Ben

Feb 212017
 

If you are shopping for tallis and tefillin bags, take a look here. This post is not about the bags themselves, but how to use them.

Personally, I prefer keeping my tallit and tefillin bags sans plastic. To explain why, first I have to take you back nearly 40 years to my aunt’s living room on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I have three strong memories of my Aunt Enus a”h: her walker (she fell and broke her hip), her big, fat cat Leonard and her couches.

I don’t remember the couches’ color or fabric, all I remember is the thick vinyl covering on them. Whenever relatives came to visit, they almost invariably made a snide comment about the sticky vinyl in the aftermath of the visit. I imagine some of those remarks reached her ears, but she was willing to sacrifice comfort to protect her sofas from Leonard’s claws. Those side comments about the vinyl lodged deep in my six-year-old mind so that to this day I find vinyl a real turnoff.

Tallit and tefillin bag coverBut everyone puts their tallis and tefillin bags in those hefty transparent PVC zippered covers! At some point I became a rebel, and when my bag cover tore (tears always form sooner or later), instead of replacing it immediately I tried managing sans plastic. To my amazement, I discovered that unless it’s really pouring rain, you can live without the plastic. The only problem is combining them into a single item to carry. Eventually I figured out that you could leave the tefillin bag at home and keep your tefillin wrapped inside the tallit. You simply fold the tallit around the tefillin, making sure to put the tallit in the tallit bag with the fold near the zipper, so that you can pull it out and leave the tefillin inside. (If you grasp the tefillin before the tallit, you run into a sticky halachic problem.) I liked the idea of living simply, and not taking up a lot of space in shul with a pile of accessories.

Today, things have changed, since I started walking to and from Shacharis wearing tallis and tefillin, so the velvet bags stay at home. I have a special placed reserved for them in our bookcase, and I always put the tefillin behind the tallis for two reasons: 1) So that I always come in contact with the tallit before the tefillin and 2) so that on Shabbos the tefillin (which are muktzeh) are safely out of the way.

Jan 292017
 

Mezuzah scrolls come in standard sizes. It used to be that the most common size was 10 cm and some people who wanted a bigger mezuzah bought a 12-cm scroll. But in recent years sizes went up a notch: 12 cm is very common and those who want bigger move up to 15 cm.

Giant mezuzah scroll

World’s largest mezuza

The jumbo mezuzahs you sometimes see, especially at Chabad homes, are typically 20 cm, and the very small ones are 7 cm or even 6 cm. A 6-cm or 7-cm scroll is quite hard to write and compromises the sofer’s ability to ensure the writing is 100% kosher. So you’re often getting less for your money. Generally it’s recommended you stay away from these sizes.

Bigger may be better up to 12 cm or 15 cm, but beyond that size, it becomes harder for the sofer to do his job.

A 10-cm mezuzah is 3.9 inches, a 12-cm scroll measures 4.7 inches and a 15-cm scroll is 5.9 inches.

If I’m not mistaken, Carma Winery recently broke the record for the world’s largest mezuzah.

Jumbo mezuza

Jan 242017
 

Toward the very beginning of the Gemara is a well-known breisa:

                אמר רבי יוחנן הרוצה לקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים שלימה יפנה ויטול ידיו ויניח תפילין ויתפלל

Translation: “R’ Yochanan said one who seeks to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner should empty his bowels, do the ritual hand-washing, lay tefillin and recite the prayers” (Brachos 14b).

Some readers might have noticed that something seems to be missing from the list: What about the mitzvah of tzitzis? Shouldn’t he put on a tallis?

This breisa is quoted by the Tur (O.C. 2, 6) in his description of how one should conduct himself upon rising in the morning. The Bach comments on the apparent omission, suggesting several possible explanations. His third suggestion reads as follows:

תפילין שבראש שאדם משעבד לבורא יתברך שהנשמה שהיא במוח וכו’ הני יש
ענין לקבלת עול מלכות שמים, מה שאין כן בציצית שאינה אלא לזכור את כל מצות ה

Translation: “The concept of tefillin on one’s head is to subjugate the mind to the Creator, for the soul is in the mind; yet this does not apply to tzitzis, which is merely to remember Hashem’s mitzvahs.”

Merely to remember Hashem’s miracles?! That’s no small matter! Apparently then the mitzvah of tzitzit is sort of a starting point. It makes you acutely aware of the deeds Hashem wants and expects of you, and serves as a constant reminder. This may explain why we put on the tallis before laying tefillin.

The Bach (O.C. 8, 1 s.v. Umiyad achar) writes that we put on tzitzis before tefillin because tzitzis are worn as a constant reminder of the mitzvahs, whereas the mitzvah of tefillin is primarily during Krias Shema and prayers, in order to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner.

