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.


Mar 012015

In Israel, Mishkan Hatchelet and Talitania (or “Talitnia”) have been bitter rivals for decades. When one comes out with a new design, the other is sure to market a similar tallit. Talitania’s “David” is very close to Mishkan Hatchelet’s “Tashbetz”, the Malchut Tallit is similar to the Beit Yosef Tallit and both companies make the Bnei Ohr Tallit.

But Talitania has succeeded in making a superb product that no one seems to be able to imitate: the Carmel Tallit.

Have you ever seen one of those very substantial, impressive, colorful handmade tallits? At weaving studios like Gabrieli and Canaan Gallery they actually sit down at an old-fashioned loom and weave all day. The tallits that come off the looms are striking and quite beautiful, but they cost a pretty penny. Gabrieli probably produces the most affordable handwoven tallits, but a full-size piece will set you back at least $350, and many handwoven tallits can cost $400-$600 or more.

For some people, the turnaround time is also an issue: In most cases you need to order a handwoven tallit 5-10 weeks in advance, which can pose a real problem for bar mitzvah boys or wedding grooms who need to have the tallit at their doorstep within a few weeks.

The Carmel Tallit is woven by machine, but features a fabulous weave that resembles its handwoven counterparts. At a recent visit to Talitania’s Bnei Brak distribution center, we were so impressed with the Carmel Tallit that we decided to start offering it on our webstore. Take a look!

Carmel Tallit – Prices & Details>>>

Feb 192015

The Shivat Haminim Tallit (or “Seven Species Tallit”) features a rich pattern with shades of blue, magenta and other pastels. The vibrant designs focuses on a Shivat HaMinim motif — the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes.

Inspiration Behind the Shivat HaMinim Tallit

Various references to the Seven Species, the inspiration for the Shivat HaMinim Tallit, appear in the Tanach, and the Mishna states that only the first fruits (bikkurim) of the Seven Species could be brought to the Temple as offerings. To this day, wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards remain a salient feature of the Land of Israel landscape.

Bnei Yisrael cultivated both wheat and barley, which are the first of the Shivat HaMinim enumerated in the Seven Species.

The Seven Species are traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat and in halacha they are considered more important than other fruits; a special blessing is recited after eating them.

In Chapter 8 of Devarim we find: “All the commandments that I give you this day you shall carefully observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and inherit the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers….” The verses then continue with a description of the Promised Land, including Shivat HaMinim, and conclude with the dire warning: “If you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.”

The emphasis on Shivat HaMinim is woven into the description of the land of Israel, writes Nogah Hareuveni, a description that serves as the backdrop for the warning to obey the 613 mitzvahs.

Shivat HaMinim Tallit: Eretz Yisrael in living color

The Shivat HaMinim Tallit is a white wool tallit with red and blue striping that frames various images that instill a strong feeling of Eretz Yisrael: pomegranate vines, quaint Jerusalem-style houses, palm trees, clear blue skies and of course the Seven Species.

The tallit is available in several sizes with a matching bag and various tzitzit options.

Shivat HaMinim Tallit – Prices & Details>>

Feb 162015

I have a hunch that very few readers will find this post engaging, but since for several years I’ve been making a living by selling tallit and tzitzit products and sending them to customers around the world, I was quite intrigued to come across a court decision that delved into the definition and description of the type of products we sell.

Apparently a Jew in New York by the name of Dwek wanted to import talleisim and tallis katan garments without having to pay too much in import duties. It sounds like he got in a spat with U.S. Customs, and the case was brought to court, where they had to determine whether a tallit and tallit katan should be viewed like other cotton or wool garments, or whether the importer could “claim duty free status as a religious article under subheading 9810.00.90, HTSUSA.”

“Determination of the HTSUSA classification of the subject merchandise requires an understanding of terminology which is germane to the issue,” reads the decision, noting that “Customs interprets the use of the merchandise to include the manner in which it is worn, as well as the reason for which it is worn.” The following definitions are then listed:

