Apr 152015

Sometimes we have customers who have a special atara (tallit neckband) they want to attach. They intend to buy a tallit from us without the atara and sew on a unique atara they have from a previous tallit or made by a talented embroiderer.

Once we had a customer  and wanted to treat himself to a very nice tallit after having completed learning the entire Gemara from start to finish,. His wife made him a spectacular atara and we sent him a very nice nonslip tallit with double-knotted fringes and Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit.

If you would like to order a tallit without an atara, that’s a relatively simple request. The standard practice is to simply remove the atara the manufacturer puts on the tallit. (Two traditional tallits, the Chabad and the Echt Turkish, are made with no atara.) All this really requires is a stitch remover, a steady hand and patience.

Normally we take care of it for our customers. But it’s not always advisable.

  • It can add an extra 1-3 days to the order processing time.
  • Although sewing on an atara is also quite simple, if you have the new atara sewn on by someone who’s never done it before, just to be on the safe side, it will make their job very easy if they can see where it’s supposed to go (lined up right at the tip and on the upper side, of course) and how it’s supposed to look.
In Israel you can find seamstresses who charge just a few dollars for the work, but in the US and elsewhere seamstresses/tailors might charge more. I recommend you check the price in advance, to make sure you don’t get overcharged for a very simple task.

In many cases it may be best to opt for a nonslip tallit (Hamefoar, Tashbetz, Malchut, Beit Yosef Nonslip, Chabad Prestige, etc.), because sometimes when you take off the atara it leaves faint stitch marks, but I’ve found that with the nonslip weave fabrics that doesn’t happen. This means that if your embroiderer makes an atara that’s a tad shorter, you won’t have to worry about seeing stitch marks.

Mar 312015

This week we received an inquiry from a customer thinking of buying a set of handspun tzitzit strings, but first he wanted to know the difference between the two types of rabbinical supervision. Was one more stringent than the other?

Hi Ben,
I was wondering about the hashgachot on your tzitziot. In particular, I was wondering what the actual difference between getting them certified by R’ Ovadia זצ”ל or R’ Wosner שליט”א actually amounted to. Are there different standards for the petilim in each community, or is it just arbitrary? Thanks, Noah

Usually I provide very succint replies, but this question hit a tender spot, and I couldn’t keep from editorializing a bit.

It’s very arbitrary, I explained to Noah. I was told by two seasoned Mishkan Hatchelet workers that both are made on the same production line, with the same workers and even the same mashgiach! So what’s the difference? The rav who is signed on the hechsher.

I also know from experience that if you try to explain that to prospective customers, some of them will still have a strong preference for one over the other. Sad, but true. And that’s why the company markets the same tzitzit under two different hechshers.

I also know of a tzitzit strings company that used to make their tzitzit strings under a good hechsher, but eventually realized they were losing a segment of the market that wanted the Eda Charedis of Jerusalem hechsher, so they come out with a different brand. Same tzitzit, only the hechsher, label and brand name were different. Both were sold side-by-side in some stores, with a 2- or 3-shekel price differential.

You often see similar thinking and behavior patterns with food hechshers and political parties in Israel.

When the geula comes, I’m sure Klal Yisrael will get beyond this type of thing. Chazal instituted certain halachas to distance Jews from gentiles, not Jews from Jews.


Mar 292015

For our customers looking for a lightweight tallit we recommend the Tashbetz, but some people want a tallit on the heavy side, a tallit they can really feel on their shoulders. This week we got an inquiry from a customer who bought a tallit from us a few years ago, and now he’s thinking of getting a heavy tallit, but he was a bit concerned about the heat factor.

Hi Ben,
Is the Echt Turkish tallit very warm? Is it suitable for summer?
Best, Greg

I told Greg that while the Echt Turkish is a heavy tallit, some people do wear it in summer. Some shuls blast the air conditioner all summer, so if you don’t wear it walking to and from shul, it doesn’t make much of a difference. And since it’s worn loosely, some people don’t feel added warmth. It’s really a personal thing.

I have a lot of customers who insist on a very lightweight tallit. Personally I think it may be a bit imagined in some cases. You know, people hear the word “wool” and immediately start feeling hot. The truth is wool worn loosely works well in the heat. There are a lot of desert dwellers who wear wool. In my shul the air conditioner is often barely running and often I wear the tallit over my head and wear it to and from shul, so for summer use I have a lightweight tallit.

Postscript: My reply to Greg apparently was persuasive. He ordered an Echt Turkish with a silver atara. But truth be told, personally for my next Shabbos tallis I’m still debating between the Kmo Turkish and the Echt Turkish.

