Jan 242017
 

Toward the very beginning of the Gemara is a well-known breisa:

                אמר רבי יוחנן הרוצה לקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים שלימה יפנה ויטול ידיו ויניח תפילין ויתפלל

Translation: “R’ Yochanan said one who seeks to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner should empty his bowels, do the ritual hand-washing, lay tefillin and recite the prayers” (Brachos 14b).

Some readers might have noticed that something seems to be missing from the list: What about the mitzvah of tzitzis? Shouldn’t he put on a tallis?

This breisa is quoted by the Tur (O.C. 2, 6) in his description of how one should conduct himself upon rising in the morning. The Bach comments on the apparent omission, suggesting several possible explanations. His third suggestion reads as follows:

תפילין שבראש שאדם משעבד לבורא יתברך שהנשמה שהיא במוח וכו’ הני יש
ענין לקבלת עול מלכות שמים, מה שאין כן בציצית שאינה אלא לזכור את כל מצות ה

Translation: “The concept of tefillin on one’s head is to subjugate the mind to the Creator, for the soul is in the mind; yet this does not apply to tzitzis, which is merely to remember Hashem’s mitzvahs.”

Merely to remember Hashem’s miracles?! That’s no small matter! Apparently then the mitzvah of tzitzit is sort of a starting point. It makes you acutely aware of the deeds Hashem wants and expects of you, and serves as a constant reminder. This may explain why we put on the tallis before laying tefillin.

The Bach (O.C. 8, 1 s.v. Umiyad achar) writes that we put on tzitzis before tefillin because tzitzis are worn as a constant reminder of the mitzvahs, whereas the mitzvah of tefillin is primarily during Krias Shema and prayers, in order to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner.

Thus the act of donning tzitzis is a prelude to the process of accepting the yoke of Heaven.

Jan 192017
 

This week we had a customer who had decided to go with a hand-woven Gabrieli tallit, but kept debating between cotton and wool. At first she ordered it in wool, but then had second thoughts:

I have a question about wool vs. cotton. I saw a tallit today in our synagogue gift shop and it was thick and nubbly. I really liked the weight of it. The tag on it said linen. Is that what you mean by cotton? And if so I’d like to change my order to cotton.

Her question put me in a tight spot. Why? Please don’t tell anybody, but I didn’t know why “nubbly” means. Having lived in Israel for over 20 years, I haven’t enriched my English vocabulary much over the years. So I had to look up the definition before proceeding with a reply.

Gabrieli uses relatively thick yarns for both the wool and the cotton. They look quite similar. Some people can hardly tell them apart. The cotton has a slightly tighter weave and therefore the detail is a bit finer. Both of them are weighty and textured.

Then she went back to a follow-up question about linen:

Interesting. Which one would you say is closer to linen? And why is the cotton a bit more expensive than wool?

Actually I don’t know for sure why the cotton is more expensive. Either because the yarn costs the Gabrieli weaving studio more (they use high quality yarns from suppliers in faraway places) or because it requires a bit more time at the loom.
Cotton is closer to linen than wool. But I was a bit surprised to hear that she had come across a linen tallit. From a halachic standpoint, a linen tallit is quite problematic. Among other issues, to avoid the prohibition of shaatnez, you have to use linen tzitzit, and kosher linen tzitzit strings are hard to come by. Usually linen is only used to make tallitot for those who have serious fabric allergies.
Some people assume that linen and cotton are about the same, but that’s not the case as all. Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, whereas cotton is of course made from cotton plants.
Linen is a nice fabric, which makes it tempting to use it to make tallitot, but I avoid selling linen tallitot because of the problematic halachic issues involved. In the past I’ve toyed with the idea of making tallit and tallit katan products from hemp or bamboo fabrics, but those ideas never came to fruition. For now I’m sticking with tried-and-true wool and cotton.

 

Dec 212016
 

We often get customers looking for a tallit with a certain weight or thickness. Many are shopping for a lightweight tallit, explaining that they live in Florida or Arizona and don’t want to be sweating away in shul. (I always thought the hotter the climate, the better the air conditioning, but I could be wrong.)

Others want a hefty tallit they can really feel on their shoulders.

