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.

Jun 282015
 

After over a thousand years during which we were unable to observe the mitzvah of techeles in tzitzis, in recent years, strong proofs for the identity of the original chilazon have come to light and the dyeing technique has been revived. It now appears quite reasonable to assert that the mitzvah of tzitzis can be observed in the complete and proper manner, after many generations of being unable to do so.

It seems that the various debating points have now been brought to the fore, so that now anyone has the opportunity to examine the issue and make a choice. He who delves into the issue, researches it thoroughly and remains unsatisfied with the proofs we have today will probably not be swayed by another handful of proofs. Even if one day tzitzis dated from the time of Beis HaMikdash with the seal of the Kohen Gadol were found right on the Temple Mount, most dissenters would contine to stand their ground. Likewise, those who have been convinced would not change their stance considerably were another challenge be presented here or there, for the gates of explanation remain open.

Today it could be said that the question over the revival of techeles is more a question of hashkafa than of halacha.

The issue can be presented as follows: On one hand there is a preponderence of strong evidence that the chilazon used to produce techelet in the past is purpura-murex. However, on the other hand, most of the stronger proofs did not emerge in the beis midrash, i.e. they werenot derived from an examination of the relevant sugias or statements by Chazal and the poskim, but rather from a wealth of knowledge drawn from outside sources.

Indeed, we have not come across any substantive contradiction in the words of Chazal or the poskim to obfuscate the identity of porpuria as the chilazon associated with the authentic techeles dye. Furthermore, once we know the identity of the chilazon and the manner in which the dyeing process is carried out, new light is shed on the words of Chazal.

But when all is said and done, the main thrust of evidence comes from outside the beis midrash. This is the main reason why we see many talmidei chachamim who are unprepared to hear new ideas introduced and are opposed to the renewal of the mitzvah of techeles in our day. Yet on the other hand, from day to day Jews who feel a strong appreciation for this mitzvah and adhere to the fine points of halacha now have techeles in their tzitzis, whether worn openly or discreetly.

The post was adapted from an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver originally published in Hebrew in “Vehaya Lachem L’Tzitzit,” Ninth Edition, 5755, Ptil Tekhelet Association.

May 152015
 

Undershirt tzitzit were introduced onto the tallit katan market about two decades ago. But I suspect there were similar designs many years ago. If you open up the Chayei Adam to Hilchot Tzitzit 11, 9, the Chayeh Adam [Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 1748-1820], describing various tallit katan designs and whether they would require tzitzit, writes, “And therefore one must be careful with the tallit katan made in our country [probably referring to Saxony and Prussia] that the sides be mostly open; not like those tailors who make a tallit katan and sew it along the sides and leave a hole for the arms and then sew beneath the hole and leave it open, and measure only beneath the arms, which is clearly a mistake, because then [the garment] is not considered to have four kanfos, and we can say with near certainty that one who receites [the Tzitzit Blessing] recites a blessing in vain.”

Indeed, this problem does come up. I know of one importer who made a batch of about 30,000, all of which were definitely more closed than open along the sides.

Note that Mishkan Hatchelet’s patented design on their undershirt (“Cotton Comfort“) eradicates this problem entirely, because the sides are almost entirely open, with just a narrow band fairly high up holding them together.

What about the hechsher? Take a close look, and you’ll see that the hechsher is on the tzitzit strings and the tzitzit tying, not the tallit katan garment. One rav I spoke recently with expressed surprise that a rav would supervise tzitzit tying on a garment that does not require tzitzit. But that fact is that even with traditional cotton tallit katans, you won’t find a hechsher on the beged.

Another issue is the tzitzit holes. They should be positioned 5 cm from the sides of the tallit katan. If the hole is 4.5 cm or 5.5 cm, that’s fine, but if it’s under 4 cm or over 7 we start to run into questions.

Some poskim are against the whole idea of undershirt tzitzits, saying the tallit garment must be a bone fide garment, not an undershirt whose task is to absorb sweat. In my opinion, even according to that opinion, a tzitzit t-shirt would be fine, because it is clearly designed to serve as a genuine garment, not just as an undershirt.

What about undershirt tzitzit for boys? Does it have to be more open than closed along the sides? I really don’t know, you’ll have to ask a qualified rabbi. On one hand, the mitzvah here is chinuch, not the actual mitzvah of tzitzit, and in any case the garment probably does not meet the minimum size requirement, but on the other hand he is probably reciting a bracha on the tzitzit, which can be problematic — especially if he is beyond bar mitzvah age.

Apr 132015
 

The following is an exchange with a prospective customer who seems to be debating whether he wants to wear a cotton tallit katan or a wool tallit katan. Although I found some of his questions a bit surprising, I think the exchange may be instructive for some other people out there interested in buying a tallit katan.

With wool tallit katans, do I wear it against my skin? What is the general custom for wearing one? Thank you for your time.

No, you can’t wear wool against your skin (try it and you’ll see what I mean). Even our Wool Comfort undershirt style tzitzit is not meant to be worn against your skin. You need an undershirt. It is made from a very soft wool, but it’s still itchy.

(I once told a customer who asked a very similar question that there’s no such thing as wool that can be worn against the skin. I was wrong. He was from New Zealand, which is one the the world’s leading producers of wool, and he gave me a quick lesson on Merino wool.)

People who don’t like to wear three layers choose a cotton undershirt style tzitzit garment.

How would I wash the wool undershirt tzitzit?