Thus the act of donning tzitzis is a prelude to the process of accepting the yoke of Heaven.

Jan 192017
 

This week we had a customer who had decided to go with a hand-woven Gabrieli tallit, but kept debating between cotton and wool. At first she ordered it in wool, but then had second thoughts:

I have a question about wool vs. cotton. I saw a tallit today in our synagogue gift shop and it was thick and nubbly. I really liked the weight of it. The tag on it said linen. Is that what you mean by cotton? And if so I’d like to change my order to cotton.

Her question put me in a tight spot. Why? Please don’t tell anybody, but I didn’t know why “nubbly” means. Having lived in Israel for over 20 years, I haven’t enriched my English vocabulary much over the years. So I had to look up the definition before proceeding with a reply.

Gabrieli uses relatively thick yarns for both the wool and the cotton. They look quite similar. Some people can hardly tell them apart. The cotton has a slightly tighter weave and therefore the detail is a bit finer. Both of them are weighty and textured.

Then she went back to a follow-up question about linen:

Interesting. Which one would you say is closer to linen? And why is the cotton a bit more expensive than wool?

Actually I don’t know for sure why the cotton is more expensive. Either because the yarn costs the Gabrieli weaving studio more (they use high quality yarns from suppliers in faraway places) or because it requires a bit more time at the loom.
Cotton is closer to linen than wool. But I was a bit surprised to hear that she had come across a linen tallit. From a halachic standpoint, a linen tallit is quite problematic. Among other issues, to avoid the prohibition of shaatnez, you have to use linen tzitzit, and kosher linen tzitzit strings are hard to come by. Usually linen is only used to make tallitot for those who have serious fabric allergies.
Some people assume that linen and cotton are about the same, but that’s not the case as all. Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, whereas cotton is of course made from cotton plants.
Linen is a nice fabric, which makes it tempting to use it to make tallitot, but I avoid selling linen tallitot because of the problematic halachic issues involved. In the past I’ve toyed with the idea of making tallit and tallit katan products from hemp or bamboo fabrics, but those ideas never came to fruition. For now I’m sticking with tried-and-true wool and cotton.

 

Jan 032017
 

Sometimes you run across odd uses for tzitzit strings. This week we received an inquiry from a young woman from Germany, suffering from an ailment and hoping that blue tzitzit strings (techelet) have curative powers.

Shalom. One quick question: I am girl. Can I put tzitzit blue to my neck pendant with Hebrew letter[s] chai? I am sick and this color tzitzit give me heail power from Hashem. Plz answer me. Todah, shalom.

I replied to her as follows:

Thank you for your inquiry. Not a good idea! The Torah clearly states that tzitzit are meant to be tied onto the corners of four-cornered garments. That’s the mitzvah. There is no mitzvah to attach tzitzit to jewelry, just as there is no mitzvah to put a mezuzah on a car door.

When my wife was nine months pregnant with our first child, she was very nervous about the birth. She kept sending me around town to obtain all sorts of segulot (charms). I went to a very notable, sagely rabbi, one of the leading poskim of the generation, to ask him about a certain segulah.

“I don’t deal much with segulot,” he told me. “The main thing is prayer.”

The Torah teaches us that when Yishmael was dying, Hashem harkened to the lad’s prayer for himself before he harkened to his mother Hagar’s prayer! Praying earnestly for your own health is the key.
Dec 212016
 

We often get customers looking for a tallit with a certain weight or thickness. Many are shopping for a lightweight tallit, explaining that they live in Florida or Arizona and don’t want to be sweating away in shul. (I always thought the hotter the climate, the better the air conditioning, but I could be wrong.)

Others want a hefty tallit they can really feel on their shoulders.

I always responded to inquiries by offering my general impression of the thickness or weight of various tallitot, but today I decided to get scientific and jot down the weights.

For comparison we weighed size 60 tallits with an atara and no tzitzit.

Tallit Weights

Tallit Weight
Kalil 468 g
Tashbetz 612 g
Hamefoar 548 g
Hamefoar Prestige 701 g
Prima A.A. 565 g
Traditional Wool 512 g
Chatanim 582 g
Kmo Turkish 658 g
Kmo Turkish Nonslip 698 g
Echt Turkish 831 g
Beit Yosef 557 g
Beit Yosef Nonslip 589 g
Beit Yosef Tashbetz 566 g

 

Sep 272016
 

A significant number of our customers are looking for a “nonslip” tallit. Here’s a recent inquiry:

Please help, my Tallis keeps slipping. I have bought some non-slip fabric, are you aware of any halachic impediments to sewing in to the inside?​ – Motty

Motty certainly has an interesting idea. I can’t think of any halachic problems that are liable to come up.

Tallit slipping is not a new thing; it’s mentioned in the Talmud. I haven’t done an empirical study, but my conjecture is that there are a number of factors involved.

