I know it’s not easy to buy a tallit. For of all, most people buy a tallit only a few times during their lifetime, so their tallit shopping experience is highly limited. And even if you do have a general idea of how to go about buying a tallit, there are so many options and subtleties involved, and you want to get everything just right.
Believe it or not, even though I spend all day long dealing with tallits and tzitzit, when the time comes for me to buy a tallit for myself, either for weekday or Shabbos use, I suffer from indecision, too.
Tallit buying choices: Fabric, striping, atara and tzitzit
The first step when you buy a tallit is choosing which fabric you want to go with. That’s easy enough. In 90% of cases I definitely recommend you stick with wool. If you are thinking of buying a handwoven tallit, you might consider cotton.
Next is striping color. The traditional tallit striping color is black. Some Sephardic Jews have a custom of buying a tallit with white striping. And of course some people want a bit of color on their shoulders, so they look for black and silver striping or blue-silver, blue-gold, blue stripes, etc. If you plan to buy a traditional black striped tallit, the striping is quite similar among most basic designs. Some exceptions are the Echt Turkish and Kmo Turkish, which have more solid bands, and the Chabad tallis and Yemenite Tallit, which have more elaborate striping.
If you intend to buy a basic, traditional tallit, the atara (neckband) will be white with a very quiet leaf and diamond design. Of course you can always have a different atara sewn on when you buy the tallit. On the more colorful and modern tallitot the atara usually has the Tzitzit Blessing embroidered on it.
Sizing is a big issue. Tallit sizes are standardized around the world. A size 45 is quite small, usually for a 5′ bar mitzvah boy. With every size increase the height of the tallit increases by 10 cm (4 inches). In other words, a size 50 will hang down in back an additional 4 inches, compared to a size 45. Going up, the next sizes are 55 (small), 60 (medium), 70 (large) and 80 (extra large). In the photo to the right, a size 60 tallit is worn on by 5’7″ model.
Some people do not wear the tallit in the traditional style, draping down the back, but just resting on the neck and hanging down in front. These sizes include size 18, which is 18 inches wide, size 24, which is 24 inches wide and size 36, which is, you guessed it – 36 inches wide. The size 36 is actually worn a bit differently, because it will cover the upper back and then wraps around the upper arms. The length of the size 18, 24 and 36 is standard, 70 to 72 inches. For a short bar mitzvah boy, that can be a bit of a problem, but for most people the standard length is manageable.
The next issue when you buy the tallit is to decide on the tzitzit. Most tallits you see come with thin, machine-spun tzitzit. We offer a range of options for those who prefer thick, handspun, niputz lishmah or techelet. The all-white tzitzit options will add $10 to $25 to the price
When you buy your tallit, you might want to add a tallit bag as well. When buying a tallit bag, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. The fabric used to make a $30 or $40 tallit bag is much nicer than the fabric you get with a $15 tallit bag. But an inexpensive tallit bag usually does the job, too.