May 252015
 

A large proportion of our customers are Sephardic. Recently we had a return customer who wanted a bigger talit, because he wants to start wearing it wrapped around him.

Hi, Ben. I bought a Beit Yosef Tallit from you two years ago, and you were able to put in the medium size tzitzit, tied 10-5-6-5 Sephardi. I’m looking to get a Talitania Malchut the same way but slightly larger, but wanted to clarify sizing with you.

Since purchasing the Beit Yosef, I’ve changed shuls, and in the more Western Sephardic atmosphere I’m in now, it’s very popular to wear the tallit, even a full size one, with all four tzitzit in front. However, my size 50 Beit Yosef is just fractionally too short in length to do this comfortably.

The Western Sephardic minhag (Spanish and Portuguese, much of Europe) is traditionally to wear the tallit wrapped around the upper part of the body, so it drapes across the back but then comes up over the upper arms, above the elbows, then either hang all four tzitzit in front or sort of hold them out. I’ve found by watching older men in shul that this makes it a lot less awkward for gathering the tzitzit for Shema, because one doesn’t have to reach around behind and fumble for the strings.

Thanks, Michael

It sounds to me like Michael needs a bit more in the length, i.e. if his present tallit were longer in back, he’d be able to bring it in front. When you move up a size, you gain an additional four inches in length.

The bigger number in our size tables refers to the length/width of the tallit across the shoulders, i.e. from one fringed side to the other. Our size chart shows typical sizes, but different companies have slight differences in their size 60 or size 70.

In addition to the advantages in terms of mechanics during Kriyat Shema, to my mind there is a halachic advantage. The Rishonim (e.g. the Rambam) talk about the requirement of עיטוף or wrapping. (And of course the Tzitzit Bracha says להתעטף.)

It’s harder for me to understand how עיטוף is achieved when the tallit is worn on the shoulders and draping down in front and back, compared to the Sephardic/Yemenite/German עיטוף Michael describes.

May 252015
 
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.

Shaatnez

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).

Tallit cleaning

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.
May 152015
 

In frum circles, until five or ten years ago, I’d say at least 90% of all men brought their tallit and tefillin to weekday Shacharit in a regular zippered tallit and tefillin bag cover made of nylon. The idea is that you need something to protect and show off your fine velvet tallit and tefillin bags, and carry them under your arm.

Cheap nylon covers will fall apart after just a few months, whereas quality covers last significantly longer.

At one point mine fell apart and I decided I wasn’t go to buy a new one. I had an unimpressive velvet bag set, priced at around $15, so I didn’t see a need to provide protection, and I felt the plastic detracts aesthetically. I realized that my tallit bag was roomy enough to put the tefillin in, without a tefillin bag at all. (According to halacha, you have to be careful not to grasp your tefillin before your tallit, so I would put the tefillin inside the folded tallit with the fold right next to the zipper, making it impossible to get to the tefillin before removing the tallit.)

My next tallit and tefillin bag set is going to be more expensive, because, well, you get what you pay for. Almost invariably the materials and workmanship on a $30 or $40 set are much higher caliber than with a standard $15 or $20 set (although in some cases you may be paying for for elaborate embroidery design with inferior materials).

Also, attractive tallit and tefillin bag sets lend honor to the mitzvahs of tallis and tefillin, so I’m willing to pay an extra $10 or $20 to honor these cherished mitzvahs.

Tallit and tefillin bag cover with strap

In the last decade someone realized that it’s too much work to carry the nylon bag with tallit and tefillin inside without a carrying handle. So he invented a hybrid bag with a big nylon “window” in front to show off the embroidery. These quickly became popular and today I would say they are essential for just about every bar mitzvah boy. My sons like them not just because the carrying handle and shoulder strap make life much easier, but also because they like all the pockets to stash things in. If you buy one for your son, it’s a good time to teach him the enormous importance of learning to turn off the ringer on his cellphone (if he has one) before going into shul or yeshiva. These bags come in three sizes: small for just tefillin, medium for tallit and tefillin and large for those who have two sets of tefillin (Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam).

I have seen that some tallit shops in Jerusalem are starting to introduce the idea of a regular bag with no “window,” and I predict this will eventually gain some popularity.

Tefillin carriers

Another option is Tfidanit tefillin carrier. These are very popular among soldiers and commuters who need sturdy, dependable protection for their tefillin. It also has a tefillin bag cover that wraps around the tefillin carrier, and can be attached for single men who don’t wear a tallit. If you are travelling and need real protection for your tefillin, but cannot afford the Tfidanit, you should be able to find a very strong square tupperware piece that can do the job. But be aware that once used for tefillin you cannot later convert it for use for any mundane purpose (unless you stipulate a t’nai) before you start using it for tefillin.

You can find imitation tefillin carriers for much less, but they are vastly inferior to the Tfidanit.

Apr 152015
 

Sometimes we have customers who have a special atara (tallit neckband) they want to attach. They intend to buy a tallit from us without the atara and sew on a unique atara they have from a previous tallit or made by a talented embroiderer.

Once we had a customer  and wanted to treat himself to a very nice tallit after having completed learning the entire Gemara from start to finish,. His wife made him a spectacular atara and we sent him a very nice nonslip tallit with double-knotted fringes and Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit.

If you would like to order a tallit without an atara, that’s a relatively simple request. The standard practice is to simply remove the atara the manufacturer puts on the tallit. (Two traditional tallits, the Chabad and the Echt Turkish, are made with no atara.) All this really requires is a stitch remover, a steady hand and patience.

Normally we take care of it for our customers. But it’s not always advisable.