Mar 082015
This week a customer ordered a size 60 tallit for a soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy, and added a note regarding the size.
Please confirm prior to processing that this is a good size for Bar Mitzvah boy, with the hope that it will last him into adulthood.
Thanks, Tracey ​
The truth is, I think Tracey should choose a smaller size. I wear a size 60 and I’m 5’7″. It drapes down in back to mid-thigh on me, which is just right. I could get away with a size 70, and have sometimes toyed with the idea for my next Shabbos tallis, but for now I’m sticking with a size 60.

Tracey didn’t tell me how tall her son is, but I’m guessing he’s in the neighborhood of 5′ to 5’2″. I think she should consider going with a smaller size for two reasons:
  • In my opinion, when introducing a child or a young man to a mitzvah, it’s important not to make it feel burdensome. A tallit that is too big means you’re constantly trying to prop it up on your shoulders and distracted during tefillah. A tallit is essentially a garment, and nobody likes to wear clothes that are too big on them.
  • A lot of parents want a tallit that “he can grow into,” but you have to keep in mind that again, a tallit is like clothes. Many parent would like to buy a suit “he can grow into,” but realize that a suit that fits a 13-year-old is probably going to be too small on him just one year down the road, and the chances of it fitting him two years later are extremely slim.
A size 50 is usually a safe bet for a bar mitzvah boy. When he grows it won’t hang down as long on him, but on the other hand, it won’t look rinky-dink for a few years. It just doesn’t look as elegant when it doesn’t hang down long.

I think a tallit that is too big is a big problem, whereas a tallit that is too small is a small problem.

We made a two-minute video showing a bar mitzvah boy (5’1″) wearing different size tallits. It’s quite amateurish, but still helpful.

All of the above is, to a certain extent, editorializing, since some people like their tallit long and elegant, while others prefer a more manageable length. This of course applies not just to bar mitzvah boys, but to anyone trying to figure out the right size tallit to buy.


Mar 012015

In Israel, Mishkan Hatchelet and Talitania (or “Talitnia”) have been bitter rivals for decades. When one comes out with a new design, the other is sure to market a similar tallit. Talitania’s “David” is very close to Mishkan Hatchelet’s “Tashbetz”, the Malchut Tallit is similar to the Beit Yosef Tallit and both companies make the Bnei Ohr Tallit.

But Talitania has succeeded in making a superb product that no one seems to be able to imitate: the Carmel Tallit.

Have you ever seen one of those very substantial, impressive, colorful handmade tallits? At weaving studios like Gabrieli and Canaan Gallery they actually sit down at an old-fashioned loom and weave all day. The tallits that come off the looms are striking and quite beautiful, but they cost a pretty penny. Gabrieli probably produces the most affordable handwoven tallits, but a full-size piece will set you back at least $350, and many handwoven tallits can cost $400-$600 or more.

For some people, the turnaround time is also an issue: In most cases you need to order a handwoven tallit 5-10 weeks in advance, which can pose a real problem for bar mitzvah boys or wedding grooms who need to have the tallit at their doorstep within a few weeks.

The Carmel Tallit is woven by machine, but features a fabulous weave that resembles its handwoven counterparts. At a recent visit to Talitania’s Bnei Brak distribution center, we were so impressed with the Carmel Tallit that we decided to start offering it on our webstore. Take a look!

Carmel Tallit – Prices & Details>>>

Feb 192015

The Shivat Haminim Tallit (or “Seven Species Tallit”) features a rich pattern with shades of blue, magenta and other pastels. The vibrant designs focuses on a Shivat HaMinim motif — the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes.

Inspiration Behind the Shivat HaMinim Tallit

Various references to the Seven Species, the inspiration for the Shivat HaMinim Tallit, appear in the Tanach, and the Mishna states that only the first fruits (bikkurim) of the Seven Species could be brought to the Temple as offerings. To this day, wheat fields, olive groves and vineyards remain a salient feature of the Land of Israel landscape.

Bnei Yisrael cultivated both wheat and barley, which are the first of the Shivat HaMinim enumerated in the Seven Species.

The Seven Species are traditionally eaten on Tu Bishvat and in halacha they are considered more important than other fruits; a special blessing is recited after eating them.

In Chapter 8 of Devarim we find: “All the commandments that I give you this day you shall carefully observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and inherit the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers….” The verses then continue with a description of the Promised Land, including Shivat HaMinim, and conclude with the dire warning: “If you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.”

