Nov 282017
 
Are undershirt tzitzit and t-shirt tzitzit kosher? A year or two ago I came upon a batch of t-shirt tzitzit that had a halachic problem. Since then I have learned to be very wary when I buy from wholesalers, because I’ve discovered that the problem can come up unexpectedly, even with highly reputable manufacturers.
For a garment to require tzitzit, it has to be more open than closed (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 10, 7). So you lay it flat on a table and measure from the corner up along the side to the stitch line that rests on your shoulder. Let’s say it’s 31 inches. (Ignore the sleeve, i.e. pretend as if it’s closed.) You then have to make sure that the sides are open from the corner at least 16 inches up before the beginning of the stitches that close it along the sides.
There’s also a quick way to check it if you don’t have a tape measure handy: Press your finger right at that point where the open section meets the closed section. With your other hand, grasp a corner and fold it straight up toward the shoulder. If the corner goes past the top of the tzitzit garment, you’re fine.

The vast majority of tallit katan makers are well aware of this requirement, but when they commission a large production run, sometimes a certain size may come sewn improperly so that you don’t have a majority of the sides open.

I have noticed that this can happen occasionally, even with upstanding manufacturers (I won’t mention any names). What’s always surprised me is how this gets past the tzitzit tie-ers. Most of the undershirt tzitzit have machine-spun tzitzit tied on in Israel by the manufacturer. They tie in very large quantities (e.g. they may send out a batch of a few thousand at a time), but how can an erlich worker tie tzitzit for a few hours a day and not notice the problem? Most of these products have a hechsher, but note that the hechsher invariably applies to neither the garment nor the tying, only the tzitzit strings.
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.

Jun 272017
 

Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to tie tzitzit to the corners of their four-cornered garments as a reminder to fulfill the mitzvos and not stray after the desires of their hearts and eyes. The mitzvah consists of a tassel — a group of threads known collectively as “tzitzit” — to four corners of any garment that has four corners or more, and to wind a blue-colored thread (techelet) around the top part of each set of fringes. The bottom part of the tassel and the remaining thread of techelet are left loose. The Torah explains that this mitzvah of tzitzit helps the people fulfill all of the mitzvos. By looking at them, they would “remember all of Hashem’s commandments and thereby be prompted to perform them.” This in turn would prevent them from straying “after [their] hearts and eyes” (Bamidbar 15:39).

How does looking at tzitzit serve as a reminder? In ancient times it was customary for a master to place an emblem on his servant’s clothing as a sign that he belonged to him. Similarly, tzitzit are Hashem’s “emblem” that Bnei Yisrael are His servants. Indeed, He took them out of Egypt on condition that they serve Him, and they agreed with a solemn oath. Thus, whenever Bnei Yisrael see their tzitzit they remind themselves that they are Hashem’s servants and therefore are not at liberty to simply do as they please.

This also explains why Hashem specifically commanded Bnei Yisrael to attach tzitzit to clothing. There is no better reminder than attaching an emblem to clothing, since it is in front of the wearer the entire day. Furthermore, the techelet thread, which is dyed using the blood of a rare sea creature called a “chilazon,” has a color similar to the color of the sea, and the color of the sea is similar to that of the sky, which in turn is similar to the color of Hashem’s Throne of Glory. Thus, by looking at the blue thread, a person remembers He who sits upon the throne.

Even without the chilazon dye, the mitzvah can still be performed with plain white strings. As Rashi explains, even without the techelet thread, there is an allusion to the 613 mitzvos in the tzitzit. The word tzitzit (spelled with two yuds) has a numerical value of 600. Add to this eight and five (eight hanging strings and five knots), and we have 613.

By looking at their tzitzit and having a constant reminder of Hashem and His mitzvos, following the Sin of the Spies, Bnei Yisrael would now be able to resist the desires that tempt them to stray from Hashem’s service. Moreover, the injunction not to stray after the desires of the heart and eyes comprises a separate mitzvah, one that is applicable at all times, even when one is not wearing tzitzit.
Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael that if they fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit they would “become holy.” Some commentators understand that performing the mitzvah of tzitzit alone brings a person to holiness, while the Midrash explains that through the mitzvah of tzitzit, one performs all the mitzvos and this makes him holy.

The passage of tzitzit provides the means to prevent Bnei Yisrael from committing a similar sin to the sin of the Spies by warning the nation not to stray after their hearts and eyes, and since tzitzit serves as a constant reminder of all the mitzvos, it provides a way to elevate the nation and help them remain forever conscious of their duties. The verses include a promise that if the nation performs all of Hashem’s mitzvos, then it will “become holy” and “be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”.

Jan 032017
 

Sometimes you run across odd uses for tzitzit strings. This week we received an inquiry from a young woman from Germany, suffering from an ailment and hoping that blue tzitzit strings (techelet) have curative powers.

Shalom. One quick question: I am girl. Can I put tzitzit blue to my neck pendant with Hebrew letter[s] chai? I am sick and this color tzitzit give me heail power from Hashem. Plz answer me. Todah, shalom.

