Jul 252017

We frequently receive inquiries from people who are impressed with our web store and want to drop by when they come for a visit to Israel, thinking we have a brick-and-mortar shop somewhere in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

But the truth is we are located off the beaten path in Modi’in Illit, which is a 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv, and we are not set up to accommodate walk-in customers.

My guess is that there are all sorts of people who come for a visit to Israel once every few years, hoping to return home with a nice new tallit or tzitzit in their luggage. Or maybe a sibling or cousin or friend asked them to buy a tallit in Israel. Often the selection at their local Judaica store is too limited to supply them the tallit they want, or they’re looking for certain options that are a bit hard to find.

Sending someone to buy a tallit for you is not always a great solution because when you buy just about anything in Israel, you pay 17% VAT, which often offsets or even exceeds the shipping costs. If you buy a tallit for $150, for instance, you’ll see on your receipt that you paid $21.90 VAT, which is akin state sales taxes in the United States — only much higher. Shipping options for that sort of purchase on our website would be $10-$15 to European and US addresses, so you end up saving money by placing an order online and having us ship it to you.

Is VAT avoidable? Some retail businesses in Israel that cater to tourists are set up to refund the VAT on condition you spend at least 400 shekels. You pay the full amount, including VAT, fill out a form and then before you board your plane there’s a VAT refund counter at Ben Gurion. Note that they charge a service fee (typically 10%-15%) to receive the refund.

In fact, even if you place an order on our site and enter a shipping address in Israel — or select our pickup option — you’ll also be charged 17% VAT.

All orders that we ship abroad are exempt from VAT. It’s quite involved exporting of our orders in accordance with government regulations, but it’s worth it because that we we can keep our prices down.

If despite the above you still feel you really want to buy a tallit in Tel Aviv, be very wary, because most Judaica stores in Tel Aviv are not really qualified to sell tallits and tzitzit. Often Tel Aviv residents will travel to nearby Bnei Brak where specialty tallit shops are not too scarce.

The first place to try is one of the three Mishkan Hatchelet outlet stores. Most of the traditional wool tallits we sell are manufactured by Mishkan Hatchelet, which is generally considered the top tallit maker in the country, and possibly worldwide.

If your tastes are fairly modern and you have the budget for a hand-woven tallit, take a look at Gabrieli, whose tallits are renown worldwide (see here). Their weaving studio is located in Rechovot and they have a gallery in Jaffa.

Jun 272017

Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to tie tzitzit to the corners of their four-cornered garments as a reminder to fulfill the mitzvos and not stray after the desires of their hearts and eyes. The mitzvah consists of a tassel — a group of threads known collectively as “tzitzit” — to four corners of any garment that has four corners or more, and to wind a blue-colored thread (techelet) around the top part of each set of fringes. The bottom part of the tassel and the remaining thread of techelet are left loose. The Torah explains that this mitzvah of tzitzit helps the people fulfill all of the mitzvos. By looking at them, they would “remember all of Hashem’s commandments and thereby be prompted to perform them.” This in turn would prevent them from straying “after [their] hearts and eyes” (Bamidbar 15:39).

How does looking at tzitzit serve as a reminder? In ancient times it was customary for a master to place an emblem on his servant’s clothing as a sign that he belonged to him. Similarly, tzitzit are Hashem’s “emblem” that Bnei Yisrael are His servants. Indeed, He took them out of Egypt on condition that they serve Him, and they agreed with a solemn oath. Thus, whenever Bnei Yisrael see their tzitzit they remind themselves that they are Hashem’s servants and therefore are not at liberty to simply do as they please.

This also explains why Hashem specifically commanded Bnei Yisrael to attach tzitzit to clothing. There is no better reminder than attaching an emblem to clothing, since it is in front of the wearer the entire day. Furthermore, the techelet thread, which is dyed using the blood of a rare sea creature called a “chilazon,” has a color similar to the color of the sea, and the color of the sea is similar to that of the sky, which in turn is similar to the color of Hashem’s Throne of Glory. Thus, by looking at the blue thread, a person remembers He who sits upon the throne.

Even without the chilazon dye, the mitzvah can still be performed with plain white strings. As Rashi explains, even without the techelet thread, there is an allusion to the 613 mitzvos in the tzitzit. The word tzitzit (spelled with two yuds) has a numerical value of 600. Add to this eight and five (eight hanging strings and five knots), and we have 613.

By looking at their tzitzit and having a constant reminder of Hashem and His mitzvos, following the Sin of the Spies, Bnei Yisrael would now be able to resist the desires that tempt them to stray from Hashem’s service. Moreover, the injunction not to stray after the desires of the heart and eyes comprises a separate mitzvah, one that is applicable at all times, even when one is not wearing tzitzit.
Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael that if they fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit they would “become holy.” Some commentators understand that performing the mitzvah of tzitzit alone brings a person to holiness, while the Midrash explains that through the mitzvah of tzitzit, one performs all the mitzvos and this makes him holy.

The passage of tzitzit provides the means to prevent Bnei Yisrael from committing a similar sin to the sin of the Spies by warning the nation not to stray after their hearts and eyes, and since tzitzit serves as a constant reminder of all the mitzvos, it provides a way to elevate the nation and help them remain forever conscious of their duties. The verses include a promise that if the nation performs all of Hashem’s mitzvos, then it will “become holy” and “be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”.

Mar 052017

You have a decent tallis you wear seven days a week. It’s not old or schmutzy. Should you still try to buy a tallis just for Shabbos? In a word, yes.

Let’s start with the verse in Yeshayahu (58:13):

אם תשיב משבת רגלך עשות חפצך ביום קדשי וקראת לשבת ענג לקדוש ה’ מכבד וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר

If thou restrain thy foot because  of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on My holy day;
and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shalt honor it,
not doing thy own ways, nor pursuing they own business nor speaking of vain matters

The Gemara (Shabbos 113a) says that from the word וכבדתו that your Shabbos attire should not be the same as your weekday attire. Based on this Gemara, the Tur writes:

וישתדל שיהיו לו בגדים נאים לשבת דכתיב “וכבדתו” ודרשינן שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול

Pay attention to the first word ישתדל, i.e. one should strive. I once heard Rav Schachter of Yeshiva University say ideally you should have special Shabbos clothes from head to toe: not just a Shabbos shirt, but a Shabbos undershirt, Shabbos socks, Shabbos pajamas, etc.

Apparently this is the meaning of the Mishna Berura 265,2, 5 based on the Arizal. From my own reading of the Mishna Berura I can’t see Rav Schachter’s opinion, since the Mishna Berura says “even the shirt,” which sounds to me like it would come to exclude undershirt and socks. But Rav Schechter was invariably relying on Achronim I haven’t seen.

And now for the key words:

ואם אפשר לו, טוב שיהיה לו גם טלית אחר לשבת

There you have it – “if possible, you should have another tallis for Shabbos.”

Some people have pretty much the same tallis, just less worn. Others may have a fancy atara or ornate Yemenite fringes on their Shabbos tallis. And some people choose to go one size bigger for their Shabbos tallis; during the week, short and more manageable, on Shabbos long and elegant.

I used to wear a black-striped tallis katan with a straight hem during the week, and a white-striped tallis katan with fringes on Shabbos. My current Shabbos tallis has a cotton lining, lending it a more substantial feel, while my weekday tallis does not.

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.