The emphasis on Shivat HaMinim is woven into the description of the land of Israel, writes Nogah Hareuveni, a description that serves as the backdrop for the warning to obey the 613 mitzvahs.

Shivat HaMinim Tallit: Eretz Yisrael in living color

The Shivat HaMinim Tallit is a white wool tallit with red and blue striping that frames various images that instill a strong feeling of Eretz Yisrael: pomegranate vines, quaint Jerusalem-style houses, palm trees, clear blue skies and of course the Seven Species.

The tallit is available in several sizes with a matching bag and various tzitzit options.

Shivat HaMinim Tallit – Prices & Details>>

Feb 162015

I have a hunch that very few readers will find this post engaging, but since for several years I’ve been making a living by selling tallit and tzitzit products and sending them to customers around the world, I was quite intrigued to come across a court decision that delved into the definition and description of the type of products we sell.

Apparently a Jew in New York by the name of Dwek wanted to import talleisim and tallis katan garments without having to pay too much in import duties. It sounds like he got in a spat with U.S. Customs, and the case was brought to court, where they had to determine whether a tallit and tallit katan should be viewed like other cotton or wool garments, or whether the importer could “claim duty free status as a religious article under subheading 9810.00.90, HTSUSA.”

“Determination of the HTSUSA classification of the subject merchandise requires an understanding of terminology which is germane to the issue,” reads the decision, noting that “Customs interprets the use of the merchandise to include the manner in which it is worn, as well as the reason for which it is worn.” The following definitions are then listed:

Prayer Shawl – A tallith. Webster’s II, New College Dictionary 868 (1995).
Tallith – A fringed prayer shawl with bands of black or blue, worn during worship by Orthodox or Conservative Jews. Id. at 1125.
Tallit – Prayer Shawl, usually of silk or wool, sometimes banded with silver or gold thread, and fringe at each of the four corners in accordance with biblical law. (Num. 15:38) [I would add that sometimes the mitzvah is fulfilled according to Rabbinical Law (d’Rabbanan), but not at the level of Biblical Law (d’Oreisa).] The wearing of the tallit at worship is obligatory only for married men, but it is customarily worn also by males of bar mitzvah age or older. [That is true for most Ashkenazim.] Occasionally it is spread over the marriage canopy or used as a burial shroud. In recent years, some women have begun to wear tallits. Mordecai Schreiber, The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia, 255 (1998).
Arba Kanfot – Literally, four corners. A rectangular vestlet covering the chest and back, with ritual fringes, or tzizit, attached to its corners, in remembrance of the biblical command that Jewish males wear a fringed garment (Num. 15:37-41). It is also called a tallit katan, or “little tallit.” Id. at 28.
Tzitzit – Tassels hanging on each of the four corners [of a Tallit or Tallit Katan]. If you look carefully you will see that they are made of eight strings, or more accurately, four strings doubled over to make eight. You will also notice that they are attached through a small hole near the corner and that they contain five knots and four groups of windings between the knots. Aryeh Kaplan, Tzitzith: A Thread of Light, 9 (1984).

“Furthermore, after consultation with various sources concerning the practice of the Jewish faith, Customs notes the following explanation of the usage for the subject merchandise:

When dressing one should add to his garments the Talit Qatan (little talit), better known as ‘Arba Kanfot’ (four corners), which should be worn all day. The Talit Qatan consists of an oblong piece of cloth with a hole cut in the middle large enough for the head to go through. It should be large enough to fold over the upper body in front and back, and should have Tsitsit on its four corners… The Tsisit, as the Torah prescribes, serve as a reminder of God’s commandments: “And ye shall look at it and remember all the commandments of the Lord.” (Num. 15:39)… If one of the threads is missing the Talit should not be used. . . . Today, the Tsitsit come ready made, attached properly to the Talit and Talit Qatan. See Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, 3-5 (1979).”

As you can see, the terms “tassels” and “fringes” can get very confusing. I think the safest usage is to refer to tzitzit as “tzitzit” or “tassels” and to reserve the usage of the word “fringes” for the decorative fringes along two sides of a tallit gadol or usually along the front edge of a wool tallit katan.

If you are not bored to tears by now, and are still reading, here is where the legal discussion of Customs regulations gets interesting: In its ruling the court decided that import taxes should be levied on a tallit or tallit katan – unless it has tzitzit tied on!

