Nov 282017

We get a lot of customers who are regulars at their local Chabad shul, but are not necessary Lubavitch themselves. They often follow Chabad customs, but not always down to the fine details. This week we received an inquiry from a prospective ger who seems to be debating whether to go with a bona fide Chabad tallis, or maybe a slight departure from a true Chabad tallis instead.

Shalom Ben,
Quick question. I am in the conversion process with Chabad for about 6 months now and I think I am ready to buy my first “real” tallit. I have been looking at your Chabad wool ($94) but I wanted to get your opinion before I purchased. What would you recommend for a Chabad ger? I dont want to make a huge initial investment but I also do not want something that would not be in lines with Chabad tradition or that would get looks at beit kinneset-know what I mean. I guess you can say I am looking for the “middle of the road” tallit that is true to tradition but not a huge cost. Any suggestion would be appreciated. Todah Rabah

I explained to him that there are a lot of options for him to choose from.

You’ve probably noticed that there are different levels of adherence to Chabad customs, I wrote. Any of our standard black-striped talleisim should fit in fine in a Chabad shul.

Chabad talleisim are unique in several ways:
  • unique striping pattern with more striping than most talleisim (except Yemenite)
  • no atara
  • silk lining
  • double tzitzit holes
  • Chabad tying
For example, some customers want a Chabad tallis, but with cotton lining (which stays in place better and is less prone to tearing), and have us sew on a fairly plain atara (neckband). Others might go with a regular black-striped tallis, but they will select the Chabad tying option, even with single tzitzit holes. The tzitzit tying might sound like a minor matter, but really it’s not, since the tzitzit are the essence of the mitzvah.
See also:

The History of the Chabad Tallit

Nov 282017
The majority of our techelet customers opt to have us tie the techelet strings according to the Arizal, Rambam, Sefer HaChinuch, Vilna Gaon or the Raavad. We also get plenty of orders for techelet tied like all-white tzitzit, according to the Ashkenazi or Sephardic customs. We discourage the latter, because those customs were developed in the absence of techelet and don’t make much sense with blue.
We rarely get requests for techelet tied according to Rav Hershel Schachter, but this week we’re working on a techelet order to be tied according to his approach.
If you take a look here you’ll see that Rav Schachter acknowledges that you can run into trouble with his shita because the strings are typically not long enough, so by the time you’re done with all the tying, you no longer have 2/3 of the length loose, which is required דרבנן.
עשות לכה”פ ז’ חוליות, ולעשות בין כל חוליא וחוליא קשר גמור של קשר ע”ג קשר, (כמנהגנו בזה”ז, דמ”ט נשנה את זה), ובכל חוליא יהי’ מינימום של ג’ כריכות (וכמבואר שם בגמ’ לעיל – וכמה שיעור חוליא, כדי שיכרוך וישנה וישלש.) ובודאי אם יעשה ז’ חוליות, ובכל אחת ז’ כריכות, יצא בזה לכו”ע, אך הרבה פעמים אין החוטים די-ארוכים לעשות מ”ט כריכות יחד עם ט”ז קשרים (כלומר, ח’ פעמים קשר ע”ג קשר, וכנ”ל), ולכתחילה מן הנכון שיהא חלק הכריכות כשליש מאורך החוטים, וחלק הענף שני שלישים. אכן אם יעשה לכה”פ החוליא הראשונה עם ז’ כריכות, ושאר החוליות עם ג’ כריכות, ירויח בזה במקצת, דמעיקר הדין סגי בחוליא אחת לעיכובא, והוספת ד’ הכריכות הנוספות שבחוליא הראשונה לא יגרום למעט כ”כ את אורך החוטים.
To solve the problem, he says you can tie the first section with seven windings and then the next six sections with just three windings. (Our tzitzit tie-er is pretty resourceful, and if memory serves, last time we tied Rav Schachter he managed to do seven sections of seven and still preserve the 1/3 to 2/3 ratio.)
The idea of the compromise solution is like as follows: Among the various different areas of dispute regarding techelet tying, there’s the question of what comprises a “chulya.” The Raavad says a chulya is seven windings, while all the other poskim say it’s three. Rav Schachter notes that מעיקר הדין one chulya makes your tzitzit kosher דאורייתא (i.e. one double knot, one section of windings and a second double knot), so if you make that first chulya according to the Raavad, you’ve got at least one proper chulya and the remaining chulyot are good according to the other poskim besides the Raavad.
If you click here and search for “Schachter” you’ll see that the Ptil Tekhelet Association suggests using that option if necessary.
Rav Mois Navon of the Ptil Tekhelet Association seems to be somewhat at odds with Rav Schachter’s tying method.
“R. Schachter holds that Ashkenazim should follow Tosafot with regard to the Tosafot opinion of the number of strings – i.e., Ashkenazim, according to R. Schachter, should use two blue and two white strings on each corner.  However, when discussing the method of tying, he believes that everyone (Ashkenazim and Sefaradim alike) should use the method put forth by the Rambam. Thus, confusion number one is due to the fact that R. Schachter’s method is really the combination of two methods for two separate issues concerning the one mitzvah of tzitzit – i.e., number of strings like Tosafot, method of tying like Rambam. Confusion number two arises from R. Schachter’s reading of the Rambam as opposed to the tradition the Yemenites (Teimanim) carry.  The Rambam explains, in very general terms, to make a hulya of three wraps, make a knot, give some distance and make the next hulya, etc. (Hil. Tzitz. 1:7 – see here).  The Yemenites have a tradition for tying according to the Rambam which they have preserved for centuries, for they have used it even for tying only white (as prescribed by the Rambam) – this method is shown in my diagram for the Rambam (see here).  R. Schachter, on the other hand, read the Rambam and said, ‘[T]he simplest knot I know is a double knot, and that also produces the space between hulyot defined by the Rambam.’ [T]his I know from personal conversations between R. Schachter and members of our Amuta (organization).”
Elsewhere Rav Navon also writes that he doesn’t approve of mixing and matching approaches, i.e. following one opinion regarding the number of blue strings and another opinion regarding how to go about tying them.
Jul 252017

