Jan 292015

There is often confusion regarding the term “machine-spun tzitzit.” Sometimes we get customers (even yeshiva students) who want assurance that the tzitzit they buy are tied by hand. “You mean hand-spun, right?” I ask, to clarify. They nod, but in their eyes I detect a look of perplexity.

Hand-tied tzitzitThis week we received an inquiry from a woman in New Jersey interested in a handwoven tallit to buy for her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah.

I need to make sure the machine-spun tzitzit strings are still hand-tied. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in another two months. I’d like to make sure it will get here on time. Thank you. Nancy N.

We congratulated Nancy on the upcoming bar mitzvah and discussed the time frame. Then we explained the tzitzit issue in detail.

Tzitzit strings spun by hand

The truth is, there is no such thing as a machine that ties tzitzit. All tzitzit are tied manually. The question is whether the tevia stage (plying or twining) is done by an automated machine or by a manually-operated machine. (From a halachic ppoint of view this is akin to the issue of machine matzahs versus hand matzahs.) Many people are unclear on this point. Tzitzit spun by hand are referred to as “hand-spun tzitzit” or “tzitzit avodas yad.”

Unlike most of the tallit makers we work with, the handwoven tallit maker of the tallit Nancy was considering is run by non-observant management. But from a halachic standpoint, it’s fairly hard to render the tzitzit not kosher during the tying process. According to halacha tzitzit have to be tied by an adult Jew andmust be tied with intent to perform the mitzvah. (They also have to be properly positioned, but obviously that’s very simple for us to confirm.) There is also a custom to have them tied by a man, not a woman, but according to all opinions, if the tzitzit are tied by a woman they are definitely kosher.

Many of our customers choose a tzitzit option (e.g. tekhelet, handspun tzitzit, Sephardic tying, etc.) that requires us to re-tie the tzitzit, so the issue of the tying setup does not apply.

As for those orders for tallitot from this particular tallit maker with machine-spun tzitzit and Ashkenazi tying — which is what comes standard out of their weaving studio — I’m undecided as to whether we should re-tie the tzitzit as standard practice.


Jan 242015

Tallit tips for the kallah shopping for her chassan

When a kallah is ready to buy a tallit for the groom, whether she’s looking for a traditional black-striped tallit or something with a bit of color, she generally could use some guidance. Take, for example, this inquiry from a bride-to-be.

I am shopping for a tallit as a gift to my fiance for my upcoming wedding. We’re modern Orthodox, Ashkenazi, and prefer traditional, full-length talleisim. He already has a blue-striped tallit, so I was hoping for a recommendation for a black-striped tallit. Thank you in advance!

Since this is a fairly common question, let me offer some suggestions to the public at large. The Chatanim is a basic, no frills, black-striped tallit with a very high quality weave. Hamefoar looks quite similar, but up close you can see that it features a box weave with a bit of texture, creating a supple, luxurious fabric. The Tashbetz is a slightly stiffer box weave designed to keep the tallit in place better on the shoulders. It looks slightly more modern, and in my opinion, a bit less elegant.

Hamefoar Prestige is similar to Hamefoar, but has thicker striping, side bands and a lining. Sephardim often have a custom of wearing a white-striped tallit.

Sharon wound up going with Hamefoar Prestige and a Crown tallit bag. I always thought that the crown on this tallit bag was meant to remind us of the King of Kings, but perhaps it is especially apt for a groom, because the Talmud says a groom is akin to a king.

I remember that many years ago, just before I got married, while setting up our apartment in Beitar Illit, a neighbor who was then a young Torah scholar from the United States and a ganze tzaddik, discovered I was a chassan and noticed me shlepping a box up the stairs. Suddenly he snatched it from my hands, insisting he would carry it for me, quoting that shtikel Gemara.

Chassan Tallit Sizes

Getting back to Sharon and her groom, we then had to figure out the right size. At six feet, Sharon’s groom was not short. If the tallit wearer is under 5’6″ it limits our selection, because then the groom probably would need a size 55 tallis and all of the tallits mentioned above, except for the Tashbetz, are only available in size 60 and up. I recommended she go with a size 70, which I estimate would hang down in back to about mid-thigh on him.

