Nov 262015

I’m no expert when it comes to wedding planning, but I can offer a few tips that be useful to Jewish brides and grooms.

Not all grooms wear a tallit during the chuppah ceremony. Originally this custom was predominantly found among Sephardic Jews, but in recent years it seems to be gaining traction among Ashkenazi Jews as well.

If the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah – right there next to the bride – obviously the color is important. And since some men are not so wise when it comes to coordinating colors, input offered by the bride/mothers/wedding planners may be vital. (For instance, a groom might not have the insight to realize that a bright white tallit does not work well alongside an off-white bridal dress, or vice versa.)

Whether or not the groom will be wearing the tallit under the chuppah, there is also a widespread custom for the bride (or her parents) to buy the tallit as a gift. Personally, if their budget allows, I think it’s a nice touch to add a tallit bag with the groom’s name embroidered on it, not so much for the wedding, but so that every Shabbos morning, when he takes the tallit out of the bag, it connects him back to his wedding day and his wife.

Nov 262015

A customer asked me if I felt it would be inappropriate for an Ashkenazi to wear a Yemenite tallit.

If you ask me, it would not be inappropriate assuming there is a range of tallit types in the congregation. In other words, if it’s a very frum Orthodox congregation, where everyone wears a tallit with black stripes only and a plain white atara, then suddenly someone comes in with silver, etc., it would make him stand out from the rest of the congregants. But if some people have blue stripes, or black and silver, etc., or white stripes, then there is no firmly established custom of how a tallit should look in your community.

The predominant custom among Sephardic Jews is to wear a white tallit with white stripes. I know a few Ashkenazi Jews who happen to like white-on-white, especially for Shabbos, and I don’t think they can be “condemned” for abbrogating the Ashkenazi custom.

Also, within Ashkenazi there are some who put a fancy silver atara on the tallit. Does it really make a difference if it’s more of a Yemenite-style silver embroidery?

If you chose to have the tzitzit tied Yemenite style, which is based on the Rambam’s approach, or tied Sephardic style, you might be on shaky ground.

But you shouldn’t ask me about the tzitzit! I’ve gone through all the relevant halacha several times, but I’m not a qualified rabbi.

Nov 252015

I just came across this photo of a room at Auschwitz-Birkenau where confiscated tallits were apparently kept. At this point I’m feeling too aghast to write any remarks. From what I can tell the photo was taken after the War.

Tallit Room at Auschwitz

Nov 102015

Obviously if you were to put tzitzis on a garment that measures just a few inches, nobody would claim you can fulfill the mitzvah with a garment that small. So what is the minimum size requirement for a tallis katan? The answer is actually quite involved.

The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch tell us that a tallis katan has to be big enough to cover the head and majority of the torso of a boy who is old enough to walk around a central public area alone.

שעור טלית שחיב בציצית שיתכסה בה בארך וברחב ראשו ורבו של קטן המתהלך לבדו בשוק ואינו צריך אחר לשמרו

According to the poskim, this refers to a boy around the age of nine. In other words, if the garment is big enough for a nine-year-old boy, it’s big enough. Other poskim debate whether it also has to be big enough so that an adult would not feel embarrassed wearing it in public.

However, since clothing styles have changed so dramatically, it’s not easy to translate this into practical size guidelines. Some poskim hold that the total length of the tallis katan (front and back) must be one-and-a-half amah, while others say it must be two amos. The prevailing opinion is that the width must be one amah.

How big is an amah? That’s also a matter of debate. There are three main opinions:

Grach Na’eh – 48 cm (18.9 inches)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – 54 cm (21.2 inches)
Chazon Ish – 58 cm (22.8 inches) or 60 cm (23.6 inches)

Today most people follow Grach Naeh (especially Sephardim), which is size 20, Rav Moshe (especially Americans), which is size 22, or Chazon Ish (which is size 24), especially people in Bnei Brak and many kollel-leit and bnei Torah elsewhere.

