Oct 312014
 

Every once in a while a prospective customer contacts me for reassurance that the tallits we sell are kosher. The truth is that if you’re buying a traditional wool tallit, you have very little to worry about. But in any case, for those who want to know what makes a tallit kosher, the issues we need to look at are the material, the size and the tzitzit.

Wool Tallit: The Ideal

Traditional tallits are made of wool. According to halacha, it should be ewe’s wool, so if you come across goat wool, camel wool, alpaca wool, etc. you might want to keep this in mind. The only one of those I have ever heard of used to make a tallit is alpaca wool. There are a few inexpensive tallits made of 60% wool and 40% synthetic, but this is quite rare.

On the other extreme there is one tallit known as the Beit Yosef which is made of 100% wool, including the corner patches and atara (neckband), and it has no shiny non-wool striping added. The Beit Yosef Talit is popular mostly for it’s subtle beauty, but some Sephardic Jews, who are especially careful to have only wool, favor the Beit Yosef Talit. Most high-end wool tallits feature wool corner reinforcement squares, but will have a synthetic atara.

Handmade tallits are typically made of wool, cotton or silk. The yarns are thicker than the wool used for manufactured tallits or the cotton and silk fabrics most garments are made from, so the tallit has more texture to it.

While cotton, silk and other natural fibers are definitely kosher for use in making a tallit, wool is preferred from a halachic standpoint. According to the prevailing opinions, a wool garment can be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit according to Torah law (d’oreisa), whereas other natural fabrics only fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit according to Rabbinical Law (d’Rabbanan).

Some bargain tallits are made of synthetic materials, namely acrylan. There is a bit of debate in halacha whether synthetic fabrics are kosher for the mitzvah of tzitzit. I’m not familiar with the issue.

Shaatnez

Some people are concerned a tallit might have shaatnez, which would render is forbidden. There was a shaatnez scandal with Turkish tallits a decade or two ago, but no cases of shaatnez in tallitot have come to my attention in recent years.

Still, last night I myself went to a shaatnez checker myself. I had received from a supplier a few atarot with very modern designs that I wanted to sew onto wool tallits, but the base of the atara looked like linen to me. The shaatnez checker took a look under his microscrope.

Tallit Size Requirements

There is a vigorous debate among the poskim regarding the minimum size requirement of the garment used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit, but this applies mostly to a tallit katan (a tzitzit garment worn all day). According to the strictest opinion (the Chazon Ish) the minimum requirement is 24 inches. The narrow type of tallit worn on the shoulders and hanging in front (not draping down the back) comes in sizes 18, 24 and 36, which means the tallit is 18 inches wide, 24 inches wide or 36 inches wide respectively. A tallit under 24 inches (or 20 inches or 22 inches according to other opinions) might be problematic, but a size 24 or a size 36 definitely meet the minimum size requirements for a kosher tallit or kosher tzitzit garment.

Still, there may be another problem: According to halacha, a tallit should be worn with two tzitzit in front and two in back. It seems to me that this would disqualify a size 18 and size 24 tallit. A size 36 can be worn with two tzitzit in back, at least in theory. This issue is somewhat gray to me because many Yemenite and German Jews have a very ancient tradition of wearing the tallit wrapped around their arms with all four tzitzit in front, much like a size 36.

Kosher Tzitzit

From my experience working with various established tallit manufacturers here in Israel, there is little to worry about the tzitzit and tzitzit tying. Many handmade tallits are owned and operated by secular Jews, who may be less scrupulous and are certainly less knowledgeable. I know one of the managers at the leading handmade tallit company, who is a second generation in the business, and he doesn’t know the first thing about tzitzit tying.

Still, it’s highly unlikely that the tzitzit strings themselves are non-kosher. The bare minimum for kosher tzitzit tying is that it be done by a Jewish adult and that he has the mitzvah of tzitzit in mind. Again, it seems unlikely to me that even a secular tzitzit tying worker (which is rare) fails to meet those requirements.

Our own in-house tzitzit tie-ers are mostly yeshiva students and Chassidim with knowledge of the halachas of tzitzit, and we put extra emphasis on numerous fine details of tzitzit tying that come into play with unusual corners, techelet tzitzit and Sephardic and Rambam tying. But all of these points go well above and beyond the basic requirements for a kosher tallit.