I always responded to inquiries by offering my general impression of the thickness or weight of various tallitot, but today I decided to get scientific and jot down the weights.

For comparison we weighed size 60 tallits with an atara and no tzitzit.

Tallit Weights

Tallit Weight
Kalil 468 g
Tashbetz 612 g
Hamefoar 548 g
Hamefoar Prestige 701 g
Prima A.A. 565 g
Traditional Wool 512 g
Chatanim 582 g
Kmo Turkish 658 g
Kmo Turkish Nonslip 698 g
Echt Turkish 831 g
Beit Yosef 557 g
Beit Yosef Nonslip 589 g
Beit Yosef Tashbetz 566 g

 

Sep 272016
 

A significant number of our customers are looking for a “nonslip” tallit. Here’s a recent inquiry:

Please help, my Tallis keeps slipping. I have bought some non-slip fabric, are you aware of any halachic impediments to sewing in to the inside?​ – Motty

Motty certainly has an interesting idea. I can’t think of any halachic problems that are liable to come up.

Tallit slipping is not a new thing; it’s mentioned in the Talmud. I haven’t done an empirical study, but my conjecture is that there are a number of factors involved.

1) Thin, light fabric may be less prone to slipping because it contours better.

2) A second layer of fabric where the tallit rests on the shoulder and head may reduce slipping because the weight anchors the tallit in place there, and keeps it stable.

3) A wider tallit is liable to slip off more than a narrower tallit. But in most cases the variations in width are not substantial.

4) A textured (“nonslip”) fabric clings better to your clothes and to itself, reducing slippage.

5) Folding the tallit over just once on each shoulder makes the tallit slip easily, since the fold point is the center of gravity and pulls the tallit down the slopes of the arms. It’s better to experiment with ways to bunch the tallit on your shoulders.

6) How your shoulders slope contributes to the stability of the tallit.
Sep 182016
 

We now have a Jew formerly from Denver working as a shipping clerk, so I asked him a bit about the Jewish profile of the Mile High City and took a look at our orders from Colorado over the past year.

As expected, the bulk of our tallit and tzitzit buyers indeed hail from Denver (especially the west side, Greenwood Village, Englewood and Aurora). I was told a lot of Denver’s frum Jews live in Greenwood Village and Englewood, not too far from the Aish HaTorah shul.

Aish HaTorah synagogue in DenverWe also saw a number of tallit and tzitzit orders coming out of Littleton, Commerce City, Highlands Ranch, Westminster, Lakewood, Golden and Thornton.

The other significant places with customers buying tallits or tzitzit are Colorado Springs and Boulder. For some reason I’m not seeing a single order coming from Pueblo.

We also have a few dozen orders from the various mountain towns in Colorado.

What are our Colorado customers buying? A lot of traditional wool tallits, some high-end wool tallits and a lot of tzitzit garments, both wool and cotton.

Sep 012016
 

Regrettably I’ve never been to Australia, but I have sent a lot of tallits and tzitzit Down Under. I have heard many places in Australia have vibrant, dynamic Jewish communities comprised of native Australians as well as a substantial number of Jews from other parts of the world.

I just leafed through our order history and noticed that the vast majority go to customers in various parts of Sydney (especially Bondi and Rose Bay), and of course we get a significant number of orders from Melbourne and Brisbane, but a good number of tallit sales also go to Perth (Daniella), Adelaide, Canberra — and even one order to Tasmania.

Tallit sales to Brisbane go primarily to Surry Hills, Meridain Plains, Zillmere, Carindale and Acacia Ridge, while our tallit and tzitzit customers in Melbourne hail from Caulfield, Ararat, Elsternwick, Southbank, Coolaroo, Bayswater and Ormond.

The bulk of our tallit and tzitzit sold to customers in Sydney are shipped to Chatswood, St Ives, Marrickville, Bellevue Hill, Rose Bay, Bondi, Killara, East Lindfield, Drummoyne, Penrith, Abbotsford, Pagewood, Kings Park, Alexandria and West Hoxton.

What tallit and tzitzit products are our customers in Australia buying?

Much of our tallit sales are lightweight tallits, nonslip tallits, high-end tallitot for grooms, traditional wool tallits and Chabad.

