Feb 142012

I often get inquiries from prospective customers who are about to visit Israel and would like to drop by my shop to buy a tallit. While it’s always easier to see and feel the tallit before you buy, if they think buying a tallit during their visit to Israel will save them money, they’re wrong.

Enter Tallit Shop – Buy Tallit>>>

The reason is taxes. When I sell a tallit to a customer in Israel, I have to charge 17% value-added tax. That means if they buy tallit for $100, $17 goes straight to the government. But when a customer outside of Israel opts to buy a tallit from me, I list the shipment on the export registry, which exempts me from VAT altogether. And I can pass that 17% savings on to my customers.

I once had a customer who wanted to know what price I could give him if he buy tallit and came to pick it up himself. I explained that he would of course save the shipping costs, but that I could not discount it since it costs me more to sell it to him here than if he’s 2,000 miles away.

Buy Tallit in Israel, Ship to the U.S.

Buy Tallit from Israel, Buy from the Source

The leading tallit makers are based in Israel

Likewise, shipping is not a significant expense. To encourage people to “buy blue and white” the Israeli government keeps international shipping rates very low. I charge a flat rate of just $9.50 to ship a tallit to the United States, Canada and Europe, and $11.50 to most other countries. If I’m not mistaken, it would cost more to send it via USPS from New York to California.

Of course many people would rather buy tallit from Israel not so much to save money, but to support Israel with their tallit purchase.

And since most of the leading tallit makers are located in Israel, it makes sense to buy a tallit from the source.

Buy Tallit>>>

Feb 122012

Tallit Hamefoar can be roughly translated as Tallit Splendor. It is among the top-of-the-line tallits made by Mishkan Hatchelet, one of Israel’s leading tallit manufacturers.

Chatanim Tallit

Tallit Chatanim

Until a few years ago, Mishkan Hatchelet, like its leading competitor, Talitania, had a standard quality wool tallit called Prima A.A. and a deluxe wool tallit called Chatanim. (In Hebrew, chatanim means “grooms,” and it can also be used to refer to bar mitzvah boys.)

The Chatanim Tallit features a high-density weave, so discerning tallit buyers will notice that it looks nicer up close and falls straighter. The fabric is treated to repel stains and retain whiteness over time. And the corners are made of stiff wool to help the tzitzit stay in place, i.e. not slide over around the corner (tzitzit are supposed to stay on the side with the fringe, so that they hang down right on the corner).

Hamefoar Tallit

Tallit Hamefoar

Then both Mishkan Hatchelet and Talitania introduced a non-slip tallit made of an airy weave. This type of wool fabric has more body to it, so the wearer feels it on his shoulders, unlike a lightweight tallit.

Tallit Hamefoar essentially combines the features of Tallit Chatanim with the non-slip tallit fabric to create a very high quality tallit with a soft, luxurious feel, making it the ultimate non-slip tallit.

At Ben’s Tallit Shop we offer a complete line of Mishkan Hatchelet tallit designs, including the Chatanim Tallit and Tallit Hamefoar. Both are available with either black or white striping and a range of tzitzit and atara options. And our prices are guaranteed to be the best you’ll find online.

Tallit HaMefoar – More Info>>>

All Nonslip Tallit Options>>>

Feb 072012

It makes sense to buy tallit and tefillin bags from Israel. But guess what? Often a tallit bag sold in Israel and exported from Israel…is made in China. Even if you see the words “Tallit” or “Tefillin” embroidered in Hebrew, don’t assume it was made in Israel.

Tallit Bag: Hebrew Embroidery, But Made in China

Velvet Tallit Bag

Made in China

However, this only applies to low-end tallit bags. If you find a tallit bag on eBay or a Judaica webstore for $12 or $15 or even $20, chances are it was made in China. Many of the better quality tallit bags are made in Israel.

What makes for a better quality tallit bag? Better quality material and better embroidery work. It’s hard to discern differences in quality from the images you see online. But the difference in quality is significant.

A few weeks ago a customer in Australia bought a Kol Hane’arim tallit from me. For those of you who don’t know what a Kol Hane’arim tallit is, it’s four times the size of a standard full-size tallit and is used as a canopy on Simchat Torah. It’s big. Really big.

My customer from Down Under asked me to provide him with a velvet tallit bag to go with it. I took the project to our seamstress and embroiderer, and she did a spectacular job using high quality velvet. When I saw it, I realized that the tallit bag she produced was far superior to what I was used to seeing from suppliers and in Judaica stores in Jerusalem.

Tallit Bag with Space for Custom Embroidery

Invei HaGefen Velvet Tallit Bag

Invei HaGefen. Click on image for details.

So I commissioned her to make me a tallit bag that would work well with custom name embroidery. The problem is that the word “Tallit” on many, if not most, tallit bags makes it hard to add a name without it clashing. She used a fabulous grape vine motif I call “Invei HaGefen.”

Is a tallit bag worth investing in? I think so, because preparing to do a mitzvah is an important part of the act of doing a mitzvah. The Talmudic term is “hechsher mitzvah.” To take an extreme example, imagine going to shul and pulling your tallit out of a nylon grocery bag. Not a pretty sight. A nice tallit bag also gives honor to the mitzvah of tzitzit (which is really what wearing a tallit is all about).

And of course a tallit bag is a great gift idea for a bar mitzvah boy, a chassan or as a birthday gift for a husband (or son) who already has a nice tallit.