Oct 212014
 
For those in search of just the right tallit, the striping is definitely a major factor. This week we received the following inquiry from a prospective customer:
Could you please address the customs concerning the stripes on the tallit.
More pointedly the silver or gold stripes. Thanks, Tom S.
I explained to Tom that originally the tallit had blue stripes as a remembrance of the lost techelet (blue) tzitzit. These later morphed into black stripes.“The current custom of black stripes,” writes my friend Rabbi Shraga Simmons, “is in keeping with the synagogue decorum, which has value in and of itself.”Tallit StripesStill, even in Orthodox congregations, not everyone wears a white tallit with black stripes. In a modern Orthodox congregation you’ll find a bit of color, and in non-Orthodox congregations, the tallits can get quite colorful.

I would say black-silver and black-gold is somewhere in the middle, and for the most part tallit striping choice is really a matter of personal preference.

Black-striped, white-striped, white-silver-striped and blue-striped tallits are considered quite traditional, and have a white atara with a subtle leaf and diamond design. Black-silver, black-gold, blue-silver and blue-gold are perfectly acceptable in most Orthodox congregations and have the Tzitzit Blessing embroidered on the atara (neckband).

Oct 212014
 

Usually I get requests for a lightweight tallit from customers who live in a hot climate. I myself got a lightweight tallit for day-to-day summer use because I davin early, and the gabbaim seem to think that it can’t be warm in shul at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. But they’re wrong. When the air conditioner isn’t on, I really suffer, and definitely feel disinclined to pull the tallis up onto my head at all.

Go to Lightweight Tallit page>>

So I got myself a Kalil, which looks just like a traditional black-on-white tallit, but is made from a thinner weave that comes out 30% lighter than a standard wool tallit. I’ve been using it for at least a year, and so far I’m very impressed with how well it’s held up. It looks pretty much as good as new.

Tallis Hameshubach Kelilas Yofi

Kalil, a.k.a. Tallis Hameshubach Kelilas Yofi

If you are considering the Kalil tallit, a.ka.a. Tallis Hameshubach Kelilas Yofi, be aware that it’s a bit narrower across the shoulders (meaning less tallit to bunch up on your shoulders, and in the size 60 has three black stripes instead of the more common five-stripe pattern. It also folds up very compactly, so if you are a commuter who shleps tallit and tefillin along, that might help. I once had a customer who was a bike commuter in search of a very compact tallit, so I recommend the Kalil.

Although it’s made in Israel by Mishkan Hatchelet, in the U.S. Keter markets this same tallit under the name “Tallis Hameshubach Kelilas Yofi” or “Feather Lite Edition.”

More common lightweight tallits are the Tashbetz, which comes with a number of striping options: black, white, white/silver, sky blue/silver and gray/silver. The Tashbetz is quite popular because it’s made of an airy box weave designed to reduce tallit slipping.

Go to Lightweight Tallit page>>

Sep 032014
 

It’s fairly rare that a customer asks me not to tie the first knot on the tzitzit too tight. That’s why I was surprised to see this note a customer added to an order for a white-on-white Beit Yosef talit.

Please see that the tsitsit be tied on both tallitot to have flat corners. That is, that the first knot is not so tight that it crumples the corner more than just a very small amount. I was told that they tied the first knot tight to prevent movement of the strings around the corner of the garment. However I am a little particular about the corners and personally I think the stiff corners of the Beit Yosef prevent that. Thank you, Dean.

Dean is actually quite right, but the truth is we would have done the same even without receiving the request.

There is a halacha, mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, regarding how tight to make the first knot of the tzitzit (O.C. 11, 15). On one hand, we want the tzitzit to fall along the side of the tallit so that it hangs right alongside the corner when worn (“notef al hakeren“). If that first knot does not keep the tzitzit snug alongside the tallit, they are liable to make their way around the corner to the other side, so that when worn the tzitzit hang from the bottom edge parallel to the ground, rather than the fringed side.

On the other hand, if you make the knot very snug, according to some opinions, scrunched up fabric does not count when measuring the distance from the hole to the edge. The minimum distance is about 4 cm. The hole is usually positioned 5 cm away. So if you bunch up the fabric too much, according to these opinions the tzitzit are not considered attached to the kanaf.