We frequently receive inquiries from people who are impressed with our web store and want to drop by when they come for a visit to Israel, thinking we have a brick-and-mortar shop somewhere in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

But the truth is we are located off the beaten path in Modi’in Illit, which is a 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv, and we are not set up to accommodate walk-in customers.

My guess is that there are all sorts of people who come for a visit to Israel once every few years, hoping to return home with a nice new tallit or tzitzit in their luggage. Or maybe a sibling or cousin or friend asked them to buy a tallit in Israel. Often the selection at their local Judaica store is too limited to supply them the tallit they want, or they’re looking for certain options that are a bit hard to find.

Sending someone to buy a tallit for you is not always a great solution because when you buy just about anything in Israel, you pay 17% VAT, which often offsets or even exceeds the shipping costs. If you buy a tallit for $150, for instance, you’ll see on your receipt that you paid $21.90 VAT, which is akin to state sales taxes in the United States — only much higher. Shipping options for that sort of purchase on our website would be $10-$15 to European and US addresses, so you end up saving money by placing an order online and having us ship it to you.

Is VAT avoidable? Some retail businesses in Israel that cater to tourists are set up to refund the VAT on condition you spend at least 400 shekels. You pay the full amount, including VAT, fill out a form and then before you board your plane there’s a VAT refund counter at Ben Gurion. Note that they charge a service fee (typically 10%-15%) to receive the refund.

In fact, even if you place an order on our site and enter a shipping address in Israel — or select our pickup option — you’ll also be charged 17% VAT.

All orders that we ship abroad are exempt from VAT. It’s quite involved exporting of our orders in accordance with government regulations, but it’s worth it because that we we can keep our prices down.

If despite the above you still feel you really want to buy a tallit in Tel Aviv, be very wary, because most Judaica stores in Tel Aviv are not really qualified to sell tallits and tzitzit. Often Tel Aviv residents will travel to nearby Bnei Brak where specialty tallit shops are not too scarce.

The first place to try is one of the three Mishkan Hatchelet outlet stores. Most of the traditional wool tallits we sell are manufactured by Mishkan Hatchelet, which is generally considered the top tallit maker in the country, and possibly worldwide.