Our tzitzit buyers in Australia are buying undershirt tzitzits, t-shirt tzitzits, tzitzit for kids, traditional wool tallit katan and techelet tzitzit.

Jul 212016
 

So you’ve decided on a tallit, but what about a tallit bag? Do you really need one? How much should you spend? Does it have to match the tallit? What about custom letter embroidery?

Velvet Tallit Bag

Velvet tallit bag: You get what you pay for.

Dark velvet tallit bags are the old standby option. If you buy a traditional wool tallit, you don’t have to have a matching bag per se. Keep in mind that with velvet tallit bags, you get what you pay for. Bags under $20 will do the job, but tallit bags with high quality velvet, typically $20-$40, look and feel nicer.

Recently we received an inquiry from someone by the name of Donnovan with a series of questions about tallit bags. We’re copying the questions and answers here for all of you with similar questions.

If I were to buy a tallit, I would also have to buy a tallit bag I realized. If I buy a tallit bag, do I then I have to buy a plastic cover? I don’t have a plastic cover. If I lived in the Pacific Northwest I might want one, but I don’t really see it’s necessary. A lot of people use the plastic covers primarily on weekdays, to house both their tallit (in a velvet tallit bag) and tefillin (in a velvet tefillin bag).

Can you buy the plastic bag cover by itself? Yes. You can find it here.

Do you need to buy a bag if you want to get a plastic tote? Sounds a bit odd to me to use just the plastic, but you’re free to do as you please.

I like your wool bags, but everyone seems to have velvet bags. The wool bags are not great quality, are not very roomy and don’t have a zipper. You’re right, everybody does seem to have a velvet bag. If you want something lighter in color, linen bags seem to be gaining popularity lately.

Does everyone have a bag for their tallit?​ Just about everybody. It gives honor to a mitzvah object.

Jul 112016
 

When it comes time to buy a set of tefillin gassot, there’s a lot of information to take in. One of the issues to address is what level hiddur to chose for the parshiyos (parchments). Here’s a tefillin parchments question we received from a customer this week.

May I ask for some details as to the differences between the mid- and highest levels of hiddur for tefillin parchments? Best regards, Lisa
​Lisa asked a good question. With inexpensive tefillin, often times you have to rely on various leniencies in terms of the kashrus of the writing, i.e. according to some opinions a certain letter may not look clear enough, whereas according to others it will. Once you get up to the level of parchments used for Tefillin Gassot, you no longer are in the realm of those types of questions, rather it’s a matter of aesthetics.

The Torah tells us Zeh Keli V’anvehu, which the Sages interpreted to me that we should fulfill mitzvahs in an aesthetically pleasing manner. For example, a nice mezuzah.

For many Jews, a nice mezuzah means a nice mezuzah case. That might be part of the mitzvah, but the essence of the mitzvah of mezuzah is the parchment; in theory you don’t even need a case at all to fulfill the mitzvah. So how do you do the essence of the mitzvah in an aesthetically pleasing manner? You find a sofer who takes his time to write nicely and who was graced with attractive writing. Sofrus is, on one level calligraphic arts. Some sofrim simply write beautiful letters.

An very inexpensive mezuzah looks a bit sloppy even to the untrained eye. To churn out $25 mezuzahs you have to write fast, so the letters do not come out very straight and the left margin is not neatly justified (it’s not easy to justify the left margin when writing by hand).

This applies equally to tefillin. Even though we cannot see the parchments after they are inserted, it’s a hiddur mitzvah to have beautifully written parshiyos in your tefillin.