Classic Tallit page>>

Wedding Tallit Coupons page>>

Jan 242015

I wonder whether things have changed in L.A. I grew up in the West San Fernando Valley in the 1980s. Back then, there were very few frum Jews anywhere west of Encino. To find a decent selection of tallits for sale meant driving over the hill to the Fairfax District, which I have heard has now been supplanted by Pico-Robertson.

I have a feeling it’s still a challenge to find a good selection of tallits for sale in most parts of L.A., because today, as an online tallis seller based in Israel, we get a considerable volume of tallis sales from customers in Los Angeles.

Besides West Los Angeles, we also see a number of tallis orders from the San Fernando Valley, including Tarzana, Reseda and Valley Village, and even some from the West San Fernando Valley. From what I gather, there are now Orthodox congregations in places like Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Agoura, Thousand Oaks, etc.

We also get tallis and tzitzis orders from San Diego and Orange County (e.g. Irvine, Torrance, Santa Ana, Downey, Pasadena).

Up in NorCal we have customers from the San Francisco Bay Area (including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto), but what puzzles me is why we get so few tallis orders from San Francisco.


Jan 192015

We’ve received several requests over the years for our Cotton Comfort and Wool Comfort tallit katan products with Chabad double tzitzit holes, but the truth is that none of the tallit katan manufacturers make an undershirt-type tallit katan tzitzit garment with Chabad holes (or side-by-side Chassidic holes).

There are various levels of adherence to Chabad customs. Strictly speaking, there is only one type of tallit katan for Lubavitch chassidim: wool, round neck, straight hem (no fringes), silk-lined corners and diagonally aligned tzitzit holes. Since some people find it hard to wear wool, there is also a cotton version of the Chabad tallis katan, but again, people who closely adhere to Chabad customs will stick with wool, not cotton.

Also, note that we describe the tzitzit tying as “Arizal/Chabad.” While Chabad holds that there should be two diagonally-aligned holes in the corner, the Arizal does not. Chabad adopted the Arizal’s method of tying tzitzit with chulyot. The holes on the beged and the way the tzitzit are tied are really two separate matter. The concept of two holes is similar to the two horizontally aligned holes you find on tzitzit garments of other Chassidim, who do not tie in accordance with the Arizal, but follow the standard Ashkenazi tying custom.

We aim to provide tallits and tzitzits to Jews of every description, which means we get all sorts of orders: a modern tallit with Yemenite tying, a Yemenite tallit with Ashkenazi tzitzit, etc. We have had at least two customers who repeatedly ordered the Cotton Comfort with Yemenite tzitzit. The Rambam requires a wool tzitzit garment, so it doesn’t make sense for customers to order this, but they do, and we accommodate them.

Recently we had a customer who ordered our handmade tallit katan, asking us to make it super long, because he wanted to follow the tradition of the Gra to have a tallit katan down to the knees. He ordered niputz lishmah tzitzit on it. And he resides in Singapore. Putting these details together is quite incongruous, but we don’t impose my opinion on our customers.


Jan 172015

This post is meant to offer some very simple sizing tips for the most common tallit sizes worn by men of average height. If you want a full range of detailed sizing info, go to our Tallit Size Wizard. But if you are a man of medium height, this post might make things easy for you.

In most cases the critical factor in tallit sizing is the height of the tallit (i.e. from the edge that sits on your neck down to the opposite edge parallel to the floor). Sizing is universal. A size 55 tallit is about 50 inches high, a size 60 is about 55 inches high and a size 70 is around 60 inches in height. A size 55 is often considered small, size 60 medium and size 70 large.

I wear a size 60 tallit. It hangs down in back to about mid-thigh on me. That’s a useful yardstick. If you are about five inches taller than me, a size 70 will fit you the same, and if you are about five inches shorter than me a size 55 will fit you the same. If you are in between you can opt to go up or down a size, depending on how you like the tallit to hang. To some people, longer might have a more elegant look, but others prefer the manageability of a more compact size.

If you can’t decide between two sizes, you don’t have to agonize over the decision. Since a tallit is worn loosely a few inches in length either way may be almost unnoticeable.