If your tastes are fairly modern and you have the budget for a hand-woven tallit, take a look at Gabrieli, whose tallits are renown worldwide (see here). Their weaving studio is located in Rechovot and they have a gallery in Jaffa.

Mar 052017

You have a decent tallis you wear seven days a week. It’s not old or schmutzy. Should you still try to buy a tallis just for Shabbos? In a word, yes.

Let’s start with the verse in Yeshayahu (58:13):

אם תשיב משבת רגלך עשות חפצך ביום קדשי וקראת לשבת ענג לקדוש ה’ מכבד וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר

If thou restrain thy foot because  of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on My holy day;
and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shalt honor it,
not doing thy own ways, nor pursuing they own business nor speaking of vain matters

The Gemara (Shabbos 113a) says that from the word וכבדתו that your Shabbos attire should not be the same as your weekday attire. Based on this Gemara, the Tur writes:

וישתדל שיהיו לו בגדים נאים לשבת דכתיב “וכבדתו” ודרשינן שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול

Pay attention to the first word ישתדל, i.e. one should strive. I once heard Rav Schachter of Yeshiva University say ideally you should have special Shabbos clothes from head to toe: not just a Shabbos shirt, but a Shabbos undershirt, Shabbos socks, Shabbos pajamas, etc.

Apparently this is the meaning of the Mishna Berura 265,2, 5 based on the Arizal. From my own reading of the Mishna Berura I can’t see Rav Schachter’s opinion, since the Mishna Berura says “even the shirt,” which sounds to me like it would come to exclude undershirt and socks. But Rav Schechter was invariably relying on Achronim I haven’t seen.

And now for the key words:

ואם אפשר לו, טוב שיהיה לו גם טלית אחר לשבת

There you have it – “if possible, you should have another tallis for Shabbos.”

Some people have pretty much the same tallis, just less worn. Others may have a fancy atara or ornate Yemenite fringes on their Shabbos tallis. And some people choose to go one size bigger for their Shabbos tallis; during the week, short and more manageable, on Shabbos long and elegant.

I used to wear a black-striped tallis katan with a straight hem during the week, and a white-striped tallis katan with fringes on Shabbos. My current Shabbos tallis has a cotton lining, lending it a more substantial feel, while my weekday tallis does not.

Feb 212017

If you are shopping for tallis and tefillin bags, take a look here. This post is not about the bags themselves, but how to use them.

Personally, I prefer keeping my tallit and tefillin bags sans plastic. To explain why, first I have to take you back nearly 40 years to my aunt’s living room on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I have three strong memories of my Aunt Enus a”h: her walker (she fell and broke her hip), her big, fat cat Leonard and her couches.

I don’t remember the couches’ color or fabric, all I remember is the thick vinyl covering on them. Whenever relatives came to visit, they almost invariably made a snide comment about the sticky vinyl in the aftermath of the visit. I imagine some of those remarks reached her ears, but she was willing to sacrifice comfort to protect her sofas from Leonard’s claws. Those side comments about the vinyl lodged deep in my six-year-old mind so that to this day I find vinyl a real turnoff.

Tallit and tefillin bag coverBut everyone puts their tallis and tefillin bags in those hefty transparent PVC zippered covers! At some point I became a rebel, and when my bag cover tore (tears always form sooner or later), instead of replacing it immediately I tried managing sans plastic. To my amazement, I discovered that unless it’s really pouring rain, you can live without the plastic. The only problem is combining them into a single item to carry. Eventually I figured out that you could leave the tefillin bag at home and keep your tefillin wrapped inside the tallit. You simply fold the tallit around the tefillin, making sure to put the tallit in the tallit bag with the fold near the zipper, so that you can pull it out and leave the tefillin inside. (If you grasp the tefillin before the tallit, you run into a sticky halachic problem.) I liked the idea of living simply, and not taking up a lot of space in shul with a pile of accessories.

Today, things have changed, since I started walking to and from Shacharis wearing tallis and tefillin, so the velvet bags stay at home. I have a special placed reserved for them in our bookcase, and I always put the tefillin behind the tallis for two reasons: 1) So that I always come in contact with the tallit before the tefillin and 2) so that on Shabbos the tefillin (which are muktzeh) are safely out of the way.

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.