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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to tefillin page>>>


Nov 292015

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 292015

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

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

Lightweight Wool Tallit

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

Nov 272015

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

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

Black-Striped Malchut Wool Tallit

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


Nov 262015

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

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

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

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

Nov 262015

A customer asked me if I felt it would be inappropriate for an Ashkenazi to wear a Yemenite tallit.

Yemenite tallith with white stripes

White stripes, silver corners, Ashkenazi tzitzit

If you ask me, it would not be inappropriate assuming there is a range of tallit types in the congregation. In other words, if it’s a very frum Orthodox congregation, where everyone wears a tallit with black stripes only and a plain white atara, then suddenly someone comes in with silver, etc., it would make him stand out from the rest of the congregants. But if some people have blue stripes, or black and silver, etc., or white stripes, then there is no firmly established custom of how a tallit should look in your community.

The predominant custom among Sephardic Jews is to wear a white tallit with white stripes. I know a few Ashkenazi Jews who happen to like white-on-white, especially for Shabbos, and I don’t think they can be “condemned” for abbrogating the Ashkenazi custom.

Also, within Ashkenazi there are some who put a fancy silver atara on the tallit. Does it really make a difference if it’s more of a Yemenite-style silver embroidery?

If you chose to have the tzitzit tied Yemenite style, which is based on the Rambam’s approach, or tied Sephardic style, you might be on shaky ground.

But you shouldn’t ask me about the tzitzit! I’ve gone through all the relevant halacha several times, but I’m not a qualified rabbi.

Last week we got a fairly unusual hybrid request: a “white Yemenite tallit” with Ashkenazi tzitzit tying.

Nov 252015

I just came across this photo of a room at Auschwitz-Birkenau where confiscated tallits were apparently kept. At this point I’m feeling too aghast to write any remarks. From what I can tell the photo was taken after the War.

Tallit Room at Auschwitz

Nov 102015

Obviously if you were to put tzitzis on a garment that measures just a few inches, nobody would claim you can fulfill the mitzvah with a garment that small. So what is the minimum size requirement for a tallis katan? The answer is actually quite involved.

The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch tell us that a tallis katan has to be big enough to cover the head and majority of the torso of a boy who is old enough to walk around a central public area alone.

שעור טלית שחיב בציצית שיתכסה בה בארך וברחב ראשו ורבו של קטן המתהלך לבדו בשוק ואינו צריך אחר לשמרו

According to the poskim, this refers to a boy around the age of nine. In other words, if the garment is big enough for a nine-year-old boy, it’s big enough. Other poskim debate whether it also has to be big enough so that an adult would not feel embarrassed wearing it in public.

However, since clothing styles have changed so dramatically, it’s not easy to translate this into practical size guidelines. Some poskim hold that the total length of the tallis katan (front and back) must be one-and-a-half amah, while others say it must be two amos. The prevailing opinion is that the width must be one amah.

How big is an amah? That’s also a matter of debate. There are three main opinions:

Grach Na’eh – 48 cm (18.9 inches)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – 54 cm (21.2 inches)
Chazon Ish – 58 cm (22.8 inches) or 60 cm (23.6 inches)

Today most people follow Grach Naeh (especially Sephardim), which is size 20, Rav Moshe (especially Americans), which is size 22, or Chazon Ish (which is size 24), especially people in Bnei Brak and many kollel-leit and bnei Torah elsewhere.

But before you take out your tape measure, first we need to know how to go about measuring the tallis katan. Does the neck opening count or not? If there’s a slit in front, does that count?

According to the Mishnah Berurah, the neck opening should not be counted in calculating the dimensions, i.e. you would measure from the bottom of the neck opening down to the hem. However, the Chazon Ish writes that if the material on each shoulder is wider than the neck opening, then you can measure from the shoulder down to the hem.

This creates an interesting situation: The Chazon Ish has a more stringent amah, but the Mishnah Berurah holds by a more stringent way of measuring the tallis katan, therefore the difference between the minimum requirement according to the Mishnah Berurah and according to the Chazon Ish, respectively, is not so significant.



O.C. 16
Mishnah Berurah 4, ibid.
O.C. 10, 7
Shoneh Halachos

Nov 032015

Mezuzahs should be checked twice every seven years. In many cases mezuzah checkers find that the mezuzah scroll has been slowly baked to a crisp over a long period of time, following exposure to the elements.

The cause can be hard to determine. In one instance a mezuzah in a cheap, not waterproof case survives over the course of many years without suffering any damage, whereas another scroll in an ostensibly waterproof, solid metal mezuzah case is utterly destroyed.

One mezuzah checker got some insights into this enigma when he made house calls to two homes side-by-side. Both had an aluminum mezuzah case with a screw cap beneath the parchment on the bottom. Both had a lot of exposure to direct sunlight. And both mezuzah parchments, despite the protective case, were burnt to a crisp. His conclusion was that a lot of sunlight, even without moisture, with destroy a parchment in an aluminum mezuzah case.

He therefore extolled the virtues of the plain white plastic mezuzah case with a plug on the bottom. They will turn yellow and look shoddy after a year or so, but the cost to replace this type of mezuzah case (it definitely should be replaced if it doesn’t look nice) is minimal and the mitzvah of mezuzah remains intact.