Jan 212016
 

I was kind of flabbergasted.

I know a Judaica dealer in downtown Jerusalem who’s not observant (yet). I asked him where he gets his 7 cm mezuzah scrolls. The 7 cm mezuzah is hard to procure; it’s quite small and most sofrim (scribes) are not trained to write that small. “Yehuda writes all of these parchments for me,” he explains. “A rabbi in Philadelphia told me to only buy from Yehuda.”

I took a look at the caliber of the writing. Not very impressive. Obviously he churns out a lot of mezuzahs at a low price. I asked the dealer how much he pays for them, and indeed it was quite a low price. I started to wonder whether these mezuzah parchments are reliably kosher.

Kosher mezuzah scroll“Do you run them through a computer check and a manual check?” I asked. The answer was no.

That’s bad news. I’d be willing to bet this dealer is selling a significant number of non-kosher mezuzah scrolls to people every year.

To ensure a mezuzah scroll is kosher, the checking process may be more important than the writing process.

There are different kinds of sofrim out there. Some take their time and write gorgeous mezuzahs. Others work fast and sell them to dealers at low prices, and the dealers — hopefully — then sell them to consumers at affordable prices. Although the high-end sofrim make much fewer mistakes that would render a mezuzah non-kosher, even they make mistakes.

I once saw a very conscientious sofer come back from asking his rav about a mezuzah he had spent a lot of time writing. Looking quite glum, he took out a pair of scissors and cut a big gash in the mezuzah. It was posul (non-kosher) and he didn’t want it to somehow wind up on someone’s doorpost. What was wrong with it? There was a reish that looked too close to a dalet.

How are mezuzah scrolls checked? Nowadays usually you run them through a computer scan using a program that can identify the letters. The software skims through the text to make sure there are no extra letters or missing letters. In other words, it’s looking for typos. This type of check is very common today, but is not mandated by halacha, obviously.

Then there is a manual check by a qualified mezuzah checker, known as a magihah. His job, for the most part, is to make sure all of the letters are properly formed (i.e. that the reishes don’t look like dalets, that the yuds aren’t so long that they start to look like a vav, etc.), to make sure the spacing is correct and to make sure none of the letters are touching. This is critical, because a very small mistake that can be easily overlooked could render the mezuzah non-kosher. Some dealers even check manually twice.

 

Dec 272015
 

This week I picked up a Chatanim Tallit from one of the Jerusalem-based distributors I work with. “You’re going to want to take the Chatanim off your webstore,” he advised me. “Mishkan Hatchelet is set to discontinue it.”

I was floored. How could they take the Chatanim Tallit off their product line? The Chatanim has been in production for at least a decade. The Prima A.A. is a nice wool tallit, good weave, good finishing work. But if you’re buying a tallit for a bar mitzvah boy or a groom, or a special tallit for Shabbos, you want to go up a notch. The Chatanim looks almost the same as the Prima A.A., but the weave is a bit tighter and the corner patches are wool instead of cotton.

Later that day I met with one of the Mishkan Hatchelet managers, and asked him if the rumor was true. He confirmed it. “So are they going to introduce a new top-of-the-line tallit?” I asked him.

“No, the top-of-the-line product is the Pe’er Kal,” he explained. The Pe’er Kal is usually marketed outside of Israel under the name Tallit Hamefoar.

I haven’t asked Shlomo, the CEO of Mishkan Hatchelet, or Sharon, the marketing manager, about the decision, but I can speculate. It seems like they feel the future is in nonslip tallit fabrics, namely Hamefoar and the Tashbetz Tallit. Since Hamefoar is still relatively smooth, apparently they are betting that over the next few years everyone who buys a nice tallis for Shabbos or for a chassan will be ready to make the switch to a textured weave.

For those who insist on sticking with the age-old smooth weave of the traditional wool tallit, the Prima A.A. is high quality, and can serve as a Shabbos tallis, especially if you upgrade it with a lining and/or side bands. Or you could go with the Kmo Turkish.

Dec 242015
 
Tallit sizing can be a complicated affair, especially if you are trying to figure out sizing online.
This week we received an inquiry from a father in Chicago buying tallits for his two sons.
Trying to determine size of Tallit for my two oldest sons. They are uncomfortable using full size Talletim, of course, and I thought I would get them an intermediary size that would fit them up to their Bar Mitzvahs. (they are 9 and 7 and dont like the ‘holiday tallits’ they inherited from their grandfathers). I wanted to get a wraparound one like mine are but in a smaller size. Is 45 too large still? your sizing scale only goes to 45 but some seem available in 24? Is that 24 inches in the height of the back? thanks, Henry
In many Reform and Conservative congregations you see size 18 and 24, which are narrow tallits that sit on the shoulders and hang in front.

