Nov 102011

Almost all tallits come with an atara (neckband), which can vary from plain white with a very subtle leaf motif to very ornate with vibrant colors. But there are two notable exceptions: the Turkish tallit and the Chabad tallis.

The custom of adding an atara originated to ensure that the tallit was worn the same way each day. The idea is not simply to make sure it is not worn upside-down, but to keep the same two tzitzits in front and the same two tzitzits in back every time the tallit is worn. According to the Shlah, this is in keeping with the teaching that in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), the northern boards had an established merit to occupy the north side, the eastern boards the east side, etc.

No atara on Chabad tallis Chabad tallis.

Chabad tallis. Click on image for details and pricing.

However, some halachic authorities seemed to be concerned the atara would dominate the tallit, stealing the limelight from the essential mitzvah: the tzitzit.

The Levush writes that one of the reasons for the atara is to beautify the tallit at the head since it is worn on the most important part of the body. Yet he rules that ideally a tallit should have no atara since “one may come to think that the placing of the tallit with the atara, on the head is the most important part of wearing the prayer shawl” (O.C. 10, 10).

Chabad tallis: No atara

The Lubavitcher custom is to sew a silk lining to the underside of the tallit where the head goes. The idea is to achieve both: the same part of the Chabad tallis is always worn on the head and there is no atara to draw attention away from the tzitzit.

While the Chabad tallis is one of the only types of tallit that has no atara, the prevalent custom among traditional Orthodox Jews is to wear a tallit with a plain atara (see here), often white with a subtle, satiny leaf design.

Notably the Belz tallis has a plain satin atara, presumably a compromise between the Shlah and the Levush.

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