  • It can add an extra 1-3 days to the order processing time.
  • Although sewing on an atara is also quite simple, if you have the new atara sewn on by someone who’s never done it before, just to be on the safe side, it will make their job very easy if they can see where it’s supposed to go (lined up right at the tip and on the upper side, of course) and how it’s supposed to look.
In Israel you can find seamstresses who charge just a few dollars for the work, but in the US and elsewhere seamstresses/tailors might charge more. I recommend you check the price in advance, to make sure you don’t get overcharged for a very simple task.

In many cases it may be best to opt for a nonslip tallit (Hamefoar, Tashbetz, Malchut, Beit Yosef Nonslip, Chabad Prestige, etc.), because sometimes when you take off the atara it leaves faint stitch marks, but I’ve found that with the nonslip weave fabrics that doesn’t happen. This means that if your embroiderer makes an atara that’s a tad shorter, you won’t have to worry about seeing stitch marks.

Mar 312015
 

This week we received an inquiry from a customer thinking of buying a set of handspun tzitzit strings, but first he wanted to know the difference between the two types of rabbinical supervision. Was one more stringent than the other?

Hi Ben,
I was wondering about the hashgachot on your tzitziot. In particular, I was wondering what the actual difference between getting them certified by R’ Ovadia זצ”ל or R’ Wosner שליט”א actually amounted to. Are there different standards for the petilim in each community, or is it just arbitrary? Thanks, Noah

Usually I provide very succint replies, but this question hit a tender spot, and I couldn’t keep from editorializing a bit.

It’s very arbitrary, I explained to Noah. I was told by two seasoned Mishkan Hatchelet workers that both are made on the same production line, with the same workers and even the same mashgiach! So what’s the difference? The rav who is signed on the hechsher.

I also know from experience that if you try to explain that to prospective customers, some of them will still have a strong preference for one over the other. Sad, but true. And that’s why the company markets the same tzitzit under two different hechshers.

I also know of a tzitzit strings company that used to make their tzitzit strings under a good hechsher, but eventually realized they were losing a segment of the market that wanted the Eda Charedis of Jerusalem hechsher, so they come out with a different brand. Same tzitzit, only the hechsher, label and brand name were different. Both were sold side-by-side in some stores, with a 2- or 3-shekel price differential.

You often see similar thinking and behavior patterns with food hechshers and political parties in Israel.

When the geula comes, I’m sure Klal Yisrael will get beyond this type of thing. Chazal instituted certain halachas to distance Jews from gentiles, not Jews from Jews.

 

Mar 292015
 

For our customers looking for a lightweight tallit we recommend the Tashbetz, but some people want a tallit on the heavy side, a tallit they can really feel on their shoulders. This week we got an inquiry from a customer who bought a tallit from us a few years ago, and now he’s thinking of getting a heavy tallit, but he was a bit concerned about the heat factor.

Hi Ben,
Is the Echt Turkish tallit very warm? Is it suitable for summer?
Best, Greg

I told Greg that while the Echt Turkish is a heavy tallit, some people do wear it in summer. Some shuls blast the air conditioner all summer, so if you don’t wear it walking to and from shul, it doesn’t make much of a difference. And since it’s worn loosely, some people don’t feel added warmth. It’s really a personal thing.

I have a lot of customers who insist on a very lightweight tallit. Personally I think it may be a bit imagined in some cases. You know, people hear the word “wool” and immediately start feeling hot. The truth is wool worn loosely works well in the heat. There are a lot of desert dwellers who wear wool. In my shul the air conditioner is often barely running and often I wear the tallit over my head and wear it to and from shul, so for summer use I have a lightweight tallit.

Postscript: My reply to Greg apparently was persuasive. He ordered an Echt Turkish with a silver atara. But truth be told, personally for my next Shabbos tallis I’m still debating between the Kmo Turkish and the Echt Turkish.

Mar 082015
 
This week a customer ordered a size 60 tallit for a soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy, and added a note regarding the size.
Please confirm prior to processing that this is a good size for Bar Mitzvah boy, with the hope that it will last him into adulthood.
Thanks, Tracey ​
The truth is, I think Tracey should choose a smaller size. I wear a size 60 and I’m 5’7″. It drapes down in back to mid-thigh on me, which is just right. I could get away with a size 70, and have sometimes toyed with the idea for my next Shabbos tallis, but for now I’m sticking with a size 60.

Tracey didn’t tell me how tall her son is, but I’m guessing he’s in the neighborhood of 5′ to 5’2″. I think she should consider going with a smaller size for two reasons:
  • In my opinion, when introducing a child or a young man to a mitzvah, it’s important not to make it feel burdensome. A tallit that is too big means you’re constantly trying to prop it up on your shoulders and distracted during tefillah. A tallit is essentially a garment, and nobody likes to wear clothes that are too big on them.
  • A lot of parents want a tallit that “he can grow into,” but you have to keep in mind that again, a tallit is like clothes. Many parent would like to buy a suit “he can grow into,” but realize that a suit that fits a 13-year-old is probably going to be too small on him just one year down the road, and the chances of it fitting him two years later are extremely slim.
A size 50 is usually a safe bet for a bar mitzvah boy. When he grows it won’t hang down as long on him, but on the other hand, it won’t look rinky-dink for a few years. It just doesn’t look as elegant when it doesn’t hang down long.

I think a tallit that is too big is a big problem, whereas a tallit that is too small is a small problem.

We made a two-minute video showing a bar mitzvah boy (5’1″) wearing different size tallits. It’s quite amateurish, but still helpful.

All of the above is, to a certain extent, editorializing, since some people like their tallit long and elegant, while others prefer a more manageable length. This of course applies not just to bar mitzvah boys, but to anyone trying to figure out the right size tallit to buy.

 

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!