I replied to her as follows:

Thank you for your inquiry. Not a good idea! The Torah clearly states that tzitzit are meant to be tied onto the corners of four-cornered garments. That’s the mitzvah. There is no mitzvah to attach tzitzit to jewelry, just as there is no mitzvah to put a mezuzah on a car door.

When my wife was nine months pregnant with our first child, she was very nervous about the birth. She kept sending me around town to obtain all sorts of segulot (charms). I went to a very notable, sagely rabbi, one of the leading poskim of the generation, to ask him about a certain segulah.

“I don’t deal much with segulot,” he told me. “The main thing is prayer.”

The Torah teaches us that when Yishmael was dying, Hashem harkened to the lad’s prayer for himself before he harkened to his mother Hagar’s prayer! Praying earnestly for your own health is the key.
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.

Sep 012016
 

Regrettably I’ve never been to Australia, but I have sent a lot of tallits and tzitzit Down Under. I have heard many places in Australia have vibrant, dynamic Jewish communities comprised of native Australians as well as a substantial number of Jews from other parts of the world.

I just leafed through our order history and noticed that the vast majority go to customers in various parts of Sydney (especially Bondi and Rose Bay), and of course we get a significant number of orders from Melbourne and Brisbane, but a good number of tallit sales also go to Perth (Daniella), Adelaide, Canberra — and even one order to Tasmania.

Tallit sales to Brisbane go primarily to Surry Hills, Meridain Plains, Zillmere, Carindale and Acacia Ridge, while our tallit and tzitzit customers in Melbourne hail from Caulfield, Ararat, Elsternwick, Southbank, Coolaroo, Bayswater and Ormond.

The bulk of our tallit and tzitzit sold to customers in Sydney are shipped to Chatswood, St Ives, Marrickville, Bellevue Hill, Rose Bay, Bondi, Killara, East Lindfield, Drummoyne, Penrith, Abbotsford, Pagewood, Kings Park, Alexandria and West Hoxton.

What tallit and tzitzit products are our customers in Australia buying?

Much of our tallit sales are lightweight tallits, nonslip tallits, high-end tallitot for grooms, traditional wool tallits and Chabad.

Our tzitzit buyers in Australia are buying undershirt tzitzits, t-shirt tzitzits, tzitzit for kids, traditional wool tallit katan and techelet tzitzit.

Aug 092016
 

Although I have modified tallit katan garments a few times, I have never endeavored to make one from scratch. Still, I can offer some tips on how to go about it. Here is an exchange with a customer who wanted to make tzitzit for his 18-month son. Our smallest tzitzit are meant for a child of two or two and a half. I am posting the exchange because I believe it may be helpful for others who plan to make their own tallis katan for whatever reason.

Hi Ben,
Hope you are well. I was wondering if you sold tzitzit with a beged I could give my 18-month-old. He greatly admires his older brother’s and this is not something I want to discourage.
Thanks, C
harles

—–

Glad to hear from you, Charles. The smallest I know of is this. It comes in size 2 and size 3. The size 2 is really designed for two-and-a-half-year-olds, but he might be able to manage. You could always tuck extra length into his pants and if it drops off the sides a safety pin would probably do the trick.

—-

Thank you.  I’d feel weird giving that to anyone who isn’t three years-old.  I suppose we can turn a t-shirt into a beged on our own.

—–

That’s an idea. Two important points:
1) Measure from the bottom hem straight up to the middle of the shoulder, and make sure you make the sides more open than closed. You consider the sleeve opening as if it’s closed, i.e. as if there is no sleeve. This point is discussed in the Mishnah Berurah.
2) Make sure the tzitzit holes are as close as possible to 5 cm from each side. If it’s more than 6 cm or less than 4 cm you start to move into a halachic grey zone. It’s very difficult to make nice round reinforced holes, but it’s not essential. If you make elongated button holes, keep them as short as possible.
Jul 102016
 

Jerusalem, March 9, 2002. Yishai, then 17, was with friends on a Motzei Shabbat, playing his guitar.

At 10:30 a powerful explosion shook Rechov Ibn Giboral. Outside, people were running up and down Rambam Street. Yishai was a volunteer with Magen David Adom. He ran out to help. The smell of burning wires, plastic and flesh grew stronger as he approached the Moment Cafe. He was used to working as part of an ambulance crew, but this time he arrived before the ambulances.

He leaned over one young person, but there was no breath. Another young woman was lying nearby. He saw her flinch. Blood gushed from her leg. At the scene of the mayhem without even a tourniquet, he tried to come up with an idea to stop the bleeding. Yishai was wearing a tallit katan. He stripped off his white Shabbos shirt and removed the tallit katan garment. Together with a man named Yaron, he turned the tzitzit into a tourniquet. Wrapped tightly around the young woman’s leg, the cotton fabric and the wool tzitzit turned bright red. Moments later the ambulances arrived.