In Orthodox congregations (and sometimes in Reform or Conservative) people wear the tallit traditional style, with two tzitzit in front, and two in back, with the tallit draping down the back to the waist or the back of the thighs.  These tallits are sizes 45, 50, 55, 60, 70 and sometimes are available in size 80 or even size 90.

But there also is a third way to wear the tallit, which is sort of in between. A size 36 tallit (which is about 36 inches from the edge that rests on the neck to the edge parallel to the floor) is also designed to be worn with all four tzitzit held in front, but unlike the size 24, it covers much of the back and the upper arms. Since Henry used the word “wraparound,” I needed to clarify with him whether he meant a size 36 tallit, or the larger sizes worn traditional style.

In traditional Orthodox congregations a size 36 tallit is not common. According to the old Yemenite and German customs, a large tallit is worn but wrapped around with all four corners held in front. Some Yemenites even fold it in half so that it comes out pretty much the same dimensions as a size 36.

And there are also a small number of Sephardic Jews who apparently have a custom of wearing this size tallit in a similar fashion.
Nov 292015
 
We often get inquires from parents asking about proper sizing for a bar mitzvah tallit.
​What size do you recommend for a bar mitzvah boy who is under 5 ft. that will STILL fit him properly when he is an adult??  Thanks,  Donna​
I had to tell Donna the truth: she’s asking for the impossible. Imagine going into a clothing store and telling the salesperson you need a suit that will fit your 13-year-old son now and still fit him properly when he’s an adult.

Of course in the case of a tallit, it is somewhat different. Because a tallit is worn loosely, you do have some leeway.

In many cases, the simple answer to the bar mitzvah tallit sizing question is to go with a Size 24. But to be sure, do the following:

  1. Try our Tallit Size Wizard>>
  2. Watch this 30-second bar mitzvah tallit sizing video>>
  3. Contact us, and be sure to tell me whether you are looking for the type of narrow tallit worn on the neck and hanging in front, or the traditional type that drapes down the back
If you are interested in a size 24 tallit, but the bar mitzvah boy is short (say 5′ or under) and you are concerned that a standard size 24 would be too long, we might be able to offer a solution. In most cases a standard size 24, which is about 72 inches long, will work at the bar mitzvah and for many years to come.

A tougher question is in the case of a tallit worn traditional style, draping down the back. If he’s short and you order a size 45, he’s likely to outgrow it within just a few years. But if you buy a larger size (e.g. 50 or 55 or 60) it might be very cumbersome for him to wear at the bar mitzvah and even in the years to come.
Nov 292015
 

Wool has always been the tallit fabric of choice from a halachic perspective, because, as the Shulchan Aruch notes, only a wool tallit or garment is required to have tzitzit. Since tzitzit is the raison d’etre of the tallit, wool is preferred because by wearing a wool tallit you fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit d’oreisa (at the Torah Law level). A tallit made out of a different type of fabric – cotton, silk, etc. – only fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzit at the Rabbinical level.

However, the Rema, based on the Tosefos, rules that all types of material require tzitzit d’oreisa, and his ruling was accepted as the Ashkenazi custom. (This halachic dispute, by the way, is the reason why some Sephardim wear only wool tzitzit garments, even in summer.) Therefore, according to the Rema, a tallit made of silk or cotton is fine.

Lightweight Wool Tallit

From a practical standpoint as well, wool offers a number of advantages. It looks nice, hangs well, lasts well over time and resists stains. Many people break out in a sweat just hearing the word “wool” but from my experience, wool worn loosely is not any warmer than other fabric. A more pertinent question is how thick the fabric is and how well the weave breathes. For those who want a super lightweight tallit, I recommend the Kalil (a.k.a. Klilas Yofi) or the Tashbetz without a lining.

Nov 272015
 

Most traditional wool tallits are 100% wool, but the Malchut Wool Nonslip Tallit takes the meaning of “all wool” to a new level. On many high-end wool tallits, the corner squares are also made of wool (as opposed to synthetic or cotton). On the Malchut Tallit, not only are the corner patches made of wool, but even the atara (neckband) is made of wool. The only two tallits I know of that have a wool atara are the white-striped Malchut, made by Talitnia, and the Beit Yosef Tallit (and Beit Yosef Prestige and Beit Yosef Tashbetz), made by Mishkan Hatchelet.

Interlaced fringesMost dealers would probably agree that the Beit Yosef has a higher quality weave, but the Malchut has two rows of interlaced fringes, which is typically found on more expensive tallits.

Black-Striped Malchut Wool Tallit

All of the above applies to the white-striped Malchut Tallit. The black-striped version has the same weave, but has standard fringes and a regular synthetic atara. It is very similar to Tallit Hamefoar, made by Mishkan Hatchelet.

 

Nov 262015
 

I’m no expert when it comes to wedding planning, but I can offer a few tips that be useful to Jewish brides and grooms.

