Ben

Apr 192016
 

We get this question quite often, so I’m posting the question and answer for other bar mitzvah parents who might find it useful.

Hello,
I am wondering about tallit sizing. My son, who is 60 inches tall (now), is having his bar mitzvah two months from now. Should I order a size 50 tallit or a size 55 for him to grow into? We are interested in the Prima A.A. Tallit in Blue and Silver. Thank you, Beth ​
Dear Beth,
Congratulations on the upcoming bar mitzvah!
Your question is sort of like parents buying a suit: they want it to look nice for the bar mitzvah, but they don’t want it to be unwearable six months down the road.
A growth spurt somewhere between the age of 13 and 15 is highly likely, it’s really a question of when. So there’s really not much you can do in either case — the suit or the tallis.
Have you seen our Tallit Size Wizard? I would say a size 50 will probably work best. And I think there’s another reason to consider going with a size 50: Your son may find a size 55 a bit cumbersome, and I think when introducing a young man to a mitzvah it’s important not to make it a burden in any way.
The only exception would be if your son is very keen on a long tallit, which some people feel looks a bit more elegant.
Apr 182016
 

We get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 inquiries a year. The vast majority cover issues that are fairly routine: availability, tallit sizing questions, questions about tallit stripes, letter embroidery, turnaround time, etc. But this morning, in my email box, was a simple inquiry I’ve never received before.

I would like to purchase a man’s tallit that is either fair trade or is made by/supports Jews struggling economically in Israel or elsewhere.​ Thanks, Laurie

There is a tallit maker out there (MayaWorks) who has their tallitot woven by poor women in Guatemala to help them support their households.

When I saw that I thought some people, primarily liberal Jews, might be interested in tallits woven by poor Arab women living in Eretz Yisrael. But somehow Jews struggling economically escaped my attention.

I told Laurie about our company, and left it up to her to decide if we qualify. We’re based in Modi’in Illit, which is a frum city with a very large number of families — maybe even the majority — struggling to make ends meet. Our family is no longer struggling to pay the bills, thank G-d, but with ten kids, it’s never easy!

The lady who does most of our sewing work (primarily when we switch an atara) and some of the letter embroidery work has a large family and they are definitely not well off.

The kollel man who does our tzitzit tying is not well off, either. He’s fairly young and has only three or four children. He works for us in the afternoon– between study sessions –and sometimes in the evening hours. He’s an excellent, dedicated worker, and I admire him for taking the initiative to pursue part-time work, avoiding the pitfall of descending into debt or poverty, a mistake I think a fair number of kollel men are liable to make.

Our main suppliers are Talitania and Mishkan Hatchelet. I have a hunch that much of the workforce at Mishkan Hatchelet is lower class, since their manufacturing center is in Be’er Sheva, which has a large blue-collar population. I don’t know enough about Talitania to say. The Talitania distributor we work with is a Satmar chassid, and many of his employees are from his own family. I think his business is successful, but I have a feeling that without it, a lot of people would be out of work. Also, someone told me he does a whole lot of chessed with his earnings.

 

 

Mar 232016
 

Can a woman wear a tallit or observe the mitzvah of tzitzit? Many people have delved into this question, and I’ve found that a lot of them lack a clear understanding of a key term used in the discussion of the relevant halacha: “yehora.”

In the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 17, 2 the Rema, whose emendations on the Shulchan Aruch are considered authoritative for Ashkenazim, writes as follows:

ומכל מקום אם רוצים לעטפו ולברך עליו הרשות בידן כמו בשאר מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא אך מחזי כיהורא, ולכן אין להן ללבוש ציצית, הועיל ואינו חובת גברא, פרוש, אינו חיב לקנות לו טלית כדי שיתחיב בציצית

For those of you whose Hebrew is not up to speed, let me take a stab at a decent translation:

However, if they [women] want to wrap themselves [in a tallis or tallis katan] and recite a blessing on it, as with other time-bound mitzvahs, they are entitled to do so, but it appears to be ostentatious piousness, and therefore they should not wear tzitzis, since it is not incumbent on the individual, i.e. one does not have to buy a tallis in order to become obligated in [the mitzvah of] tzitzit.