Notably Lubavitch has a very innovative solution that allows them to have their cake and eat it too: They don’t scrunch up the fabric at all, but add a second hole, looping the shamash through it before the first winding, thereby anchoring the tzitzit to the correct side of the tallit.

Those who follow the Chazon Ish bunch up the fabric a lot, and many Sephardim are careful not to bunch up the fabric at all.

Some tallits have stiffer corners than others, which helps the tzitzit stay in place. High-end tallits, such as Chatanim, Hamefoar and Beit Yosef (as Dean notes) feature stiff wool corner patches for this reason. And sometimes decorated corners, notably on Yemenite tallitot, are very stiff.

Aug 242014
 

Do you ever get distracted looking around shul on Shabbos? On Shabbos we’re supposed to leave our weekday endeavors behind, avoid talking about money matters, etc., but as a tallit seller, I’m at a distinct disadvantage: How am I supposed to forget about talleisim while surrounded by dozens, sometime hundreds, of Shabbos talleisim hanging and swaying?

I spent this Shabbos in Rechasim, near Haifa, where I spotted a tallit I just couldn’t ignore. The congregation was very conservative chareidi. At least 80% wore standard black-striped tallitot with the standard leaf and diamond design atara. A few nonslip tallits could be seen (not Tashbetz, but the type that looks smooth enough that you can’t discern it from an old-fashioned tallit at a distance of two rows). My own tallit was a Kalil lightweight, which I chose to save luggage space. After about a year of daily use, it still looks new enough for Shabbos use.

Then there was the guy next to the bimah.

He wore a Yemenite tallit with netted fringes. It definitely stood out, but I sell this tallit, so that’s not really what drew my attention. It was the tallit corners that kept drawing my gaze. He had removed the square fabric that serves to reinforce the tallit corners and added decorated patches on both sides of each corner. This is fairly standard on a Yemenite tallit. The thing is, those patches were solid, with no holes. You could only see the tzitzit emerging from the stitches at the edge.

The Torah explicitly tells us that tzitzit must be tied onto the corner area (kanaf) of the garment/tallit. But I’m not sure this tallit would be considered to have tzitzit on the entire kanaf.

Do we say that the tzitzit are indeed attached to the tallit itself and those patches are mere decorations added on, and are not considered an integral part of the kanaf?

Or do we say this tallit has a three-layer kanaf, with tzitzit tied onto one of those three layers?

I tried to catch the local rabbi to ask his opinion, but didn’t find a chance to talk to him, and then later thought it might be for the best not to cast dispersions on the tallit of one of his congregants. For now the question remains unanswered.

Jul 292014
 

Most people are looking for either a traditional tallit with black striping (or white-on-white), or a colorful tallit, but there are also plenty of tallit buyers looking for a nice gray or gray-striped tallit, which I suppose in some ways is somewhere between the traditional black-striped look and vibrant striping.

The options available are factory-made wool tallits with gray striping, handmade wool tallits with gray striping or handwoven tallits in wool, cotton or silk, with gray striping, or even a gray base color.

In the realm of traditional-looking wool tallits with gray stripes, we have a Maalot tallit with gray and hints of burgundy and gold. Be aware that not all sizes are available, so you might want to check with us before placing an order. Another option is the Tashbetz with gray and silver, a very popular tallit featuring an anti-slip fabric.

Among modern designs, you will find two Yair Emanuel tallit sets, one gray-on-gray and one gray-on-cream. Both are made of raw silk and feature geometric striping patterns. Moving up in price, Galilee also makes an attractive handmade gray-striped tallit known as the Gray Classic.

And finally, Gabrieli Hand Weaving offers several designs on a gray base: the Gray & Black, the Joseph’s Coat Gray, which has vibrant rainbow striping on a gray base, Storm Clouds, which has more sheen with hints of green and gold, and the Gray & Silver.

 

Jul 202014
 

We often get tallit size inquiries. Obviously it’s a problem sizing someone for a tallit when he can’t try it on. But fortunately perfect tallit sizing is not critical. Since a tallit is worn loosely, you have some leeway. It’s not like buying a t-shirt where you have to get the fit just right.

This week we received an inquiry from someone debating whether to buy a tallit in a size 60 or a size 70.