Jan 172015

Lately we’ve gotten a lot of tallit and tzitzit orders from customers in Katy, Texas. I was beginning to think there may be some sort of messianic congregation there, until I took a quick look online and found out it’s not some G-d forsaken small town halfway between San Antonio and El Paso. (I once knew a yeshiva student who said where he grew up in Texas, the nearest shul was 150 miles away.)

I have a hunch Katy is home to a portion of Houston’s growing Orthodox community.

Although the vast majority of our customers from Texas hail from Austin, Dallas, Houston and their respective environs, we also have some customers from places like Lufkin, in Deep East Texas and Brownsville, McAllen and Laredo in Southern Texas.

Jan 082015

When a bit of snow falls in Jerusalem, the whole city comes to a grinding halt, and this week’s snowstorm was no exception. Schools closed even before the storm hit, the post office shut its doors and didn’t deliver and most people didn’t go to work. With no courier pickup, it meant that any orders we were unable to send by Tuesday are probably now stuck here on our shelves until at least Sunday.

No work, but that doesn’t mean Jews put their avodah on hold, rain or shine. Part of that means trudging through snow to get to shul three times a day.

As its name implies, Givat Ze’ev, a community on the outskirts of Jerusalem, is high up and gets at least as much snow as Jerusalem. These photos of tallit- and tefillin-clad shul-goers were shot on Thursday morning.

A rare combination: palm trees and snow.

snow in Jerusalem

 Jerusalem in snow

 Tallit-clad in snow 5775

Originating in Eastern Europe, fierce winds cut power to some 17,000 homes in Israel on Wednesday. By noon on Wednesday all roads leading to Jerusalem were blocked off and the Jerusalem municipality deployed 150 snowplows and other heavy equipment to clear the main arteries.

Dec 292014

We are constantly getting inquiries from people who are impressed with our website and want to drop by our shop when they come on a visit to Israel, based on the assumption we have a brick-and-mortar shop somewhere in Jerusalem.

The only problem is we’re situated in an out-of-the-way location in Givat Ze’ev, which is a bit outside of Jerusalem, and we’re not set up to accommodate walk-in customers.

My speculation is that a lot of people visit Israel once every few years, and when they come they’re hoping to go back home with a nice new tallis or tzitzis in their suitcase. Or maybe a brother or friend or cousin asked them to bring back a tallit. In many cases the selection at their local Judaica shop is too limited to provide them the tallis they want, or they are looking for special options that are not easy to find.

Also, many buyers are under the assumption they will save a bundle if they buy a tallit from a store in Jerusalem. The problem is that when you are in Israel, you pay 18% VAT on every purchase, including Judaica. That means the same Jerusalem seller charges you $118 for a $100 tallit, and in most cases, even after shipping, you might wind up paying less if you buy online.

Some Judaica and tallit stores in Jerusalem that cater to tourists are authorized to issue a tax return form. You fill out the form at the time of purchase, and then when you present it at the airport before your flight home you receive the VAT you paid back.

After many years of working in the tallit and tzitzit business, I am closely familiar with the best tallit stores in Jerusalem. The following is a partial list.

Traditional Talleisim

The best tallit and tzitzit stores in Jerusalem are located in Geula and Mea She’arim. This is the frum shopping district along Rechov Malchei Yisrael, which is over the hill (i.e. up Rechov Strauss, past Bikur Cholim Hospital and down to Kikar Shabbat), running parallel to Rechov Yaffo about five blocks to the north.

Talit Center has two shops along Malchei Yisrael. They sell both Mishkan Hatchelet and Talitania. They usually have tzitzit tie-ers in the back room if you have a special tzitzit request. They tie Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Chabad. They’re prices are good, but their English is not! On of their employees speaks Spanish (Ladino, really).

Their rivals are Shamaya, which has a shop right next door and another one around the corner. Sometimes their prices are very attractive. I have almost never worked with them, so I don’t know much else about them.

Mishkan Hatchelet has at least a dozen factory outlet stores around the country, with at least five tallit and tzitzit stores in Jerusalem.  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.