1) Thin, light fabric may be less prone to slipping because it contours better.

2) A second layer of fabric where the tallit rests on the shoulder and head may reduce slipping because the weight anchors the tallit in place there, and keeps it stable.

3) A wider tallit is liable to slip off more than a narrower tallit. But in most cases the variations in width are not substantial.

4) A textured (“nonslip”) fabric clings better to your clothes and to itself, reducing slippage.

5) Folding the tallit over just once on each shoulder makes the tallit slip easily, since the fold point is the center of gravity and pulls the tallit down the slopes of the arms. It’s better to experiment with ways to bunch the tallit on your shoulders.

6) How your shoulders slope contributes to the stability of the tallit.
Sep 182016
 

We now have a Jew formerly from Denver working as a shipping clerk, so I asked him a bit about the Jewish profile of the Mile High City and took a look at our orders from Colorado over the past year.

As expected, the bulk of our tallit and tzitzit buyers indeed hail from Denver (especially the west side, Greenwood Village, Englewood and Aurora). I was told a lot of Denver’s frum Jews live in Greenwood Village and Englewood, not too far from the Aish HaTorah shul.

Aish HaTorah synagogue in DenverWe also saw a number of tallit and tzitzit orders coming out of Littleton, Commerce City, Highlands Ranch, Westminster, Lakewood, Golden and Thornton.

The other significant places with customers buying tallits or tzitzit are Colorado Springs and Boulder. For some reason I’m not seeing a single order coming from Pueblo.

We also have a few dozen orders from the various mountain towns in Colorado.

What are our Colorado customers buying? A lot of traditional wool tallits, some high-end wool tallits and a lot of tzitzit garments, both wool and cotton.

Sep 012016
 

Regrettably I’ve never been to Australia, but I have sent a lot of tallits and tzitzit Down Under. I have heard many places in Australia have vibrant, dynamic Jewish communities comprised of native Australians as well as a substantial number of Jews from other parts of the world.

I just leafed through our order history and noticed that the vast majority go to customers in various parts of Sydney (especially Bondi and Rose Bay), and of course we get a significant number of orders from Melbourne and Brisbane, but a good number of tallit sales also go to Perth (Daniella), Adelaide, Canberra — and even one order to Tasmania.

Tallit sales to Brisbane go primarily to Surry Hills, Meridain Plains, Zillmere, Carindale and Acacia Ridge, while our tallit and tzitzit customers in Melbourne hail from Caulfield, Ararat, Elsternwick, Southbank, Coolaroo, Bayswater and Ormond.

The bulk of our tallit and tzitzit sold to customers in Sydney are shipped to Chatswood, St Ives, Marrickville, Bellevue Hill, Rose Bay, Bondi, Killara, East Lindfield, Drummoyne, Penrith, Abbotsford, Pagewood, Kings Park, Alexandria and West Hoxton.

What tallit and tzitzit products are our customers in Australia buying?

Much of our tallit sales are lightweight tallits, nonslip tallits, high-end tallitot for grooms, traditional wool tallits and Chabad.

Our tzitzit buyers in Australia are buying undershirt tzitzits, t-shirt tzitzits, tzitzit for kids, traditional wool tallit katan and techelet tzitzit.

Aug 092016
 

Although I have modified tallit katan garments a few times, I have never endeavored to make one from scratch. Still, I can offer some tips on how to go about it. Here is an exchange with a customer who wanted to make tzitzit for his 18-month son. Our smallest tzitzit are meant for a child of two or two and a half. I am posting the exchange because I believe it may be helpful for others who plan to make their own tallis katan for whatever reason.

Hi Ben,
Hope you are well. I was wondering if you sold tzitzit with a beged I could give my 18-month-old. He greatly admires his older brother’s and this is not something I want to discourage.
Thanks, C
harles

—–

Glad to hear from you, Charles. The smallest I know of is this. It comes in size 2 and size 3. The size 2 is really designed for two-and-a-half-year-olds, but he might be able to manage. You could always tuck extra length into his pants and if it drops off the sides a safety pin would probably do the trick.

—-

Thank you.  I’d feel weird giving that to anyone who isn’t three years-old.  I suppose we can turn a t-shirt into a beged on our own.

—–

That’s an idea. Two important points:
1) Measure from the bottom hem straight up to the middle of the shoulder, and make sure you make the sides more open than closed. You consider the sleeve opening as if it’s closed, i.e. as if there is no sleeve. This point is discussed in the Mishnah Berurah.
2) Make sure the tzitzit holes are as close as possible to 5 cm from each side. If it’s more than 6 cm or less than 4 cm you start to move into a halachic grey zone. It’s very difficult to make nice round reinforced holes, but it’s not essential. If you make elongated button holes, keep them as short as possible.