I think I want to order the blue Prima A.A. Tallit for weekday,s and the Malchut Tallit for Shabbat. Both with thick Ashkenazi tzitzit. I am still worried over whether I should go with a size 60 or a size 70. If I get both tallits in a size 60, and I feel they are too small, can I swap for 70?  Thanks, Zach.

It’s a good thing Zach asked, because since we are located in Israel, returns and exchanges are problematic. You have to pay for shipping three time (to you, back
to Israel and again to you) and we do not refund the amount for the tzitzit we tie on.
I suggested to Zach that he try to do either of the following:

1) Find someone with a size 60 or 70 that you can try on. Remember, the difference between sizes is four inches.
2) Order the Prima A.A. Tallit in a size 60 and wait until it arrives. Then decide if you want to go with a size 70 for the Malchut Tallit. It’s actually fairly common to have a slightly bigger tallit for Shabbat. The smaller size is more practical, the larger size more elegant.

I told Zach that if he wanted to go with the second plan, we could send him a coupon for free shipping on the second tallit.

Jul 162014
 
One of our customers just expressed concern and asked whether we are managing to maintain operations, getting tallit and tzitzit orders out without delay.
Shalom Achi,
We are davening for you everyday! Just wondering if you are able to fulfill orders to America right now with all that is going on.
Kol tuv,  Akiva
All is well. Thank you Akiva, along with other customers who have expressed their concern. The truth is we haven’t experienced any problems or slowdowns. Our main tallit supplier is located in Beersheba, so they might have some production work slowdowns, but that won’t be felt for at least a few weeks.
We have only experienced one five-minute delay when a rocket got shot down out of the sky over Jerusalem. I was at one of my suppliers and when the siren sounded we all ran into a back room When we heard two booms, someone there said it didn’t sound like a rocket landing. He rushed outside on time to see the trailer smoke from the Iron Dome missile still hovering in the air, and everyone outside gazing up in wonder.
Praying for Israel

Outside the Gaza Strip

If all Am Yisrael keeps their eyes upward toward Avinu Sh’B'Shamayim (and not just Iron Dome), I’m sure all will be well and good. But it’s not an easy war to win. Hamas is trying all the tricks up their sleeve to lure the IDF into a ground confrontation inside Gaza, which would not be pretty.

And of course it’s very hard to win the war on the PR front. I think the IDF should cyberbomb the UN so that can’t hold meetings and put out their lovely briefs. I was a bit encouraged, however, by a Washington Post editorial that really hit the nail on the head with moral clarity. But that may be an exception. You don’t see a straightforward account of events in the New York Times, The Guardian, Haaretz and a whole lot of other leading publications.

This is a big test for all of humanity and sometimes I worry that the whole globe could be in for a disaster. We learn in Parshas Noach that humanity was warned time and again over the course of a century that they need to shape up. And if you take a look at the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the course of the past half-century, it’s seems as if public opinion keeps getting tested, and largely fails the test, and each time the situation gets clearer and clearer from a moral perspective. Like when you ask a kid a question and he doesn’t know the answer, so you keep rephrasing your question, easier and easier each time, until he spits out a correct answer.

Over time the Palestinians just keep get more and more evil and more overt about their intentions.

Jul 102014
 

We often get requests for a custom tallit. Often the customer just has various option requests and letter embroidery. Here’s a typical request of this sort.

Shalom! I am getting married soon. My kallah wants to buy me a new tallit. I was looking over your website and wondering if you could put it together. Here’s what I’m thinking:
1) the Chatanim White tallit, size 60
2) with Ptil Tchelet tzitzit (thin, tied according to nusach Ashkenaz)
3) an Atara embroidered with my Hebrew name
4) the Jerusalem in Color tallit bag also embroidered with my name. Is that possible? Thank you!

Except for the atara request, this is not really a custom tallit per se, because all of these options are readily available right on our webstore.

Typically a customer asks us to customize a tallit by creating the striping in colors that are next to impossible to find in a ready-made tallit. This is definitely doable, but can take six weeks to prepare.

Sometimes we get ideas for a custom tallit that sound a bit extreme to me:

  • I would like to have a tallit made for my son’s Bar Mitzvah using the State of Maryland flag
  • We are huge Gators fans. Could you put together a talit with the University of Florida colors, orange and blue?

