Aug 252015

We often get customers who ask about lightweight tallit options. On one hand they want a traditional wool tallit, but on the other hand they start feeling too warm just hearing the word “wool.” Here’s a recent inquiry:

​I’m considering the Kmo Turkish tallis. I live in the southeastern U.S. and I’m a bit concerned about the weight of the fabric. I like this tallis, but I don’t want to be too hot in shul. Have you had any feedback from customers regarding this issue? Any thoughts? Thanks, Michael

The truth is I haven’t received much feedback from customers on the issue. In my opinion the weather outside is not such an overriding factor, but rather the weather inside, i.e. whether they blast the air conditioner, or whether you barely feel it. (If you walk to shul with the tallis on, obviously that’s a different story.)

Also, I think it makes a significant difference whether you wear the tallis over your head a lot of the time or not.

Last Shabbos it was blazing hot and I walked a long way to shul in the sun. (For a change of pace, I wanted to take my boys to the enormous, elegant shul halfway across town.) Going downhill at 8:00 am I was working up a sweat, and dreading the return trip uphill at 11:00. After davening, when the time came to head home, I decided to take off my jacket (we have a very good eiruv) and just wear the tallis. In fact, the sun was beating down on my head so fiercely, that I actually wore the tallis it over my head. And guess what? I was more comfortable than I had been in the morning.

The main reason is that a tallis is a loose garment, so, like the Bedouin thobe, which is also made of wool it’s not going to heat you up much. When you wear a regular shirt, it makes a much bigger difference if it’s thin or thick. But with a tallis, sometimes lightweight is not crucial.

Since Michael was looking at a very unique tallis, I told him he might want to consider Hamefoar Prestige, which is very similar to the Kmo Turkish Tallit, but the textured fabric breathes better.

Personally I have a Kalil for weekday use during the summer. I walk to and from shul with tallis and tefillin on, and the shul I go to for weekday Shacharis is too warm throughout the summer, unless you sit under one of the vents.

Aug 202015

My own talleisim ketanim have lasted for years, and I’ve replaced the tzitzit several times. But for most people replacing tzitzit strings is not such a simple proposition, and they would prefer to keep them in good condition for as long as possible. Here’s an inquiry we received this week:

Hi- great website!
Do you have any advice on making tzitzit last longer? You know: they get fragile with wear, and start to break off easier. Any way to make them last longer? (Maybe someday tzitzit will have some fiber like kevlar added…) As tzitzit get older, with washing and (probably) friction against pants, the strings wear and break easily in different places, which probably wouldn’t happen if the strings were synthetic…Also, I once heard that someone had a way of dipping the strings in some liquid, but lost the reference.

I would say the most common problem is tip fraying. Some people avoid that by tying a simple knot right near the tip of each string. This is a bit problematic, because according to some opinions you would be adding to the number of knots. And if you ask me, it doesn’t look so nice.

It’s fairly common to dab the tips with clear nail polish or glue. This is a bit time consuming. I’ve heard some people use melted wax from Havdalah, but I don’t know how well that works. It offers the advantage of using a mitzvah object for a second mitzvah (הואיל ואתעביד ביה מצוה חדא נעביד ביה מצוה אחריתי).

On a side note, some people get frustrated over the last double knot unravelling. This is especially aggravating on Shabbos, when you cannot tighten the knot. One online tzitzit seller even markets a permanent knot they refer to as kesher shel kayama. This is a bit of a question from a halachic standpoint, because you need to have four strings, and some poskim hold that this renders it a single cord in some respects. (This parallels the big question of ohr echad when it comes to tefillin.) I have had good results by simply pulling that final knot really snug, holding it under a thin stream of hot water for 10 seconds and then letting it dry.

Some manufacturers are better than others. I have seen some tzitzit that get frayed really badly, very quickly. My own tzitzit sometimes form bends near the end. I tie mine longer than the minimum length, and then snip of the tips when they no longer look nice. Of course some people have a custom not to cut tzitzit with metal, and ceramic scissors (i.e. zirconium oxide) are both expensive and hard to come by.

I don’t know about synthetic. Tzitzit have to be made of the same material as the בגד, i.e. cotton tzitzit for a cotton beged, or wool tzitzit can be used on any beged (except linen, in the absence of techeiles). That’s why 99% of all tzitzit strings manufactured today are made of wool.

But what about say 90% wool and 10% kevlar? I don’t know about that. That’s a question for a posek. I’m really not familiar with issues of fabric blends. Of course there are plenty of people who wear a 60% cotton/40% polyester tallis katan (especially among chassidim and small boys).

Even if there is no halachic problem, there would still be a practical problem: tzitzit tend to get dingy over time (with young boys, in a very short period of time), and getting them white again can be quite a challenge.

One solution is to acquire proficiency in tzitzit tying, so that you can sit down on the couch, relax and tie new tzitzit in half an hour flat.

We have an in-house tzitzit tie-er, but occasionally I’ll take one or two home and tie them to unwind (no pun intended). After several years in the business my hands can tie just about any tying custom without engaging my brain much, so it’s actually a bit therapeutic for me. But the majority of my customers are not prepared to tackle tzitzit tying, so I realize this is going to be a solution only for a minority of people.

Jun 282015

After over a thousand years during which we were unable to observe the mitzvah of techeles in tzitzis, in recent years, strong proofs for the identity of the original chilazon have come to light and the dyeing technique has been revived. It now appears quite reasonable to assert that the mitzvah of tzitzis can be observed in the complete and proper manner, after many generations of being unable to do so.