When Yishai got home, his clothes were soaked with blood. “I don’t have my tzitzit,” he told his mother. She was surprised. Yishai’s tzitzit were techelet. He never went anywhere without them.

Across town, orthopedic surgeon Moshe Lifschitz rushed the young woman into the operating room. Her leg bones were shattered and her femoral artery was torn in two places. He found the blue tzitzit strings, tied like a tourniquet around her leg.

The name of the wounded woman in the operating room was Efrat. Someone who knew Efrat later asked the surgeon: “So Yishai saved her leg?”

“No,” he replied. “I saved her leg. Yishai saved her life.”

I just came across the above story recently. Many years have gone by, but in any case, if someone knows how to contact him, tell Yishai we would be honored to provide him with a replacement tallis katan with techelet tzitzit, free of charge.

I served as a medic in the IDF, and often imagined myself facing a situation like this.

Jerusalem is a small town. My wife’s high school friend was sitting at that cafe on that fateful night. She wasn’t as lucky as Efrat. She was buried the next day. Limor bas Tziporah Hy”d.

Mar 132016
 

Some years ago I came up with a brilliant idea for a Purim costume for myself. I would take my white and black and blue handwoven Mexican blanket to a seamstress, with instructions to make a hole in the center. Then I would tie thick tzitzit on the corner and don my fabulous gigantic tallis katan poncho. Of course this would be topped off with a big sombrero, and voila! our Jewish Mexican Caballero is decked out for Purim parties and shlach manos deliveries.

MexicanBlanketThe first year I dawdled over the idea until it was too late. The next year, as Purim drew near, I got serious. My plans were all in place, and then I went to dig out the blanket. But it was nowhere to be found.

After an extensive search, I asked my wife if she happened to know where the blanket was. She replied with those dreaded words that test a husband’s love for his wife: “That tattered old thing? I tossed it out two months ago.”

I was crestfallen. My big plans dashed on the rocks. And of course I suddenly felt a wave of nostalgia for that “tattered old thing” I had bought 15 years earlier as a teenager on a road trip in Mexico with some buddies. The last time I felt that pang of loss for a discarded object was when I learned my wife had gotten rid of my mountaineering boots. She couldn’t fathom why they should possibly be taking up storage room over a decade after I moved to Israel, where there’s hardly a patch of snow to be found. Did I really think I would one day have the opportunity for another jaunt in the Sierra Nevadas?

Every year, come Purim time, I try to come up with a good costume, but never seem to hit on an idea as good as that tzitzit poncho costume that wasn’t.

Dec 242015
 

Although I encourage my customers to try tying tzitzit themselves, most of them are not ready to take the plunge, and so we tie the tzitzit for at least 90% of the orders we receive. But this week we received a detailed inquiry from someone by the name of Bennett who wants to tie techelet according to the Vilna Gaon, and sent me a number of good questions.

G-d willing, I will be placing an order for a tallit in the very near future. I would also like to tie my own tzitzit, which I see to request that in the comments when purchasing. My question is actually about the tying method.

I am of Ashkenazim heritage and have resolved myself to the Vilna Gaon method. It is the one that my eye seems to gravitate to the most and without any other rationale, it seems like a good one.

I’ve found several good resources through your site and tekhelet.com but I’m afraid I’m still unsure about a couple of things.

I was very happy to hear Bennett was taking the initiative to tackle tzitzit tying himself. It’s a valuable skill to acquire and it helps connect you to the mitzvah.

Ptil Tekhelet - Vilna Gaontying

Vilna Gaon tying

Vilna Gaon is quite straightforward. Basically you can just watch one of the online videos for regular white tzitzit, and then all you have to add on is switching back and forth from white shamash to blue shamash.

Here is our question-and-answer exchange:

* Is the blue string considered the shamesh? In a set of Raavad tzitzit you’ll find eight regular strings, four blue strings and four long white strings. So for every corner you take two white, one long white and the blue, even them on one side, insert them into the hole and make a double knot. On the other side two ends will be approximately even, and you’ll have one long blue string and one long white string to work with.

* Since there are both white and blue windings in Vilna Gaon, should one of the white strings also be longer? See above.

* Once the tzitzit is completed, should all of the strings end up being the same length? Chances are very slim they will end up the same length.

* If they’re not the same length, should they be trimmed, or retied? Definitely not retied. You can trim them, but take a look at this post first.

* When the tzitzit is complete, should the blue string still be longer than the white ones? It probably will be, but if you trim them, all of the tzitzit should be about the same length. According to my personal aesthetics it doesn’t look nice to snip them all in a straight line, but rather slightly different lengths.

* I would like to practice a couple of times before tying the actual tzitzit. I’m thinking that I can use simple masonry string that I have here at home and use 3 strings of one color and 1 string of a different color to emulate the tekhelet. What lengths should I cut my practice strings? The regular length strings, 120 cm, the long strings, about 150 cm.