky over Jerusalem. I was at one of my suppliers and when the siren sounded we all ran into a back room When we heard two booms, someone there said it didn’t sound like a rocket landing. He rushed outside on time to see the trailer smoke from the Iron Dome missile still hovering in the air, and everyone outside gazing up in wonder.
Praying for Israel

Outside the Gaza Strip

If all Am Yisrael keeps their eyes upward toward Avinu Sh’B'Shamayim (and not just Iron Dome), I’m sure all will be well and good. But it’s not an easy war to win. Hamas is trying all the tricks up their sleeve to lure the IDF into a ground confrontation inside Gaza, which would not be pretty.

And of course it’s very hard to win the war on the PR front. I think the IDF should cyberbomb the UN so that can’t hold meetings and put out their lovely briefs. I was a bit encouraged, however, by a Washington Post editorial that really hit the nail on the head with moral clarity. But that may be an exception. You don’t see a straightforward account of events in the New York Times, The Guardian, Haaretz and a whole lot of other leading publications.

This is a big test for all of humanity and sometimes I worry that the whole globe could be in for a disaster. We learn in Parshas Noach that humanity was warned time and again over the course of a century that they need to shape up. And if you take a look at the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the course of the past half-century, it’s seems as if public opinion keeps getting tested, and largely fails the test, and each time the situation gets clearer and clearer from a moral perspective. Like when you ask a kid a question and he doesn’t know the answer, so you keep rephrasing your question, easier and easier each time, until he spits out a correct answer.

Over time the Palestinians just keep get more and more evil and more overt about their intentions.

Jul 152014

The campaign to stop Gaza rockets has now resumed, and in the meantime Lt. Colonel (res.) Rabbi Yedidya Atlas of the IDF Central Command is continuing his campaign to supply IDF soldiers with army issue tzitzit and other religious articles needed by soldiers in the field.

Operation Protective Edge

IDF soldiers with two layers of protection

He told me that he has received repeated requests on the command level, both from units in the south around Gaza and in Judea and Samaria, for the IDF Rabbinate to meet the demand for olive green “dri-fit” tzitzit for all the combat soldiers who request them.

“I’ve been working hard to raise the necessary funding for the religious needs of the combat soldiers stationed on the various fronts for the past months, in particular since it was obvious that something was going to ultimately break and it has,” Rabbi Atlas told me. “I’m raising funds for three key items that I have received repeated requests for on the command level, both from units in the south around Gaza and in Judea and Samaria. The first key item is these special Tzitzit.”

Many combat soldiers refer to the olive green tzitzit as השכפ”ץ האמיתי (“the real bullet-proof vest”). The IDF Rabbinate is churning out supplies as fast as it can, but does not have the significant quantities it will need in the coming weeks as Operation Protective Edge expands. A major call-up of reserve combat troops is anticipated as well. Most combat reservists only have a white tallit katan to bring with them when they report for duty. The white not only compromises unit discipline, but can actually pose a danger since it can be too visible at night, with flashes of white peeking out from under army fatigues.

During operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF handed out over 8,000 tzitzit to soldiers. Normally the IDF distributes simple cotton tzitzit garments that  become saturated with sweat, making them uncomfortable during training and combat, and making soldiers more vulnerable to skin irritation. The “dri-fit” type features an inner layer designed to wick away moisture and odor.

Personally, I recall that while serving as a “Lone Soldier” in the IDF about 15 years ago, I needed a pair of tefillin, and the IDF Rabbinate came through for me.

Tzitzit for IDF soldiers

An IDF unit currently stationed outside the Gaza Strip

Rabbi Atlas is trying to arrange an additional 15,000 pairs of these special tzitzit for combat soldiers, in addition to the quantity already stockpiled for emergency use. The approximate cost per combat company is $1,800. A full battalion is $5,000.

Below are three ways to make a donation to this fund.

1) U.S. checks can be sent to the following address:

American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate
c/o David Schwartz
5 Sutton Road
Monsey, NY 10952

2) Credit card donations can be made via the American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate website.

