Whether it’s your first time or fifth time, buying a tallit or tzitzit is not easy. To get started, this glossary of terms will help you with various tallit and tzitzit concepts, as well as Hebrew terms commonly used.
arba kanfot – see “tallit katan”
atara (or atarah) – the neckband or collar sewn onto the tallit along the top edge, which rests on the back of the neck. Modern tallits often have the Tzitzit Blessing embroidered on the atara. Standard Chabad and Turkish tallits come with no atara.
avodat yad (or avodas yad) – literally “handmade.” This term is typically used in reference to tzitzit strings production, specifically the teviah or spinning stage. Handspun tzitzit are preferred from a halachic standpoint and are a bit longer than machine-spun. Some people are under the misimpression that avodat yad means the tzitzit are tied by hand. The truth is tzitzit tying is always done by hand.
begged – literally “garment.” A tallit katan consists of the wool or cotton begged, and the tzitzit tied onto it. Confusion can arise when people simply refer to the two in combination as tzitzit.
fringes – decorative tassles along the sides of a tallit or the front bottom edge of a tallit katan. Sometimes the word tzitzit is translated into English as “fringes.” This is not very accurate because fringes go all along an edge, whereas tzitzit are only on the corners.
handspun – From a halachic standpoint, handspun tzitzit strings are preferred over machine-spun.
lining – A tallit lining is stitched onto the underside of the tallit on the part that sits on your head and shoulders. It adds body and weight to the tallit, however a tallit lining might detract somewhat from the non-slip properties since it’s made of smooth cotton. Often provided as an option on top-end traditional wool tallits.
menupatz lishmah – see “niputz lishmah.”
niputz lishmah – There is a strict opinion that holds tzitzit strings must be made with mitzvah intention not just starting in the spinning process, but much earlier, during the niputz process, when the wool is carded. For details on this topic, see “How Tzitzit are Made.”
Ptil Tekhelet – techelet tzitzit made by the Ptil Tekhelet Association, using Murex trunculus dye. See “techelet.”
shamash – When tying tzitzit strings, three regular length strings and one long string are inserted into each corner. The long string, known as the shamash, is wound around the others, known as the gid.
sidebands – Sidebands are like narrow ataras that go along the sides. They are good for those who like a hefty tallit they can get a grip on. They are sewn on the underside of the tallit, at about the point where the atara ends. They are recommended for those who tug at the sides of the tallit a lot, which can cause tears.
tallit gadol (also tallis gadol or tallis godol) – A tallit gadol is any tallit worn for prayer, i.e. a prayer shawl. This term has nothing to do with the size of the tallit.
tallit katan (also tallis katan or tallis koton) – A rectangular garment with an opening for the head, a tallit katan is the vehicle used to observe the mitzvah of tzitzit all day. Sometimes a tallit katan is referred to simply as “tzitzit.” Thus when someone says “cotton tzitzit” they don’t mean that the tzitzit strings are made of cotton (which is quite rare), but that the garment on which the tzitzit are tied is made of cotton.
techelet (or techeiles, techeles, techailet, techailes, tekhelet, tekheilet) – The blue string mentioned 48 times in the Tanach, made from a secretion of a chilazon, a specific mollusk. Usually used in reference to the techelet made by the Ptil Tekhelet Association, using Murex trunculus.
tzitzit (or tzitzis) – Strings tied onto the corner of a garment to fulfill the mitzvah of placing tzitzit on four-cornered garments. Tzitzit strings must be made specifically for the mitzvah of tzitzit, starting from the spinning stage of production.