For bar mitzvah boys, sometimes parents get very creative. We’ve actually received three requests from mothers who want a music theme incorporated into the tallit somehow.

  • He is very passionate about playing classical guitar and music. Is there something that can be done to put a bit of his personality in to the tallit? Also, would like stars with his name in Hebrew.
  • We went his Hebrew name, “Gidon,” as well as musical notes or notes on a staff with G cleff. Can this be done?
  • We’re looking for a tallis that would include some sort of music motif. Possibly some musical notes and a pasuk involving music.

One customer wanted to have some of his family heritage imbued in the tallit: “I would also like my family crest on the two front corners.”

One customer was looking for a tallit that featured an image of a man blowing a shofar. Another wanted to customize the tallit by embroidering letters on the neckband.

I would like on the atarah: ‘קודש לה

Four sons contacted me two months before their father’s 80th birthday, asking if we could create a tallit with their names embroidered on each corner. There is very limited space for name embroidery on the corners, but luckily all of the names were quite short in Hebrew, so we were able to make it happen.

This idea struck me as quite distinctive:

I’m interested in buying a special tallit for the shalosh regalim, whose traditional color (at least among German-Jewish communities) is green. I would like a tallit to be very traditional Ashkenazic, but instead of black stripes, it would have deep green stripes. Also, I would like it to have the following words (also in green), somewhere on the tallit, either on the atara or elsewhere: והשיאנו את ברכת מועדיך לשמחה ולששון

I am fairly familiar with German-Jewish customs, but this was new to me.

Sometimes we are contacted about a custom tallit that involves unusual striping colors. A few examples:

  • Light gray body, blue and gold stripes
  • I am thinking about doing a white Tallit, with black and orange stripes
  • Red, Gold, White, Purple
  • I’d like it to be sparkly
  • Black with bright stripes
  • Green and gold stripes
Kohen Tallit

A mock-up of an atara for a kohen

Sometimes we get a request from a kohen who wants a tallit that expresses kohen themes, such as an image of hands positioned for Birkas Kohanim.

And on several occasions we have received requests for a white-and-blue tallit that resembles the Israeli flag. In fact, we’re working on one this week.

 

Jul 102014
 

Not everyone buying a Chassidic tallit is Chassidic. Sometimes it’s someone who is connected with a Chassidic kehilah or someone who traces his family lineage to Chassidic roots and wants a tallis close to what his zeide or alter zeide must have worn.

The Echt Turkish tallit used to be quite common among many chassidim, but today it is becoming much more rare and the leading tallit manufacturers no longer produce it. However, a less heavy version is the Kmo Turkish, which does not have such a heavy fabric, but it’s definitely not a lightweight tallit and it has the same striping, lining and sidebands as the Echt Turkish.

Often tallit buyers will have a standard white atara on their weekday tallis and a decorative atara (e.g. gefluchtene) on their Shabbos tallis.

Until recently Talitnia was making a Vizhnitz tallit, which I personally liked a lot, but it is no longer in production, apparently because the market for it was so limited. Mishkan Hatchelet now makes a Belz tallit, which actually has very, very dark navy striping. The Belz tallit seems to have replaced the Echt Turkish among Belz chassidim.

Chabad tallit

The unique striping pattern on the Chabad tallit

And of course there is the inimical Chabad tallis, with extensive striping and a second tzitzit hole on each corner. Those who adhere closely to Chabad minhagim insist on silk corners, silk and no atara. The Chabad tallit now comes in a nonslip version, which is gaining popularity among younger Lubavitchers. But be aware that if you put a silk lining on a nonslip tallit, you essentially wind up with a slippery surface covering the part of the tallis that rests on your shoulders. The Chabad tallit is available with a cotton lining, upon request.

Tzitzit

The vast majority of chassidim will put thick, handspun tzitzit tied according to the regular Ashkenazi custom on their tallit. Among Radzyn and Breslov chassidim, techelet is quite common. Some choose Radzyn techelet, but many Breslovers seem to be switching to Ptil Tekhelet instead. Arizal tying is probably the most common for chassidim who use techelet, but Breslov also has a tying method that is sort of a hybrid of regular Ashkenazi and the Rambam.

Go to Chassidic Tallit page>>>