But before you take out your tape measure, first we need to know how to go about measuring the tallis katan. Does the neck opening count or not? If there’s a slit in front, does that count?

According to the Mishnah Berurah, the neck opening should not be counted in calculating the dimensions, i.e. you would measure from the bottom of the neck opening down to the hem. However, the Chazon Ish writes that if the material on each shoulder is wider than the neck opening, then you can measure from the shoulder down to the hem.

This creates an interesting situation: The Chazon Ish has a more stringent amah, but the Mishnah Berurah holds by a more stringent way of measuring the tallis katan, therefore the difference between the minimum requirement according to the Mishnah Berurah and according to the Chazon Ish, respectively, is not so significant.



O.C. 16
Mishnah Berurah 4, ibid.
O.C. 10, 7
Shoneh Halachos

Nov 032015

Mezuzahs should be checked twice every seven years. In many cases mezuzah checkers find that the mezuzah scroll has been slowly baked to a crisp over a long period of time, following exposure to the elements.

The cause can be hard to determine. In one instance a mezuzah in a cheap, not waterproof case survives over the course of many years without suffering any damage, whereas another scroll in an ostensibly waterproof, solid metal mezuzah case is utterly destroyed.

One mezuzah checker got some insights into this enigma when he made house calls to two homes side-by-side. Both had an aluminum mezuzah case with a screw cap beneath the parchment on the bottom. Both had a lot of exposure to direct sunlight. And both mezuzah parchments, despite the protective case, were burnt to a crisp. His conclusion was that a lot of sunlight, even without moisture, with destroy a parchment in an aluminum mezuzah case.

He therefore extolled the virtues of the plain white plastic mezuzah case with a plug on the bottom. They will turn yellow and look shoddy after a year or so, but the cost to replace this type of mezuzah case (it definitely should be replaced if it doesn’t look nice) is minimal and the mitzvah of mezuzah remains intact.

Nov 022015

Our customers often want to know whether all of our tallits are kosher. Recently we got an inquiry from a customer who had already placed an order.

Hi, my name is Karen and I’ve just purchased the Prime A.A Tallit and wanted to know if it will come with a certificate station that it is Kosher?

On most of the tallits we sell you will see kashrus certification stamped on the tag, and you can see the manufacturer’s certificates online here. I work with Mishkan Hatchlet of Be’er Sheva extensively, and all of their employees, from the management to the distributors to the sellers in the factory outlet stores, are Orthodox. Most of their products are under the supervision of Badatz Beit Yosef, Badatz Yerushalayim, HaRav A.A. Wosner and the Tel Aviv Rabbinate.

But the truth is with tradition wool tallits, you don’t have much to worry about. It’s hard to make the tallit not kosher.

Sometimes with the very modern tallit makers I see they put the tzitzit holes too far or too close to the edge. And they invariably use machine-spun tzitzit, which is generally considered kosher, but according to some halachic opinions you need hand-spun tzitzit strings (which is an upgrade available on almost every tallit we sell).

Shaatnez problems are very rare. Once we were going to sew an atara that looked like linen onto a wool tallit, but when I took it to the shaatnez checker he took a look under the microscope and determined the atara was not made of linen.

The tzitzit have to be tied by a Jew, and I’m not 100% certain that the very modern tallit makers are careful about this, but even in that case it’s pretty unlikely, for various reasons, that a non-Jew would do the tying. Most of our tzitzit tying is done in-house by a highly qualified Torah scholar (avreich) who is very conversant with and adheres to the halachah relevant to tzitzit tying.

Go to Traditional Wool Tallit page>>

Oct 122015

The Shulchan Aruch tells us, “Those who are careful to wear a tallis katan should don it and lay tefillin at home, and then wallk, wearing tzitzis and crowned with tefillin, to the synagogue and there wrap himself in a tallis gadol” (O.C. 25, 2).

The reason is that the Zohar says it is a mitzvah to leave your home already wearing tzitzis and tefillin. Therefore, if you do not wear a tallis katan, you should put on your tallis gadol at home.