Sofrim show their writing to dealers, and can command a price in accordance with the attractiveness of the writing, and that cost gets passed on to the end consumer.
Jul 062016
 

We often receive inquiries from customers looking for a traditional wool tallit, but they want to get it just right. This inquiry regarding a traditional tallis piqued me interest:

​I am 91 years old and have shrunk a great deal. I am 5’5″ what size tallit shall I buy. A fancier wool. Something like a Munkacser design (from where I came)​. I would like an AA quality (or better) with proper twisted Tzitzit and a silver like atarah (geflochtene about six inches wide and sewn  to be baal-batish). Anything else you could advise me? This is my last tallit. Thanks, Tuli

That last sentence really shook me up. On one hand, I certainly want my customers to receive a tallit that last for many years. On the other hand, I find myself hoping that even if Tuli (Naftali) is 91 years old, that this is not to be his last tallit, that one of his grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) will come up to him on Shabbos morning and tug at his tallis with hands covered with kugel schmutz and leave a big stain…

Black-Striped Tallit Wool TallitIn any case, I sent Tuli a lengthy explanation of how to go about choosing the right wool tallis. In recent years there has been a rapid move to textured weaves. Instead of the smooth weave you are familiar with for decades, today many talleisim are slightly textured and marketed as “non-slip.” The fabric does, indeed, reduce slippage. And I find it has a nice, supple feel. This type is the Tallit Hamefoar on our site.

Hamefoar Prestige is the same fabric, but the black band is thicker and bolder (like on a Turkish tallis), and it has a lining and side bands. It also has fancy double-knotted fringes. It costs a bit more than the regular Hamefoar, but it’s worth it if you like the fancy fringes and like the really sturdy feel of a lining and side bands.

Both of the above are made in sizes 60, 70 and 80, but not in size 55.

Since at 5’5″ Tuli might want a size 55 or want to stick with the old-fashioned smooth weave, I recommended the Chatanim. It’s looks just like the basic traditional “good ol’ fashion” wool tallis, with a tight, high-quality weave, wool corner patches and stain-resistant and anti-yellowing treatment.

Actually there’s also a combination of Hamefoar Prestige and the Chatanim: Kmo Turkish. It has a lining and side bands and the thicker, solid black band found on Hamefoar Prestige, but regular fringes and a smooth fabric. Available in sizes 60, 70 and 80.

As for the tzitzit tying, I assured Tuli that we do the tzitzit tying in-house and have a really top-notch tzitzit tie-er. He’s a yungerman who studies Gemara in a kollel most hours of the day.

 

Jun 092016
 

Although many of our customers have a highly specialized tallit in mind, others simply want a basic traditional wool tallit.

But even if you’re in the market for a classic wool tallit — plain and simple — there are still some choices to be made. In very traditional Orthodox congregations, black-striped tallits are the mainstay. If that look is a bit too stiff for you, black and gold or black and silver might fit the bill.

Among Sephardic Jews, there is a fairly widespread custom of wearing a white-on-white tallit. Here, too, there are some twists: instead of satiny white stripes, you can go with matte striping, e.g. on the Malchut Talit and the Beit Yosef Talit, or you can go in the opposite direction by opting for a white-striped wool tallit with silver or gold pinstripes.

Traditional wool tallit with black stripingA third option is a blue-striped tallit. Blue-only striping is definitely traditional, whereas some more colorful designs have a somewhat modern look.

Note that on a wool tallit, sometimes the atara (neckband) is all white, with a subtle satiny pattern, whereas others have the Tzitzit Blessing (recited as you don the tallit) embroidered on the atara. As a general rule, the plain type of atara is found on black-striped, white-striped and blue-striped tallitot, whereas other colors (e.g. black-silver, black-gold, blue-silver, blue-gold, white-silver, white-gold) have the blessing on the atara.

You may come across certain add-on options such as a tallit lining, side bands or a middle band. The lining is stitched onto the bottom of the tallit where it comes in contact with your head and shoulders. Side bands are like narrow ataras sewn along the sides and are recommended for those who like to grip onto the sides. A middle band runs across the center of the tallit horizontally to reinforce stress points.

What about the tzitzit? Basic wool tallits come with machine-spun tzitzit tied by the manufacturer according to the Ashkenazi custom. For many people, this is fine. But there are also a lot of other possibilities, including hand-spun tzitzit or techelet tzitzit, and each of these options comes in both thin and thick. Machine-spun are always tied according to the Ashkenazi custom, while white-only tzitzit can be tied according to the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Yemenite or Chabad custom, and techelet tzitzit can be tied according the the Rambam, Raavad, Vilna Gaon, Sefer HaChinuch, Rav Amram Gaon or Arizal (shown here).

Go to Traditional Wool Tallit category>>