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>>

May 162016
 

We now offer two Kol Hane’arim tallit options: a very affordable acrylic option and a superb quality wool option.

Acrylic

Our acrylic Kol Haneorim tallis is made of a sturdy fabric with a lot of reinforcements and numerous cloth loops to make rigging it a cinch. It also comes with eight (!) different striping options and a handy tote bag.

Wool

Kol Hane'arim tallit fringes

Interlaced fringes on wool Kol Hanearim tallit

The wool version is made as a single piece of fabric (not several sewn together) and features fabulous double-knotted fringes that look very elegant hanging down the sides. “It was expensive,” commented a couple who gifted one to their synagogue for Simchas Torah, “but when I saw the tallit stretched over the heads of those precious little ones, we knew it was worth it. The rabbi says it will be used for weddings too.” So it’s really a high quality legacy item that pays off over the years.

Go to Kol Hane’arim Tallis category>>>

Apr 192016
 

We get this question quite often, so I’m posting the question and answer for other bar mitzvah parents who might find it useful.

Hello,
I am wondering about tallit sizing. My son, who is 60 inches tall (now), is having his bar mitzvah two months from now. Should I order a size 50 tallit or a size 55 for him to grow into? We are interested in the Prima A.A. Tallit in Blue and Silver. Thank you, Beth ​
Dear Beth,
Congratulations on the upcoming bar mitzvah!
Your question is sort of like parents buying a suit: they want it to look nice for the bar mitzvah, but they don’t want it to be unwearable six months down the road.
A growth spurt somewhere between the age of 13 and 15 is highly likely, it’s really a question of when. So there’s really not much you can do in either case — the suit or the tallis.
Have you seen our Tallit Size Wizard? I would say a size 50 will probably work best. And I think there’s another reason to consider going with a size 50: Your son may find a size 55 a bit cumbersome, and I think when introducing a young man to a mitzvah it’s important not to make it a burden in any way.
The only exception would be if your son is very keen on a long tallit, which some people feel looks a bit more elegant.
Apr 182016
 

We get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 inquiries a year. The vast majority cover issues that are fairly routine: availability, tallit sizing questions, questions about tallit stripes, letter embroidery, turnaround time, etc. But this morning, in my email box, was a simple inquiry I’ve never received before.

I would like to purchase a man’s tallit that is either fair trade or is made by/supports Jews struggling economically in Israel or elsewhere.​ Thanks, Laurie

There is a tallit maker out there (MayaWorks) who has their tallitot woven by poor women in Guatemala to help them support their households.

When I saw that I thought some people, primarily liberal Jews, might be interested in tallits woven by poor Arab women living in Eretz Yisrael. But somehow Jews struggling economically escaped my attention.

I told Laurie about our company, and left it up to her to decide if we qualify. We’re based in Modi’in Illit, which is a frum city with a very large number of families — maybe even the majority — struggling to make ends meet. Our family is no longer struggling to pay the bills, thank G-d, but with ten kids, it’s never easy!

The lady who does most of our sewing work (primarily when we switch an atara) and some of the letter embroidery work has a large family and they are definitely not well off.

The kollel man who does our tzitzit tying is not well off, either. He’s fairly young and has only three or four children. He works for us in the afternoon– between study sessions –and sometimes in the evening hours. He’s an excellent, dedicated worker, and I admire him for taking the initiative to pursue part-time work, avoiding the pitfall of descending into debt or poverty, a mistake I think a fair number of kollel men are liable to make.

Our main suppliers are Talitania and Mishkan Hatchelet. I have a hunch that much of the workforce at Mishkan Hatchelet is lower class, since their manufacturing center is in Be’er Sheva, which has a large blue-collar population. I don’t know enough about Talitania to say. The Talitania distributor we work with is a Satmar chassid, and many of his employees are from his own family. I think his business is successful, but I have a feeling that without it, a lot of people would be out of work. Also, someone told me he does a whole lot of chessed with his earnings.

 

 

Mar 232016
 

Can a woman wear a tallit or observe the mitzvah of tzitzit? Many people have delved into this question, and I’ve found that a lot of them lack a clear understanding of a key term used in the discussion of the relevant halacha: “yehora.”

In the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 17, 2 the Rema, whose emendations on the Shulchan Aruch are considered authoritative for Ashkenazim, writes as follows:

ומכל מקום אם רוצים לעטפו ולברך עליו הרשות בידן כמו בשאר מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא אך מחזי כיהורא, ולכן אין להן ללבוש ציצית, הועיל ואינו חובת גברא, פרוש, אינו חיב לקנות לו טלית כדי שיתחיב בציצית

For those of you whose Hebrew is not up to speed, let me take a stab at a decent translation:

However, if they [women] want to wrap themselves [in a tallis or tallis katan] and recite a blessing on it, as with other time-bound mitzvahs, they are entitled to do so, but it appears to be ostentatious piousness, and therefore they should not wear tzitzis, since it is not incumbent on the individual, i.e. one does not have to buy a tallis in order to become obligated in [the mitzvah of] tzitzit.

I have often come across people trying to analyze the Rema’s remarks here do a sloppy job of translating the words mechzei k’yehora, calling it simply “pride,” which is quite misleading.