The Rema emends the practice brought in the Shulchan Aruch, saying that the prevailing custom is to put on your tallis gadol at home before laying tefillin, even if you are already wearing a tallis katan.

The Mishnah Berurah (s.v. 10) notes that if there are non-Jews passing in the streets you can hold off wrapping yourself in the tallis gadol until you reach the synagogue courtyard, and put it on there.

In Israel the practice of wearing tallis and tefillin on the way to shul is fairly common. Many years ago I was in Morristown, NJ for Shabbos and asked a local whether it would be okay to walkt to shul the next day wearing tallis and tefillin.

This halacha always seemed to be a remnant from centuries past, but in light of rising anti-Semitism in various parts of the world, unfortunately this halacha has become much easier to understand. For example, I would certainly be wary about wearing tallis and tefillin walking in most parts of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen and other European cities.

Just this week two days ago a young Arab stabbed two elderly Jews walking home from shul on Shabbos, presumable while wearing talleisim.

And I noticed that in this vile video encouraging young Arabs to become “heroes” by stabbing Jews, the second victim was clearly identified as a worthy target by his tallis.

Aug 252015

We often get customers who ask about lightweight tallit options. On one hand they want a traditional wool tallit, but on the other hand they start feeling too warm just hearing the word “wool.” Here’s a recent inquiry:

​I’m considering the Kmo Turkish tallis. I live in the southeastern U.S. and I’m a bit concerned about the weight of the fabric. I like this tallis, but I don’t want to be too hot in shul. Have you had any feedback from customers regarding this issue? Any thoughts? Thanks, Michael

The truth is I haven’t received much feedback from customers on the issue. In my opinion the weather outside is not such an overriding factor, but rather the weather inside, i.e. whether they blast the air conditioner, or whether you barely feel it. (If you walk to shul with the tallis on, obviously that’s a different story.)

Also, I think it makes a significant difference whether you wear the tallis over your head a lot of the time or not.

Last Shabbos it was blazing hot and I walked a long way to shul in the sun. (For a change of pace, I wanted to take my boys to the enormous, elegant shul halfway across town.) Going downhill at 8:00 am I was working up a sweat, and dreading the return trip uphill at 11:00. After davening, when the time came to head home, I decided to take off my jacket (we have a very good eiruv) and just wear the tallis. In fact, the sun was beating down on my head so fiercely, that I actually wore the tallis it over my head. And guess what? I was more comfortable than I had been in the morning.

The main reason is that a tallis is a loose garment, so, like the Bedouin thobe, which is also made of wool it’s not going to heat you up much. When you wear a regular shirt, it makes a much bigger difference if it’s thin or thick. But with a tallis, sometimes lightweight is not crucial.

Since Michael was looking at a very unique tallis, I told him he might want to consider Hamefoar Prestige, which is very similar to the Kmo Turkish Tallit, but the textured fabric breathes better.

Personally I have a Kalil for weekday use during the summer. I walk to and from shul with tallis and tefillin on, and the shul I go to for weekday Shacharis is too warm throughout the summer, unless you sit under one of the vents.

Aug 202015

My own talleisim ketanim have lasted for years, and I’ve replaced the tzitzit several times. But for most people replacing tzitzit strings is not such a simple proposition, and they would prefer to keep them in good condition for as long as possible. Here’s an inquiry we received this week:

Hi- great website!
Do you have any advice on making tzitzit last longer? You know: they get fragile with wear, and start to break off easier. Any way to make them last longer? (Maybe someday tzitzit will have some fiber like kevlar added…) As tzitzit get older, with washing and (probably) friction against pants, the strings wear and break easily in different places, which probably wouldn’t happen if the strings were synthetic…Also, I once heard that someone had a way of dipping the strings in some liquid, but lost the reference.

I would say the most common problem is tip fraying. Some people avoid that by tying a simple knot right near the tip of each string. This is a bit problematic, because according to some opinions you would be adding to the number of knots. And if you ask me, it doesn’t look so nice.