I have often come across people trying to analyze the Rema’s remarks here do a sloppy job of translating the words mechzei k’yehora, calling it simply “pride,” which is quite misleading.

Yehora is better translated as “holier than thou.” It means that we do not undertake a stringency in public view. One common example is Rabbenu Tam tefillin. The vast majority of people lay tefillin with the compartments arranged according to the order prescribed by Rashi. However, Rabbenu Tam has a different opinion, so some people buy two sets of tefillin. They lay Rashi tefillin, and then at some point during Shacharis, remove it and switch to their Rabbenu Tam tefillin.

Obviously this is not a question of being “proud,” but of being super-frum. And to be precise, it’s not even a matter of acting super-frum, but of giving the appearance of being super-frum. The Rema does not say yehora, but rather mechzei k’yehora — it looks like yehora.

If yehora is such a problem in the case of time-bound mitzvahs for women, you might ask, how come we have no problem with women going to hear the shofar or sitting in a sukkah? To understand the distinction between these examples and the mitzvah of tzitzis, note that there is a fine distinction that the Rema took the trouble to explicate.

I respect other people’s opinion, but two things bother me: 1) When people don’t take the trouble to understand the issue, but simply decide to wear a tallit because they see other women do so in their congregation. 2) When women start wearing a tallit for the wrong reason, namely as a political statement rather than a desire to come close to Hashem through His mitzvahs. In this regard, the responsum written by Rav Moshe Feinstein several decades ago resonates to this day.

Mar 132016
 

Some years ago I came up with a brilliant idea for a Purim costume for myself. I would take my white and black and blue handwoven Mexican blanket to a seamstress, with instructions to make a hole in the center. Then I would tie thick tzitzit on the corner and don my fabulous gigantic tallis katan poncho. Of course this would be topped off with a big sombrero, and voila! our Jewish Mexican Caballero is decked out for Purim parties and shlach manos deliveries.

MexicanBlanketThe first year I dawdled over the idea until it was too late. The next year, as Purim drew near, I got serious. My plans were all in place, and then I went to dig out the blanket. But it was nowhere to be found.

After an extensive search, I asked my wife if she happened to know where the blanket was. She replied with those dreaded words that test a husband’s love for his wife: “That tattered old thing? I tossed it out two months ago.”

I was crestfallen. My big plans dashed on the rocks. And of course I suddenly felt a wave of nostalgia for that “tattered old thing” I had bought 15 years earlier as a teenager on a road trip in Mexico with some buddies. The last time I felt that pang of loss for a discarded object was when I learned my wife had gotten rid of my mountaineering boots. She couldn’t fathom why they should possibly be taking up storage room over a decade after I moved to Israel, where there’s hardly a patch of snow to be found. Did I really think I would one day have the opportunity for another jaunt in the Sierra Nevadas?

Every year, come Purim time, I try to come up with a good costume, but never seem to hit on an idea as good as that tzitzit poncho costume that wasn’t.

Mar 102016
 

We often hear stories from customers about difficulties they experienced ordering from the major online Judaica vendors. Today we received an order from a customer from Coral Gables, Florida who added the following tallit horror story to the comments field:

I received the worst service from [XXX] Judaica. I first ordered one tallit that a month later I was informed was out of stock. Then, I placed an order for another tallit which I was told today, over a month after I ordered it, that it was out of stock when I was originally told that it was available. This tallit will be a late anniversary and wedding present for my fiance, and I’m so glad that your shop can assist me.

This type of experience is not so uncommon. The reason is that it’s quite a challenge to keep an adequate supply of tallits in stock. Tallit sellers have to offer a very large selection of tallit styles, and each style may come in two or three or more color combinations, and on top of that most tallits come in three or four — or sometimes even eight or nine — sizes.

Not even the major tallit distributors in Israel have all the tallits in the wholesale catalog available at all times. Neither do the manufacturers. Mishkan Hatchelet has a very large factory in Be’er Sheva and over a dozen factory outlet stores around the country. They have an internal computer network to keep track of stock at all of the various factory outlet stores. And it’s not at all uncommon for them to be unable to locate a certain tallit in a certain size at any of those outlet stores.