As stated in the above cited sources, both the talit and arba kanfot are symbolically used for prayer and have specially knotted tassels and fringe attached for their use and purpose as such. Therefore, if the subject merchandise is imported with the tassels attached, then the importer of record may claim duty free status as a religious article under subheading 9810.00.90, HTSUSA.

So there you have it in black-and-white: If it has tzitzit tied on, it’s a “religious article,” if not, it’s just an article of clothing.

You could even go one step further. The concluding section states, “if imported with the specially knotted tassels and fringe properly attached” [italics added] the tallit or tallit katan is duty free. In that case, if the tallit does not have kosher tzitzit, for any reason, the importer would have to pay taxes!

Feb 162015

This week we received an inquiry about the fringes along the front bottom edge of a wool tallit katan.

​I was wondering if the wool tzitzit has the (tallis like) fringes across the bottom of the garment. I bought this type in Israel but can’t find it in NY. Thanks, Zach

Our standard wool tallit katan comes with fringes along the bottom front, I explained to Zach, unless you write in, while placing your order, a special request for no fringes. The one exception is size 22, which always comes with no fringes. Somehow I had a feeling that Zach wanted a size 22 tallit katan for his tzitzit. I was right.

22 is the size I really needed.  Is it at all possible to get it with fringes?
The problem is that the manufacturer we work with, Mishkan Hatchelet, doesn’t make size 22 with fringes at all, presumably because size 22 is uncommon in Israel. There are other wool tallit katan manufacturers, but I haven’t found any that produce the level of quality that Mishkan Hatchelet (distributed by Keter in the U.S.) has achieved.
Why is the size 22 wool tzitzit always made without fringes? The reason is that for the minimum size requirement there are three main opinions: The Chazon Ish, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Chaim Naeh. Rav Moshe’s opinion is followed widely in the US, but much less in Eretz Yisrael. And as mentioned above, un-fringed is popular in the US. So from what I understand they opted not to make size 22 with fringes, because there’s a limited demand for it.
Feb 132015

Our specialty is tallit and tzitzit, but periodically our customers ask if we sell shofars as well, or if we can recommend where to buy a shofar. For a long time we simply referred them to other Judaica webstores that sell shofars.

Where to buy a shofarBut something always bothered me: All of the webstores that offer shofars for sale use stock photos and write a note saying they are merely for illustrative purposes. In other words, what you see is not what you get. You order a ram’s horn shofar or a kudu shofar, specify the size you want and choose black or brown, and they simply go and pull a shofar off the shelf and stick it in a box. (By the way, black and brown is a bit misleading, because most shofars are a combination of both.)

Of course one option is to buy a shofar on eBay or Amazon. But a lot of people don’t feel comfortable working with eBay and Amazon sellers, who are not always solidly established, and since a portion of the sale goes to eBay or Amazon, prices may be higher.

I knew that with a bit of time and effort, we could create a high caliber shofar sales webstore that would enable the prospective buyer to see the shofar in details and choose exactly what he wants. So we started Jericho Shofar.

Every time a new shipment comes in, we photograph, number, measure and catalog every shofar individually. Some people want a hefty shofar with a gnarly shape and a natural finish. Others would like to buy a smoothly polished shofar with an elegant shape.

Where can I buy a shofar that has just the right the look, feel and sound? We provide a number of high resolution images of every shofar, both ram’s horn and Yemenite, and write detailed descriptions of the shape, color and sound.

Jericho Shofar – Buy a shofar online>>

Feb 072015

What makes a mezuzah case kosher? The simple answer is nothing, it doesn’t have to be kosher. The whole issue is the mezuzah parchment. In theory, you don’t need a mezuzah case at all.

In certain times and places in Jewish history, the mezuzah parchment was inserted into a crevice made in the doorpost, and sometimes even sealed over. To this day this mezuzah placement technique is sometimes employed, e.g. if you have a very narrow doorpost where the door closes right where the mezuzah would go. Essentially there is no way to place the mezuzah on the doorpost, so you place it in the doorpost.

Now I know The New Yorker is not the place to go to learn about halacha, but their ad copy says, “The best writing anywhere, everywhere,” so I hoped that good writing would be accurate and that the writer and editor know how to do their homework. But when I came across this article about an upscale New York architect, a Christian, who started dabbling in mezuzah case production, I was a bit surprised that a reader comes away with the impression that the mezuzah case is the mezuzah, and the parchment is just something you add inside. The fact is the parchment is the mezuzah, while the mezuzah case is just a way to protect it.