The main branch is on Rechov Malchei Yisrael, about two blocks down from Schneller (which is a well-known Jerusalem landmark, soon to be a high-rise residential building). They also have a branch tucked away out of sight off of Ben-Yehuda, near Cafe Rimon. They speak very good English, but the selection is somewhat limited.

Modern Tallits

In the Old City, just off the Cardo, is a shop called Weaving Creation (a.k.a. Maaseh Oreg). They specialize in exquisite handwoven tallits (see here) made by master weaver Ori Farhan. These tallits are not cheap, but the craftsmanship is superb.

Another shop that specializes in handwoven designs is Gabrieli Rubin, whose tallits are well-known around the world (see here). Their weaving studio is located in Rechovot. The manager of their Jerusalem shop is Ori Gabrieli.

Other Judaica Stores in Jerusalem

All around town, especially the Ben-Yehuda Shopping Mall and the Old City, you’ll run into innumerable Judaica dealers who have tallits among their wares. If you find something you like, fine, but be aware that they generally have very limited expertise and their prices are not great. If you come across a very attractive price, it’s probably a tallit made of acrylic, not wool.

Dec 182014
Sephardic Tallet

A silk tallet worn by a member of London’s Maida Vale congregation in the 1950s

The Spanish and Portuguese Jews of London comprise the oldest Jewish community in Great Britain. They have a number of beautiful and unique customs, some of which are apparently rooted in pre-expulsion Spain, but also influenced by the Italian and Spanish-Moroccan rites.

According to Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, during the course of their 350-year sojourn in the British Isles, they have continued to evolve, developing an British-Sephardic character of their own, “distinct from that of their ‘parent’ congregation in Amsterdam, or of their ‘sister’ congregations in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.”

Tallit Corner

A fabulous tallet corner designed by one of the progeny of the London kahal

Like many other Jewish communities, the Sephardic and Portuguese Jews of London referred to the prayer shawl as a “tallet” – not a “taleet.”

The tzitzit were tied with 10-5-6-5 windings, rather than the 7-8-11-13 configuration, which developed later. Another detail that distinguished their tallet from today’s typical prayer shawls was the absence of an atara, or neckband. (Notably, to this day the Chabad tallis does not have an atara.)The tallet was often made of silk, with blue striping, and had embellished, oversize corner patches, like the Yemenite tallith.

Dec 142014

First, let me tell you how not to size a tallit.

There’s a new yungerman in the neighborhood, who sits three rows ahead of me during Shacharit. He very badly wants to be pious. What bothers me about him is not that he prays loudly in a grating, whiny tone of voice, but his tallit. It’s too long.

A long tallit looks elegant to some, both because of its flowing length and because you have a lot of tallit spreading out across your shoulders. But the new congregant three rows in front of me every day got carried away. Although he pulls it forward a lot in front, it hangs down below the back of his knees in back, and the tzitzit are constantly sweeping the floor. And that what’s gets to me: Wearing a tallit is all about the mitzvah of tzitzit, and he’s showing a lack of respect for the tzitzit because of misguided notions of frum stylishness.

Tallit sizing: Get it right

Tallit Sizes

This size 70 may be a bit too much tallit for the 5’7″ wearer.

Usually a size 55 is considered Small, size 60 is Medium, size 70 is Large. Some tallits comes in smaller sizes, i.e. 45 and 50, primarily for bar mitzvah boys, and some go all the up to size 80 or even 90. In most cases the sizes are in 10 cm/4 inch increments. That means if you have a size 60, for example, and are thinking of moving to a size 70, you can expect it to drape down 3-4 inches further in back (a bit of that extra length may come down in front, depending on how you wear it).

To figure out which size tallit you need you might want to dig out an old tallit, or borrow one and measure it, or you could go straight to our Tallit Size Wizard.

Some people wear a smaller, manageable size tallit on weekdays, and go one size larger for their Shabbos tallit.

Generally speaking, the length of the tallit (which, for clarifty’s sake, I prefer to refer to as the height) is usually considered the critical factor, but keep in mind that when you move up a size the tallit might be a bit wider as well, which means more tallit to bunch up on your shoulders.