Prayer Shawl – A tallith. Webster’s II, New College Dictionary 868 (1995).
Tallith – A fringed prayer shawl with bands of black or blue, worn during worship by Orthodox or Conservative Jews. Id. at 1125.
Tallit – Prayer Shawl, usually of silk or wool, sometimes banded with silver or gold thread, and fringe at each of the four corners in accordance with biblical law. (Num. 15:38) [I would add that sometimes the mitzvah is fulfilled according to Rabbinical Law (d’Rabbanan), but not at the level of Biblical Law (d’Oreisa).] The wearing of the tallit at worship is obligatory only for married men, but it is customarily worn also by males of bar mitzvah age or older. [That is true for most Ashkenazim.] Occasionally it is spread over the marriage canopy or used as a burial shroud. In recent years, some women have begun to wear tallits. Mordecai Schreiber, The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, 255 (1998).
Arba Kanfot – Literally, four corners. A rectangular vestlet covering the chest and back, with ritual fringes, or tzizit, attached to its corners, in remembrance of the biblical command that Jewish males wear a fringed garment (Num. 15:37-41). It is also called a tallit katan, or “little tallit.” Id. at 28.
Tzitzit – Tassels hanging on each of the four corners [of a Tallit or Tallit Katan]. If you look carefully you will see that they are made of eight strings, or more accurately, four strings doubled over to make eight. You will also notice that they are attached through a small hole near the corner and that they contain five knots and four groups of windings between the knots. Aryeh Kaplan, Tzitzith: A Thread of Light, 9 (1984).

“Furthermore, after consultation with various sources concerning the practice of the Jewish faith, Customs notes the following explanation of the usage for the subject merchandise:

When dressing one should add to his garments the Talit Qatan (little talit), better known as ‘Arba Kanfot’ (four corners), which should be worn all day. The Talit Qatan consists of an oblong piece of cloth with a hole cut in the middle large enough for the head to go through. It should be large enough to fold over the upper body in front and back, and should have Tsitsit on its four corners… The Tsisit, as the Torah prescribes, serve as a reminder of God’s commandments: “And ye shall look at it and remember all the commandments of the Lord.” (Num. 15:39)… If one of the threads is missing the Talit should not be used. . . . Today, the Tsitsit come ready made, attached properly to the Talit and Talit Qatan. See Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, 3-5 (1979).”

As you can see, the terms “tassels” and “fringes” can get very confusing. I think the safest usage is to refer to tzitzit as “tzitzit” or “tassels” and to reserve the usage of the word “fringes” for the decorative fringes along two sides of a tallit gadol or usually along the front edge of a wool tallit katan.

If you are not bored to tears by now, and are still reading, here is where the legal discussion of Customs regulations gets interesting: In its ruling the court decided that import taxes should be levied on a tallit or tallit katan – unless it has tzitzit tied on!

As stated in the above cited sources, both the talit and arba kanfot are symbolically used for prayer and have specially knotted tassels and fringe attached for their use and purpose as such. Therefore, if the subject merchandise is imported with the tassels attached, then the importer of record may claim duty free status as a religious article under subheading 9810.00.90, HTSUSA.

So there you have it in black-and-white: If it has tzitzit tied on, it’s a “religious article,” if not, it’s just an article of clothing.

You could even go one step further. The concluding section states, “if imported with the specially knotted tassels and fringe properly attached” [italics added] the tallit or tallit katan is duty free. In that case, if the tallit does not have kosher tzitzit, for any reason, the importer would have to pay taxes!

Feb 162015

This week we received an inquiry about the fringes along the front bottom edge of a wool tallit katan.

​I was wondering if the wool tzitzit has the (tallis like) fringes across the bottom of the garment. I bought this type in Israel but can’t find it in NY. Thanks, Zach

Our standard wool tallit katan comes with fringes along the bottom front, I explained to Zach, unless you write in, while placing your order, a special request for no fringes. The one exception is size 22, which always comes with no fringes. Somehow I had a feeling that Zach wanted a size 22 tallit katan for his tzitzit. I was right.

22 is the size I really needed.  Is it at all possible to get it with fringes?
The problem is that the manufacturer we work with, Mishkan Hatchelet, doesn’t make size 22 with fringes at all, presumably because size 22 is uncommon in Israel. There are other wool tallit katan manufacturers, but I haven’t found any that produce the level of quality that Mishkan Hatchelet (distributed by Keter in the U.S.) has achieved.
Why is the size 22 wool tzitzit always made without fringes? The reason is that for the minimum size requirement there are three main opinions: The Chazon Ish, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Chaim Naeh. Rav Moshe’s opinion is followed widely in the US, but much less in Eretz Yisrael. And as mentioned above, un-fringed is popular in the US. So from what I understand they opted not to make size 22 with fringes, because there’s a limited demand for it.