It’s fairly common to dab the tips with clear nail polish or glue. This is a bit time consuming. I’ve heard some people use melted wax from Havdalah, but I don’t know how well that works. It offers the advantage of using a mitzvah object for a second mitzvah (הואיל ואתעביד ביה מצוה חדא נעביד ביה מצוה אחריתי).

On a side note, some people get frustrated over the last double knot unravelling. This is especially aggravating on Shabbos, when you cannot tighten the knot. One online tzitzit seller even markets a permanent knot they refer to as kesher shel kayama. This is a bit of a question from a halachic standpoint, because you need to have four strings, and some poskim hold that this renders it a single cord in some respects. (This parallels the big question of ohr echad when it comes to tefillin.) I have had good results by simply pulling that final knot really snug, holding it under a thin stream of hot water for 10 seconds and then letting it dry.

Some manufacturers are better than others. I have seen some tzitzit that get frayed really badly, very quickly. My own tzitzit sometimes form bends near the end. I tie mine longer than the minimum length, and then snip of the tips when they no longer look nice. Of course some people have a custom not to cut tzitzit with metal, and ceramic scissors (i.e. zirconium oxide) are both expensive and hard to come by.

I don’t know about synthetic. Tzitzit have to be made of the same material as the בגד, i.e. cotton tzitzit for a cotton beged, or wool tzitzit can be used on any beged (except linen, in the absence of techeiles). That’s why 99% of all tzitzit strings manufactured today are made of wool.

But what about say 90% wool and 10% kevlar? I don’t know about that. That’s a question for a posek. I’m really not familiar with issues of fabric blends. Of course there are plenty of people who wear a 60% cotton/40% polyester tallis katan (especially among chassidim and small boys).

Even if there is no halachic problem, there would still be a practical problem: tzitzit tend to get dingy over time (with young boys, in a very short period of time), and getting them white again can be quite a challenge.

One solution is to acquire proficiency in tzitzit tying, so that you can sit down on the couch, relax and tie new tzitzit in half an hour flat.

We have an in-house tzitzit tie-er, but occasionally I’ll take one or two home and tie them to unwind (no pun intended). After several years in the business my hands can tie just about any tying custom without engaging my brain much, so it’s actually a bit therapeutic for me. But the majority of my customers are not prepared to tackle tzitzit tying, so I realize this is going to be a solution only for a minority of people.

Jun 012015

The big problem with buying a shofar online is that you’re in for a surprise. It could be a pleasant surprise, or you might be a bit disappointed. The way most online shofar dealers operate is that they post dozens of spectacular stock photos of various shofars, with a disclaimer in small print saying, “For illustrative purposes only.”

You select a size range (e.g. 15-16 inches) a color preference (brown or black) and the type of polishing (natural, half-polished, fully polished). When the order comes in, the dealer goes into a storeroom and pulls out a shofar that fits that approximate description.

But there are a few problems with this system. One is that shofars are not brown or black. Typically a brown shofar is brown with dark brown rings or black streaks or even a hint of ruddy red. Likewise a black shofar will not be jet black, but will have a lot of brown in it. So what you get is somewhat of a mystery until it arrives in the mail.

Yemenite shofar horns often have spectacular coloring, including jet black, tawny lion, desert sand and a reddish pearl. But when you find a kudu shofar for sale online, you are expected to simply select “black” or “brown.”

If you happen to be in Israel, you can find plenty of shofar sellers, where you can pick and choose. Most of them will even let you blow the shofar to check the tone and pitch. But online shofar shoppers just get very vague selections that make the purchase largely guesswork.

That didn’t seem like the right way to buy a shofar, so we started a sister site, called Jericho Shofar, that allows you to see exactly what you get.

Every rams horn and kudu horn is painstakingly measured, categorized and described to allow buyers to choose the exact size, look and sound of the shofar they hope to receive.