Not all grooms wear a tallit during the chuppah ceremony. Originally this custom was predominantly found among Sephardic Jews, but in recent years it seems to be gaining traction among Ashkenazi Jews as well.

If the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah – right there next to the bride – obviously the color is important. And since some men are not so wise when it comes to coordinating colors, input offered by the bride/mothers/wedding planners may be vital. (For instance, a groom might not have the insight to realize that a bright white tallit does not work well alongside an off-white bridal dress, or vice versa.)

Whether or not the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah, there is also a widespread custom for the bride (or her parents) to buy the tallit as a gift. Personally, if their budget allows, I think it’s a nice touch to add a tallit bag with the groom’s name embroidered on it, not so much for the wedding, but so that every Shabbos morning, when he takes the tallit out of the bag, it connects him back to his wedding day and his wife.

Nov 262015
 

A customer asked me if I felt it would be inappropriate for an Ashkenazi to wear a Yemenite tallit.

Yemenite tallith with white stripes

White stripes, silver corners, Ashkenazi tzitzit

If you ask me, it would not be inappropriate assuming there is a range of tallit types in the congregation. In other words, if it’s a very frum Orthodox congregation, where everyone wears a tallit with black stripes only and a plain white atara, then suddenly someone comes in with silver, etc., it would make him stand out from the rest of the congregants. But if some people have blue stripes, or black and silver, etc., or white stripes, then there is no firmly established custom of how a tallit should look in your community.

The predominant custom among Sephardic Jews is to wear a white tallit with white stripes. I know a few Ashkenazi Jews who happen to like white-on-white, especially for Shabbos, and I don’t think they can be “condemned” for abbrogating the Ashkenazi custom.

Also, within Ashkenazi there are some who put a fancy silver atara on the tallit. Does it really make a difference if it’s more of a Yemenite-style silver embroidery?

If you chose to have the tzitzit tied Yemenite style, which is based on the Rambam’s approach, or tied Sephardic style, you might be on shaky ground.

But you shouldn’t ask me about the tzitzit! I’ve gone through all the relevant halacha several times, but I’m not a qualified rabbi.

Last week we got a fairly unusual hybrid request: a “white Yemenite tallit” with Ashkenazi tzitzit tying.

Nov 252015
 

I just came across this photo of a room at Auschwitz-Birkenau where confiscated tallits were apparently kept. At this point I’m feeling too aghast to write any remarks. From what I can tell the photo was taken after the War.

Tallit Room at Auschwitz

Nov 102015
 

Obviously if you were to put tzitzis on a garment that measures just a few inches, nobody would claim you can fulfill the mitzvah with a garment that small. So what is the minimum size requirement for a tallis katan? The answer is actually quite involved.

The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch tell us that a tallis katan has to be big enough to cover the head and majority of the torso of a boy who is old enough to walk around a central public area alone.

שעור טלית שחיב בציצית שיתכסה בה בארך וברחב ראשו ורבו של קטן המתהלך לבדו בשוק ואינו צריך אחר לשמרו

According to the poskim, this refers to a boy around the age of nine. In other words, if the garment is big enough for a nine-year-old boy, it’s big enough. Other poskim debate whether it also has to be big enough so that an adult would not feel embarrassed wearing it in public.

However, since clothing styles have changed so dramatically, it’s not easy to translate this into practical size guidelines. Some poskim hold that the total length of the tallis katan (front and back) must be one-and-a-half amah, while others say it must be two amos. The prevailing opinion is that the width must be one amah.

How big is an amah? That’s also a matter of debate. There are three main opinions:

Grach Na’eh – 48 cm (18.9 inches)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – 54 cm (21.2 inches)
Chazon Ish – 58 cm (22.8 inches) or 60 cm (23.6 inches)

Today most people follow Grach Naeh (especially Sephardim), which is size 20, Rav Moshe (especially Americans), which is size 22, or Chazon Ish (which is size 24), especially people in Bnei Brak and many kollel-leit and bnei Torah elsewhere.

But before you take out your tape measure, first we need to know how to go about measuring the tallis katan. Does the neck opening count or not? If there’s a slit in front, does that count?

According to the Mishnah Berurah, the neck opening should not be counted in calculating the dimensions, i.e. you would measure from the bottom of the neck opening down to the hem. However, the Chazon Ish writes that if the material on each shoulder is wider than the neck opening, then you can measure from the shoulder down to the hem.

This creates an interesting situation: The Chazon Ish has a more stringent amah, but the Mishnah Berurah holds by a more stringent way of measuring the tallis katan, therefore the difference between the minimum requirement according to the Mishnah Berurah and according to the Chazon Ish, respectively, is not so significant.

—-

References:

O.C. 16
Mishnah Berurah 4, ibid.
O.C. 10, 7
Shoneh Halachos