The irony is that today sometimes the mezuzah case costs more than the parchment — and sometimes even a lot more. The mezuzah case is a mezuzah in one regard: we are commanded to fulfill mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner. This is why we should wear a nice tallit, put a nice cover (me’il) on a Sefer Torah, make a nice sukkah, blow a well polished shofar and make sure our tzitzit are in good condition.


The New Yorker

by Andrew Marantz

The architect Peter Pennoyer designs town houses, country houses, and beach houses for the rich and aesthetically conservative. His face is framed by a Tom Brokavian sweep of silver hair, and he favors loafers and spread-collar oxford shirts. Pennoyer’s friend Sigourney Weaver once wrote, “Like a summer’s day . . . his homes seem to have existed forever.” This is intentional. “As an architecture student at Columbia, I was quite taken with modernism,” Pennoyer said recently. “I did a loft once that was completely minimalist—no doors, white resin floor.” After a while, though, “those experiments came to seem arbitrary, and I returned to Greek and Roman forms, which is where I now draw much of my inspiration.” He is known for his scholarly attention to detail: knurled doorknobs, cabled fluting, pineapple finials.

In 2004, while designing a town house on East Seventy-ninth Street, Pennoyer encountered a novel challenge: “The clients requested a greater number of mezuzahs than I had ever heard of.” Pennoyer is Episcopalian. “I was familiar with mezuzahs, but I knew very little about them. I started doing research.”

In Deuteronomy, God instructs the Israelites to affix His holy words “upon the doorposts of thy house.” Eventually, rabbis specified which words, exactly, and how to affix them: the modern custom is to place a parchment scroll inside a small decorative case—a mezuzah—and screw it to the doorjamb at an angle. Some secular Jews go mezuzahless or make do with a single mezuzah on the front door; Orthodox Jews, or those with a liberal parchment budget, mark every room larger than sixteen square cubits. Pennoyer’s clients were quite observant. “They wanted one on every door except bathrooms and closets,” Pennoyer said. “Fifty-two in all.”
Cartoon“I’m hoping an internship will lead to full-time copying.”Buy the print »

The Talmud is silent on the question of mezuzah design, and, to Pennoyer’s dismay, contemporary venders seemed inclined toward kitsch. “We wanted it to look exactly right,” he said. “We tried Manhattan Judaica shops, online auction sites, MezuzahStore.com. We could not find anything that wasn’t terribly, unacceptably ugly.” Pennoyer made a few drawings, and the clients chose a design that was formal but not ornate—a stripped-down four-inch Doric column made of brass, to be mortised into the doorframes. A metal shop in Brooklyn made the mezuzahs and shipped them uptown, and a rabbi said a blessing over each one as it was installed.

Eventually, Pennoyer designed a line of artisanal mezuzahs, which he hopes to sell on the Internet. “I never set out to be a mezuzah salesman, but why not?” he said. Pennoyer’s firm now sends digital files to Lowe Hardware, a high-end metalworking company in Maine. “They have this machine that is essentially an automated lathe,” Jim Taylor, a partner at Pennoyer’s firm, said. “They feed in a cylinder of brass, and out comes the exact shape you’ve designed.”

Pennoyer recently purchased a 3-D printer for his own office, on Park Avenue South. He uses it to print scale models of upcoming projects as well as life-size prototypes of custom doorknobs and cornices and mezuzahs. Unlike the lathe in Maine, his machine is additive: it builds from the bottom up, using thin layers of hard plastic resin. “It’s a way of holding the thing in your hand, so you know what you’re going to get,” Pennoyer said. Once the client approves it, the files are forwarded to Lowe and the shape is reproduced in metal.

One recent day, Pennoyer agreed to show off his printer. The machine was in a back hallway, near the mailroom; it was labelled Objet Eden500V and looked like a miniature black coffin. Dan Berkman, the office’s 3-D-printing maven, brought a thumb drive from his desk and inserted it in the machine. “That walk is the only low-tech step in the process,” said Pennoyer, who had rolled up his sleeves for the demonstration. The printer began to spit out the specified shape: a life-size model of an anthemion, a floral ornament in the Greek Revival style, which would sit atop a cornice.

Earlier, to make sure his side business in Judaica was kosher, Pennoyer had asked Berkman, who is Jewish, whether he knew any rabbis. Berkman suggested his wife’s cousin Julian Cook, a Reform rabbi in Denver. Taylor sent Cook an e-mail with a few renderings attached and asked “whether our design meets the generally accepted standards for a mezuzah.” Cook responded, “I looked at your photos and drawing carefully (this is very nice, by the way) and it’s absolutely fine.” ♦