Jan 192017

This week we had a customer who had decided to go with a hand-woven Gabrieli tallit, but kept debating between cotton and wool. At first she ordered it in wool, but then had second thoughts:

I have a question about wool vs. cotton. I saw a tallit today in our synagogue gift shop and it was thick and nubbly. I really liked the weight of it. The tag on it said linen. Is that what you mean by cotton? And if so I’d like to change my order to cotton.

Her question put me in a tight spot. Why? Please don’t tell anybody, but I didn’t know why “nubbly” means. Having lived in Israel for over 20 years, I haven’t enriched my English vocabulary much over the years. So I had to look up the definition before proceeding with a reply.

Gabrieli uses relatively thick yarns for both the wool and the cotton. They look quite similar. Some people can hardly tell them apart. The cotton has a slightly tighter weave and therefore the detail is a bit finer. Both of them are weighty and textured.

Then she went back to a follow-up question about linen:

Interesting. Which one would you say is closer to linen? And why is the cotton a bit more expensive than wool?

Actually I don’t know for sure why the cotton is more expensive. Either because the yarn costs the Gabrieli weaving studio more (they use high quality yarns from suppliers in faraway places) or because it requires a bit more time at the loom.
Cotton is closer to linen than wool. But I was a bit surprised to hear that she had come across a linen tallit. From a halachic standpoint, a linen tallit is quite problematic. Among other issues, to avoid the prohibition of shaatnez, you have to use linen tzitzit, and kosher linen tzitzit strings are hard to come by. Usually linen is only used to make tallitot for those who have serious fabric allergies.
Some people assume that linen and cotton are about the same, but that’s not the case as all. Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, whereas cotton is of course made from cotton plants.
Linen is a nice fabric, which makes it tempting to use it to make tallitot, but I avoid selling linen tallitot because of the problematic halachic issues involved. In the past I’ve toyed with the idea of making tallit and tallit katan products from hemp or bamboo fabrics, but those ideas never came to fruition. For now I’m sticking with tried-and-true wool and cotton.


Non-Wool Tallit Alternatives

 Tallit  Comments Off on Non-Wool Tallit Alternatives
Nov 222012

In general, the tallit has traditionally been made of wool for centuries, and today, most quality tallits are made of 100% virgin wool. It looks good, hangs well, lasts and is the fabric of choice from a halachic standpoint. But what do you do if you happen to be allergic to wool?

Silk or Acrylic Tallit: Is It Kosher?

Only wool and linen garments require tzitzit according to Torah law, whereas other fabrics require tzitzit according to Rabbinic law. That means wearing a cotton tallit or one made of silk or acrylic is a mitzvah, but at the Rabbinic level, not the Torah level.

You might conclude that the obvious solution for someone with a wool allergy is to wear a linen tallit. But the halacha clearly states that linen should be strictly avoided today. The reason has to do with shatnez (forbidden fabric mixtures) and techelet. The topic is quite complicated, so we will not delve into it in this post.

Cotton Tallit

However, it should be noted that certain preeminent halacha authorities (e.g. the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish) held that a cotton tallit requires tzitzit according to Torah law, just like wool.

In practice, handwoven tallits are often made of cotton. Gabrieli also offers silk, which creates higher sheen.

Commercial tallit manufacturers generally use wool, but offer acrylic options as well. An acrylic tallit can be lightweight, soft, and warm, with a wool-like feel, and the price of an acrylic tallit is about half of the wool equivalent. An acrylic tallit takes color well, is washable, and is generally hypoallergenic, although it may cause irritation in people with certain dermatological conditions (e.g. eczema).

If you are interested in an acrylic tallit, take of look at any of the synthetic tallits shown on this page. (To view them clearly, click on any image, and then when the page changes, click on the image shown. You should see a full-screen image.) Prices range from $30-$60, depending on size.

Another option is a handwoven cotton tallit by Gabrieli, Kedma or Weaving Creation. Since their tallits are almost all custom made, any of these tallit makers can use whichever colors you choose. All of them work in cotton (Gabrieli also has a silk option).

What’s wrong with a silk tallit?

 Tallit  Comments Off on What’s wrong with a silk tallit?
May 052012

Why are the vast majority of tallitot made of wool? Why is a silk tallit or a cotton tallit the exception and not the rule? According to halacha, wool is the material of choice for a tallit, although other materials are acceptable as well. The only problem fabrics would be synthetics, according to some opinions, and a linen tallit.

For a very interesting discussion of different tallit materials, including silk and linen, take a look at this thread: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1425700/showfeedback/true/jewish/Whats-Wrong-With-a-Silk-Tallit-Prayer-Shawl.htm

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