Personally I wash mine by hand, but I think woolite and a gentle cycle, cold water should be fine. The real problem is the tzitzit. Even on a gentle cycle they can get horribly tangled. Did you even buy one of these? If not, there are ways to improvise. You can tuck the tzitzit into a sock and tie it up tight and wrap rubber bands around it.

Thank you very much for the response. I know someone who wears the wool against his skin and he is an observant Jew. So I wasn’t sure if it was against halacha or not. Are there special undershirts for wool katan use? Or can just any cotton shirt work?

What if they made wool katans with a special thin soft lining that is only on the inside. The inside that touches the skin? But without commiting shatnez? It would be interesting. It beats 3 layers.

If I may ask, what is it that you wear? Do you wear wool katans?

I have both cotton and wool.

There are some opinions that wearing the garment against your skin (cotton or wool) is inappropriate. Not against halacha, strictly speaking, but sort of showing a lack of respect for a mitzvah item. But a tallit katan is in essence a regular garment, so it does not have the kedusha of items like a mezuzah or tefillin. According to that opinion, which is a stringency that not all poskim concur with, because a tallit katan is used specifically for the mitzvah of tzitzit, it’s more than just a regular garment. These opinions state that an undershirt is meant to absorb sweat, so creating a tzitzit garment that serves that function is disrespectful.

Shatnez is not an issue here because the fabrics involved here are wool and cotton. The prohibition is against a combination of wool and linen. Cotton and linen are not the same thing. Linen is made from flax/linseed.

Mar 262015
 

We offer a wide range of tzitzit and tzitzit tying options on just about every talit and talit katan we sell, but the extensive number of options can be overwhelming for some of our customers. This week I had a number of email exchanges with a customer who bought a tallit from us and now wanted to buy his first talit katan. I could tell from his questions that he was not very clear on how to order tzitzit, so I wrote a complete explanation, laying out all of the relevant terms.

Hello Ben!
Do you sell any extra extra large tsitsit katan Beit Yosef?
What size would it be? And how much? Thank you, David

I’m pretty sure it was important to David to have Sephardic tzitzit, but he didn’t know how to relate that. Since some of these concepts may be a bit unclear to other visitors to our blog and website, I’m copying all of the details here:

I think you may be confusing “Beit Yosef” with Sephardic tzitzit tying. Let me explain all of the terminology to avoid misunderstandings in our communications.

Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote two tremendous halachic works: Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch.

The tallit you bought is named after his early work, Beit Yosef. But that’s the tallit itself, not the tzitzit.

Almost all Sephardim want their talit gadol (prayer shawl worn in synagogue) and talit katan (tzitzit garment worn all day under your shirt) to have Sephardic tzitzit tied on.

There is no difference between the tzitzit strings used to tie tzitzit. The difference is the way they are tied. There are four main tzitzit tying customs:

  • Ashkenazi
  • Sephardic
  • Yemenite/Rambam
  • Chabad/Arizal

The term Sephardic tzitzit means they are tied in such a way that a ridge spirals around on top of the windings. There are four sections of windings.

On a talit gadol almost all Sephardim have the custom to do the have the following number of windings: 7-8-11-13, just like Ashkenazim and Chabad.

On a talit katan, most Sephardim have the custom to tie the tzitzit with the following number of windings: 10-5-6-5. The gematria for 10-5-6-5 is Hashem’s name, therefore many people refer to this tying pattern as yud-kay-vov-kay.

Not all Sephardim are clear on all of these details. Many will just say, “I want Sephardic tzitzit.”

There is also one more Sephardic tzitzit tying custom known as Ben Ish Chai. This is fairly rare. We almost never get orders for Ben Ish Chai.

We can tie tzitzit according to any tying custom, no matter which product you choose.

On almost every product page you will see three options to select: size, tzitzit and tzitzit tying.

If you’re looking for a talit katan, in the product description you will see a size chart. Each product has a different sizing system (e.g. the sizing for a cotton talit katan and a wool talit katan are not the same; for example, size 9 cotton = size 6 wool).

Under the tzitzit option you select thin, medium, thick, etc.

Then under the tzitzit tying option you would select Sephardic 10-5-6-5 or Sephardic 7-8-11-13.

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!

Feb 042015
 

This week I had an email exchange with a prospective customer interested in buying a tallit with techelet tzitzit.

Nice talking with you on the phone this morning…. But, I forgot to ask you something: If I choose just the “Handmade Thick Tzitzit” and the Chabad – Arizal tying,  will it still be with seven white & one blue string??…. or does it have to be one of the “techelet” options to get the white w / blue tzitzit strings? Thanks, Jim B.

I explained to Jim that the handmade tzitzit option he was referring to is white only. Techelet is the biblical word for the type of blue dye referred to in the verse.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת
He then wrote me a quick note:
I appreciate your reply’s…. So the extra cost of the Techelet… is just for the one string with the dye?
Techelet is a very involved issue. There has been a huge debate over authentic techelet dye for about two decades. There are a lot of Christian sellers on the Web who sell tzitzit at low prices. In almost all cases the tzitzit are not kosher and if they sell blue tzitzit, it’s certainly not the blue dye referred to in the Torah, in most cases it’s a simple plant-based dye. I told Jim that if has the time and energy to look into the topic he should refer to this page and the links found there.

If you look online for “Ptil Tekhelet” you’ll see that most places sell it for $80-$120 per set, not $60-$70.
What’s interesting is that the techelet makers price the “Rambam” set with the half white/half blue tzitzit string (i.e. what you use to get one blue and seven white when tied) the same as the “Raavad” set with the all blue string. I imagine they decided to do that to avoid creating a situation where people make halachic decisions based largely on finances.