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, 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.” ♦

Feb 022015

We get plenty of customers looking for a genuine Chabad tallis, but we also see a number of tallis buyers who want what you might call a “pseudo-Chabad tallit.” Today, for example, we received the following inquiry:

Is there any difference between your Chabad Tallit and your Prima A.A. Tallit with Ari/Chabad tzitzis?
Thank you for your time. It’s great to be able to purchase a tallit from an expert.

The question is actually somewhat involved, so first let’s discuss the tallis, and then clarify the tzitzis.

Chabad Tallit vs. Typical Ashkenazi Tallit

There are a number of differences between the the Chabad Tallit and a typical black-striped wool tallit like the Prima AA:

1) No atara, because Lubavitch holds that the atara sort of deflects attention from the essence of the mitzvah of wearing a tallis. They don’t really have to worry about the issuing of making sure the tallis is worn the same way every day because the lining takes care of that. On our Chabad Tallit product page you’ll notice that we do offer an atara option for those who do not adhere so closely to Chabad customs.

2) A silk lining comes standard. Purists insist on silk, although it tends to make the tallis slippery. We can sew on a cotton lining instead, by request.

3) The corner squares are made of silk. Normally they are synthetic, or may be wool on high-end tallitot.

4)  A Chabad tallis has a lot more black striping than a standard tallis. Some non-Lubavitchers wear a Chabad tallis simply because they like the striping.

Chabad Tzitzis

Chabad tzitzis holesChabad tzitzis tying, based on the Arizal, are tied by linking the windings into groups of three, which is then called a chulyah. This takes some expertise. Many tallis dealers, brick-and-mortar stores and webstores, lack the know-how to tie Chabad tzitzis. In fact, a well-known handwoven tallis maker I work with recently got an order from a customer who wanted Chabad tzitzis on a tallis they had made, and we were called on to help them tie the tzitzis.

The second element of Chabad tzitzis tying is a halachic innovation of adding a second hole beneath the main tzitzis hole. The issue behind this is the problem of keeping the tzitzis on the fringed sides of the tallis so that they hang down properlywithout having to scrunch up the fabric, which introduces a new issue of bringing the tzitzis hole too close to the sides of the tallit. Most poskim favor one attribute or the other, since they are mutually exclusively, but Lubavitch came up with a way to have your cake and eat it too: rather than bunch up the fabric they anchor the tzitzis in place by looping the shamash string one time through that second hole. In theory you could do this with a different tying custom. In fact, we once had a customer who wanted Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit tied  on a Chabad tallis according to the Raavad, and using that second hole was important to him.

Buy Chabad Tallit>>


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.