It seems that the various debating points have now been brought to the fore, so that now anyone has the opportunity to examine the issue and make a choice. He who delves into the issue, researches it thoroughly and remains unsatisfied with the proofs we have today will probably not be swayed by another handful of proofs. Even if one day tzitzis dated from the time of Beis HaMikdash with the seal of the Kohen Gadol were found right on the Temple Mount, most dissenters would contine to stand their ground. Likewise, those who have been convinced would not change their stance considerably were another challenge be presented here or there, for the gates of explanation remain open.

Today it could be said that the question over the revival of techeles is more a question of hashkafa than of halacha.

The issue can be presented as follows: On one hand there is a preponderence of strong evidence that the chilazon used to produce techelet in the past is purpura-murex. However, on the other hand, most of the stronger proofs did not emerge in the beis midrash, i.e. they werenot derived from an examination of the relevant sugias or statements by Chazal and the poskim, but rather from a wealth of knowledge drawn from outside sources.

Indeed, we have not come across any substantive contradiction in the words of Chazal or the poskim to obfuscate the identity of porpuria as the chilazon associated with the authentic techeles dye. Furthermore, once we know the identity of the chilazon and the manner in which the dyeing process is carried out, new light is shed on the words of Chazal.

But when all is said and done, the main thrust of evidence comes from outside the beis midrash. This is the main reason why we see many talmidei chachamim who are unprepared to hear new ideas introduced and are opposed to the renewal of the mitzvah of techeles in our day. Yet on the other hand, from day to day Jews who feel a strong appreciation for this mitzvah and adhere to the fine points of halacha now have techeles in their tzitzis, whether worn openly or discreetly.

The post was adapted from an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver originally published in Hebrew in “Vehaya Lachem L’Tzitzit,” Ninth Edition, 5755, Ptil Tekhelet Association.

Jun 042015

Making the battim (the leather boxes which house the tefillin parchments) of Shel Yad in relatively simple since it’s just a simple compartment that’s smooth on the outside.

On the other hand, the Shel Rosh not only has a letter ש painstakingly embossed on both sides, but also it is formed of four separate but unified boxes.

Types of tefillin

The terms Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim, Tefillin Gasssot, Tefillin Gassot Prudot and Miksheh refer to how the battim, particularly the Shel Rosh, are constructed. Because the materials, the tools and the level of craftsmanship used to make Tefillin Gassot are more expensive, expect to pay significantly more for Tefillin Gassot than for Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim.

Also keep in mind that tefillin makers almost invariably insert mediocre parchments in Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim; the more expensive the battim, the better the parchments on the inside will be.

Ohr Echad

Tefillin must be made of a single piece of leather (“ohr echad“).  The big question which then arises is whether several pieces of leather glued together are considered ohr echad.

Types of Tefillin - Gassot

Checking a parchment before inserting it into the Shel Rosh

The problem used to be especially acute before the advent of Tefillin Gassot, when Tefillin Dakkot were the norm. Because Tefillin Dakkot are made of thinner hide, glue had to be applied in the crevices between the four compartments of the Shel Rosh to insure it kept a square shape over time. The problem is that from a halachic standpoint, if you say glue unifies the compartments, you have now created a single compartment instead of four separtment compartments, as required.

(The Vilna Gaon, upon coming across someone whose Shel Rosh was constructed with glue, would quip, “Why are you wearing a Shel Yad on your head?”)

On the other hand, if you use no glue (a method which today is referred to as Tefillin Prudot), the Shel Rosh is liable to lose its square shape. (Because today’s Tefillin Prudot are made of thick leather, they maintain their shape much better.)

The Chassam Sofer argued that you can’t have it both ways: You can’t make Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim using glue to unify several pieces of leather — and then use glue to hold the compartments together, now saying glue does not unify them.

Various Achronim hold that in fact the four compartments of the Shel Rosh do not have to be truly separate, rather you only need slits visible from the outside.

The Chassam Sofer wrote that if the tefillin maker does not have the intention to glue the compartments together, but rather uses a small amount of glue just to prevent them from separating, then they would be considered four separate and distinct compartments.

Jun 012015

The big problem with buying a shofar online is that you’re in for a surprise. It could be a pleasant surprise, or you might be a bit disappointed. The way most online shofar dealers operate is that they post dozens of spectacular stock photos of various shofars, with a disclaimer in small print saying, “For illustrative purposes only.”

You select a size range (e.g. 15-16 inches) a color preference (brown or black) and the type of polishing (natural, half-polished, fully polished). When the order comes in, the dealer goes into a storeroom and pulls out a shofar that fits that approximate description.

But there are a few problems with this system. One is that shofars are not brown or black. Typically a brown shofar is brown with dark brown rings or black streaks or even a hint of ruddy red. Likewise a black shofar will not be jet black, but will have a lot of brown in it. So what you get is somewhat of a mystery until it arrives in the mail.

Yemenite shofar horns often have spectacular coloring, including jet black, tawny lion, desert sand and a reddish pearl. But when you find a kudu shofar for sale online, you are expected to simply select “black” or “brown.”

If you happen to be in Israel, you can find plenty of shofar sellers, where you can pick and choose. Most of them will even let you blow the shofar to check the tone and pitch. But online shofar shoppers just get very vague selections that make the purchase largely guesswork.

That didn’t seem like the right way to buy a shofar, so we started a sister site, called Jericho Shofar, that allows you to see exactly what you get.

Every rams horn and kudu horn is painstakingly measured, categorized and described to allow buyers to choose the exact size, look and sound of the shofar they hope to receive.

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.


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.