The major online Judaica sellers like World of Judaica, aJudaica, Eichler’s, Judaica Webstore and Ahuva, to name a few, work with a very large number of suppliers and are not in a position to go chasing after a certain tallit. Those that are located in the US are even less likely to be able to get a hard-to-procure item quickly, because they rely on large periodic shipments from Israel.

This can be a challenge for us, as well, but over the years we’ve established working relations with a number of tallit suppliers, so that when one of them is unable to procure the items we need, the next day we contact another supplier on our list. We’re also set up to get deliveries from suppliers twice a week, so there’s rarely much lag time involved.

Mar 062016
 

In the five years since this blog was started I’ve refrained from politics entirely, but I think I’m going to chime in on the IDF beard controversy.

It’s been a long time since I was a rank-and-file soldier, but I was just discharged from reserve duty a few years ago, so I think most of what I observed is relevant.

Reserve soldiers can show up as scruffy as they like, and nobody will say a word. Enlisted soldiers, on the other hand, are expected to shave regularly. I was very occasionally questioned by officers about my beard, but all I had to do was to pull out my soldier’s ID card and show them that I sported a beard when I first got my mug shot upon enlisting.

Having a beard definitely sets you aside from the other soldiers. You could say there are three types of soldiers in the IDF: secular, religious and what they called backed then beinishim, which is an acronym for “yeshiva students.” The bearded soldiers were either from hardcore religious Zionist yeshivas, like Merkaz HaRav, or baalei tshuva.

Having a beard definitely sends a message. And it could be that certain elements at the top echelons of the IDF don’t like it. According to a report on Walla, the IDF wants to set a ceiling of 15% bearded soldiers. Officials are denying this policy.

At a recent gathering of prominent religious Zionist rabbis Rabbi Dov Lior said there is a struggle over the identity of the state, “a war against Hashem and his messengers.”

MK Menachem Eliezer Moses said that three months ago, during a session of the Foreign Affairs Affairs & Defense Committee, he spoke with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on this very matter, claiming Ya’alon promised him that anyone with a beard for religious reasons will be permitted to continue to wear a beard. Moses added that although the new regulation will impact religious Zionist soldiers more than chareidi soldiers, he objects to taking responsibility for the issue from the IDF Rabbinate and placing it in the hands of the adjutancy.

Walla News reports that the controversy was originally about secular soldiers who wanted to grow a beard, but as a result of the media frenzy surrounding the issue, the focus has shifted exclusively to religious soldiers. These non-observant soldiers said they are not ready to concede defeat, but plan to use social media to gain support for the right to sport a beard simply because they wish to, not out of religious conviction.

 

Feb 292016
 

​Since we work with both of the leading tallit makers in Israel, Mishkan Hatchelet and Talitania, we are able to offer a wide selection of options. Some dealers will tell you that Mishkan Hatchelet has higher standards than Talitania, while others maintain Talitania’s tallitot are superior. The truth is that they have very similar product lines; in some cases Mishkan Hatchelet takes the lead, while with certain tallits Talitania makes a nicer product — in my humble opinion.

One of those is known as “Tallit Shabbat” in Hebrew. We market it as “Hamefoar Prestige.”

I’ve read enough for now.
Please show me the tallit! >>>

Recently we receive an inquiry from a prospective customer in New York who had some very keen questions.

Shalom. I hope you are well. I am looking at the two Hamefoar talleisim on your website: the one made by Mishkan Hatchelet (Hamefoar Nonslip Tallit) and the one made by Talitnia (the Hamefoar Prestige Tallit). I have a few questions.

1. What is the difference, other than price? 2. Do they come with an atara? Which one? Can I substitute it?  How long for delivery to New York City? Thank you very much, Joel

I explained to Joel that the fabric on Hamefoar Prestige is slightly thicker and it’s a different weave. Some people would say it’s nicer than Tallit Hamefoar, but I think that’s debatable. The main black band on Hamefoar Prestige is thicker, like on the Kmo Turkish and the Echt Turkish talleisim. And Hamefoar Prestige comes with lining and side bands.

Also, note that Hamefoar Prestige comes with double-knotted fringes.

Both come with the same white-on-white atara (neckband) you see on 95% of traditional wool tallits made today. To substitute it you would simply add one of these atarot to your cart.
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.