Yehora is better translated as “holier than thou.” It means that we do not undertake a stringency in public view. One common example is Rabbenu Tam tefillin. The vast majority of people lay tefillin with the compartments arranged according to the order prescribed by Rashi. However, Rabbenu Tam has a different opinion, so some people buy two sets of tefillin. They lay Rashi tefillin, and then at some point during Shacharis, remove it and switch to their Rabbenu Tam tefillin.

Obviously this is not a question of being “proud,” but of being super-frum. And to be precise, it’s not even a matter of acting super-frum, but of giving the appearance of being super-frum. The Rema does not say yehora, but rather mechzei k’yehora — it looks like yehora.

If yehora is such a problem in the case of time-bound mitzvahs for women, you might ask, how come we have no problem with women going to hear the shofar or sitting in a sukkah? To understand the distinction between these examples and the mitzvah of tzitzis, note that there is a fine distinction that the Rema took the trouble to explicate.

I respect other people’s opinion, but two things bother me: 1) When people don’t take the trouble to understand the issue, but simply decide to wear a tallit because they see other women do so in their congregation. 2) When women start wearing a tallit for the wrong reason, namely as a political statement rather than a desire to come close to Hashem through His mitzvahs. In this regard, the responsum written by Rav Moshe Feinstein several decades ago resonates to this day.

Mar 102016
 

We often hear stories from customers about difficulties they experienced ordering from the major online Judaica vendors. Today we received an order from a customer from Coral Gables, Florida who added the following tallit horror story to the comments field:

I received the worst service from [XXX] Judaica. I first ordered one tallit that a month later I was informed was out of stock. Then, I placed an order for another tallit which I was told today, over a month after I ordered it, that it was out of stock when I was originally told that it was available. This tallit will be a late anniversary and wedding present for my fiance, and I’m so glad that your shop can assist me.

This type of experience is not so uncommon. The reason is that it’s quite a challenge to keep an adequate supply of tallits in stock. Tallit sellers have to offer a very large selection of tallit styles, and each style may come in two or three or more color combinations, and on top of that most tallits come in three or four — or sometimes even eight or nine — sizes.

Not even the major tallit distributors in Israel have all the tallits in the wholesale catalog available at all times. Neither do the manufacturers. Mishkan Hatchelet has a very large factory in Be’er Sheva and over a dozen factory outlet stores around the country. They have an internal computer network to keep track of stock at all of the various factory outlet stores. And it’s not at all uncommon for them to be unable to locate a certain tallit in a certain size at any of those outlet stores.

The major online Judaica sellers like World of Judaica, aJudaica, Eichler’s, Judaica Webstore and Ahuva, to name a few, work with a very large number of suppliers and are not in a position to go chasing after a certain tallit. Those that are located in the US are even less likely to be able to get a hard-to-procure item quickly, because they rely on large periodic shipments from Israel.

This can be a challenge for us, as well, but over the years we’ve established working relations with a number of tallit suppliers, so that when one of them is unable to procure the items we need, the next day we contact another supplier on our list. We’re also set up to get deliveries from suppliers twice a week, so there’s rarely much lag time involved.

Mar 062016
 

In the five years since this blog was started I’ve refrained from politics entirely, but I think I’m going to chime in on the IDF beard controversy.

It’s been a long time since I was a rank-and-file soldier, but I was just discharged from reserve duty a few years ago, so I think most of what I observed is relevant.

Reserve soldiers can show up as scruffy as they like, and nobody will say a word. Enlisted soldiers, on the other hand, are expected to shave regularly. I was very occasionally questioned by officers about my beard, but all I had to do was to pull out my soldier’s ID card and show them that I sported a beard when I first got my mug shot upon enlisting.

Having a beard definitely sets you aside from the other soldiers. You could say there are three types of soldiers in the IDF: secular, religious and what they called backed then beinishim, which is an acronym for “yeshiva students.” The bearded soldiers were either from hardcore religious Zionist yeshivas, like Merkaz HaRav, or baalei tshuva.

Having a beard definitely sends a message. And it could be that certain elements at the top echelons of the IDF don’t like it. According to a report on Walla, the IDF wants to set a ceiling of 15% bearded soldiers. Officials are denying this policy.

At a recent gathering of prominent religious Zionist rabbis Rabbi Dov Lior said there is a struggle over the identity of the state, “a war against Hashem and his messengers.”

MK Menachem Eliezer Moses said that three months ago, during a session of the Foreign Affairs Affairs & Defense Committee, he spoke with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on this very matter, claiming Ya’alon promised him that anyone with a beard for religious reasons will be permitted to continue to wear a beard. Moses added that although the new regulation will impact religious Zionist soldiers more than chareidi soldiers, he objects to taking responsibility for the issue from the IDF Rabbinate and placing it in the hands of the adjutancy.

Walla News reports that the controversy was originally about secular soldiers who wanted to grow a beard, but as a result of the media frenzy surrounding the issue, the focus has shifted exclusively to religious soldiers. These non-observant soldiers said they are not ready to concede defeat, but plan to use social media to gain support for the right to sport a beard simply because they wish to, not out of religious conviction.