3) If you make a purchase on our tallit and tzitzit webstore, you can donate by clicking here and adding any number of tzitzit to your shopping cart.

Jul 112014

UPDATE: All of these tefillin have now been returned to their owners. The story of how the tefillin owners were found is a good read in and of itself.


We are posting the following as a “public service message.”


Subject: Lost tefillin in unclaimed baggage store in Alabama

HELP! HELP! HELP! Hashovas Aveida!

We went to a store today in Alabama that sells unclaimed baggage from all over the world.
We found Tefillin!!! People are missing their tefillin! Most were probably left on airplanes or at airports.

Please send on all around the world and if these lost tefillin are yours please email to claim them!

LostTefillin-1 LostTefillin-3 LostTefillin-4 LostTefillin-5 LostTefillin-2 Lost Tefillin

Jul 102014

We often get requests for a custom tallit. Often the customer just has various option requests and letter embroidery. Here’s a typical request of this sort.

Shalom! I am getting married soon. My kallah wants to buy me a new tallit. I was looking over your website and wondering if you could put it together. Here’s what I’m thinking:
1) the Chatanim White tallit, size 60
2) with Ptil Tchelet tzitzit (thin, tied according to nusach Ashkenaz)
3) an Atara embroidered with my Hebrew name
4) the Jerusalem in Color tallit bag also embroidered with my name. Is that possible? Thank you!

Except for the atara request, this is not really a custom tallit per se, because all of these options are readily available right on our webstore.

Typically a customer asks us to customize a tallit by creating the striping in colors that are next to impossible to find in a ready-made tallit. This is definitely doable, but can take six weeks to prepare.

Sometimes we get ideas for a custom tallit that sound a bit extreme to me:

  • I would like to have a tallit made for my son’s Bar Mitzvah using the State of Maryland flag
  • We are huge Gators fans. Could you put together a talit with the University of Florida colors, orange and blue?

For bar mitzvah boys, sometimes parents get very creative. We’ve actually received three requests from mothers who want a music theme incorporated into the tallit somehow.

  • He is very passionate about playing classical guitar and music. Is there something that can be done to put a bit of his personality in to the tallit? Also, would like stars with his name in Hebrew.
  • We went his Hebrew name, “Gidon,” as well as musical notes or notes on a staff with G cleff. Can this be done?
  • We’re looking for a tallis that would include some sort of music motif. Possibly some musical notes and a pasuk involving music.

One customer wanted to have some of his family heritage imbued in the tallit: “I would also like my family crest on the two front corners.”

One customer was looking for a tallit that featured an image of a man blowing a shofar. Another wanted to customize the tallit by embroidering letters on the neckband.

I would like on the atarah: ‘קודש לה

Four sons contacted me two months before their father’s 80th birthday, asking if we could create a tallit with their names embroidered on each corner. There is very limited space for name embroidery on the corners, but luckily all of the names were quite short in Hebrew, so we were able to make it happen.

This idea struck me as quite distinctive:

I’m interested in buying a special tallit for the shalosh regalim, whose traditional color (at least among German-Jewish communities) is green. I would like a tallit to be very traditional Ashkenazic, but instead of black stripes, it would have deep green stripes. Also, I would like it to have the following words (also in green), somewhere on the tallit, either on the atara or elsewhere: והשיאנו את ברכת מועדיך לשמחה ולששון

I am fairly familiar with German-Jewish customs, but this was new to me.

Sometimes we are contacted about a custom tallit that involves unusual striping colors. A few examples:

  • Light gray body, blue and gold stripes
  • I am thinking about doing a white Tallit, with black and orange stripes
  • Red, Gold, White, Purple
  • I’d like it to be sparkly
  • Black with bright stripes
  • Green and gold stripes
Kohen Tallit

A mock-up of an atara for a kohen

Sometimes we get a request from a kohen who wants a tallit that expresses kohen themes, such as an image of hands positioned for Birkas Kohanim.

And on several occasions we have received requests for a white-and-blue tallit that resembles the Israeli flag. In fact, we’re working on one this week.