Sometimes we get customers who divulge personal information when they send in a tallit or tzitzit question.
This will be my first Tallit which I hope (I believe by tradition?) will be able to hand down to my son at some point (unless I am incorrect in this?) I apologize about my ignorance as I consider myself a baal teshuva coming back to Judaism and learning about my roots and following the mitzvahs.
I had a few questions, I am particularly concerned about the Tzitzit. I understand that generally these should not touch the floor nor should Tallit be mixed in anyway with Linen, is this correct? The other thing is I understand that one should not allow the Tzitzit to come in contact with the floor. In our synagogue there is a tradition of touching the Torah as it is taken around or during Aliyah that we use the Tallit to touch the Torah without contact and kiss the Tallit? Is this correct?
I also had a question generally about cleaning, I assume that with wool it would be best to dry clean these? Do you recommend any particular way to clean this?
And last of all, in terms of sizing, I am about 5ft9 and ordered a size 60. I assume this will be full size tallit?
Sorry for all the questions as I am still learning and greatly appreciate your responses. Thanks, Jason
I told Jason there’s no need to apologize, explaining that most people don’t know very much about tallits and tzitzits. They buy a tallit every few years, or even once in a few decades, so they don’t know much either. That’s why we post a lot of information on our webstore.
The main mitzvah of the tallit is the tzitzit. I encourage my customers to learn how to tie, but to be honest, very few heed my advice. It’s pretty hard to figure it out using an online video. And Sephardic tying is harder to learn than Ashkenazi. But if sometime you have an opportunity to have someone teach you, I recommend you take the initiative.
I don’t know about handing a tallit down to your son. If you use it daily, it will start to wear out in a few years. And since it’s wool, it could start to yellow slightly after a few years. In fact, at some point tears might even start to form. The lifespan of a tallit is very unpredictable. I’ve seen tallits that need replacement after just a few years, and I’ve seen tallits that look fine after 20 years.
Some people grow very attached to their tallit and have trouble parting with it. This morning the man in front of me in Shacharit had a tear right in the middle of the back. (This happens to about 10% of tallits. Why at that particular spot is a bit of a mystery. I have a few theories…)If you ask me, a tallit that doesn’t look nice should be replaced. We are enjoined to do mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner (zeh Keli v’anveihu). People may feel an emotional attachment to their tallit, making it hard to part with it, but the point is to add honor to the tefillah.
Okay, enough editorializing.
Let’s talk about linen. Shaatnez is not an issue you have to worry about with the vast majority of tallits. Once I had a fancy atara (neckband) I wanted to put on a wool tallit, and then I started to think it looked like the atara was made of linen. If you sew linen and wool together, you violate a mitzvah. So, I took it to a professional shaatnez checker. He also thought it looked like linen, but under the microscrope determined that it wasn’t.
Normally shaatnez issues come up with suits and certain other types of garments. Certain third-world countries tend to use linen (e.g. in the filler material) more than others. This is quite complicated and not my area. Try to find information online and ask your rabbi.
Tzitzit touching the floor
It’s considered disrespectful to let your tzitzit drag on the floor. But there’s a difference between someone who sits, sees his tzitzit are on the floor and is too lazy to do anything, compared to someone whose tzitzit inadvertently touch the floor for a moment while putting it on, kissing the Torah, etc.
Size 60 tallit
I told Jason a size 60 should work well for him. It’s considered a medium size tallit and will hang down in back to mid-thigh on him. A size 70 might be a tad too long on him, which would mean more work during tefillah to keep it rested in place on his houlders.
Also sometimes someone wants one tallit for weekday use and another tallit for Shabbat. In that case he may want a manageable size for weekdays and a longer tallit for Shabbat. But again, I think a size 60 is definitely a good place for you to start.
Sometimes a kohen will go one size up to make Birkat Kohanim easier, but that doesn’t make much sense to me if you don’t live in Israel, where the custom is to do it every day.
Kissing the Sefer Torah
Some people kiss their hand and then touch the Torah, others will touch it with their tzitzit, and some actually bend down and kiss the Torah with their lips. In terms of halacha, what you need to know is that we never touch the klaf, the leather parchment, of the Sefer Torah. When you have an aliyah the baal koreh shows you where he’s going to start reading, and since he is reading for you, you need to know. So you touch the spot to make sure you know the place. And since you can’t touch it with your hand, you use the tzitzit (or the Torah band during Minchah).
My Shabbat tallit needs cleaning about once in 2-3 years. Last time I had it dry cleaned I was very pleased with the outcome. Some people have greasy hair that darkens the underside of the tallit on the top and some people sit at Kiddushim in their tallit and then it’s just a matter of time before a greasy piece of kugel, or worse, falls on their tallit.
If you go to a local dry cleaner, you need to explain to them that the tzitzit can easily get tangled up and ruined. Here in Israel they know how to deal with a tallit. If possible, you might want to try to have it dry cleaned when you happen to be in a religious area in a major city or Israel.