Go to Tallit Bag selection>>>

Feb 062012

Why did Gabrieli Tallit name their rainbow-stripe design the Joseph’s Coat Tallit? Actually the original Hebrew is כתונת פסים (kethoneth passim), which can be translated according to various interpretations. Possible translations include “royal garment,” “colorful garment,” “embroidered garment” or “striped garment.” Alternatively, the word passim may denote the material the coat was made of, which according to Rashi was fine wool.

Joseph’s Coat Tallit – More info>>>

All of these descriptions apply to the Gabrieli Joseph’s Coat Tallit. Whether the marketing managers at Gabrieli had all of these interpretations in mind when they gave the tallit its name, I cannot say, but to my mind the name Joseph’s Coat fits this tallit quite well.

One tallit maker that offers an effiminate version of the Joseph’s Coat Tallit describes it in very poetic terms: “Joseph’s Coat inspires memories of brotherly conflict, capture, Egyptian incarceration, dream interpretation, greatness, famine, and family reunification. It is the stuff that makes Judaism live and helps us to realize the weaknesses and humanity of our forefathers.”

It definitely is a striking design and the Gabrieli version offers fine craftsmanship in a range of color options: rainbow stripes on a blue, gray, white or black base.

Gabrieli Joseph’s Coat Tallit – More info>>>

Jan 292012

The day before my wedding I kept practicing how to tie my wedding tie. A year later, when my friend Alex got married, I realized there are more lofty preparations to make for a Jewish wedding. He stayed at my apartment the night before the wedding and at 11:30 p.m. his biggest concern was finding someone to adjust the straps on his new set of tefillin.

Of course you don’t need to buy a new set of tefillin for the wedding, but I think a lot of young Jewish men getting ready for their wedding sort of have a sense it’s time to get serious, and if their tefillin are a bit questionable, they want to upgrade.

So there we were, just before midnight, knocking on the door of a Chassidic rav in Betar Illit who kept late hours. In fact, we had to wait, because someone else was already there in his living room.

Likewise, about a year ago, a kallah from New Jersey ordered a handwoven tallit from me. She chose the colors very carefully, because she wanted them to go well with her wedding dress and the chuppah.

Her chassan was more concerned about the tzitzit. He wanted Ptil Tekhelet – Rambam and he wanted to tie them himself. (Tying Ptil Tekhelet tzitzit according to the Rambam is not for the uninitiated.) I was very impressed and emailed her a note saying I couldn’t imagine a better way for a Jewish groom to prepare for his wedding than to tie the tzitzit he would be wearing under the chuppah.

It may be that this idea of spiritual preparation for a Jewish wedding is implicit in the custom of a kallah buying a tallit for her chassan. Buying him a tie is nice, but somehow it’s not quite the same…

Feb 242011

Sudilkov, a small town in Ukraine, is reportedly the shtetl Stephen Spielberg’s family hail from. It has a history of Jewish settlement reaching back to the 17th century, but today there are no Jews there and almost no trace of the Jewish presence remains.

The Jews of Sudilkov were renown for the tallits they made.

“Talleisim of Sudilkov were known internationally and their production was the main source of income for the townspeople. The people of Sudilkov believed that anyone who bore the family name Talisman or Talismacher certainly could trace their origin to Sudilkov. The silk and wool threads were brought from Lodz and in the local workshops, skilled craftsmen wove the talleisim. Traveling salesmen sold their product in all the Jewish communities both near and far.”

Quoted from Yalkut Volhynia, 1948

Feb 242011

During a visit to Eretz Yisrael, the previous Chabad Rebbe came across a striping pattern in which the second stripe was wider, rather than the third stripe as in typical talleisim. He liked the pattern, bought the tallit and gradually many Lubavitch Chassidim followed suit and this design came to be known as the Chabad Tallit.

Chabad tallit stripes: The inside story

The concept of stripes on the tallis is not universal and according to Kabbala the stripes are white. For this reason the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s father wore white stripes, and since the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe wore black stripes, the Rebbe came up with the idea of rolling the tallis on his shoulder so that the stripes would not show, thus following both his father and father-in-law’s respective customs.

Chabad tallit with double tzitzit holesThe Baal HaTanya added the second hole in the tallis gadol since the tzitzis have to hang on the corner. Many one-hole talleisim are tied in a way that the tzitzis are pulled tight, folding the cloth slightly so to keep the tzitzis firmly in place. Since the Baal HaTanya considers any folded cloth to be as if it’s not there, he proposed this novel idea of adding that extra hole and one threads loops through it to hold it in place without folding the material.

The Chabad tallis today

The tzitzit on the Chabad tallit, like the Yemenite and Sephardic tallit, is tied according to a special custom (“chulyot“). According to Lubavitch, the tzitzit are attached to two holes in each corner. (The custom among most Chassidim is to use two holes in the tallis katan, but not in the tallis gadol.) Also, the corners of the Chabad tallit are lined with genuine silk, though the tallit itself is wool.

100% wool Chabad Tallit with silk corners>>>

The Atara

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Jan 312011

If you’ve ever shopped for a tallit, the issue of the atara may have come up. The tallit atara (or neckband) is really just a trim, which can range from a subtle white-on-white design to a bold and colorful embellishment.

Atara origins

Atara with classic leaf patternThe custom originated to ensure that the prayer shawl was worn the same way each day. The idea is not simply to make sure the tallit 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 Tabernacle, the northern boards had an established merit to occupy the north side, the eastern boards the east side, etc.

Atara on the traditional tallit

If you prefer a traditional tallit made of wool, there are several options for the tallit atara. The most common option is a very simple white atara, which comes standard on most classic wool tallits. Some Sephardic Jews are careful to wear a tallit that is entirely wool – including the atara and corners.

Sometimes the tallit atara has the tzitzit blessing embroidered on it, but many Orthodox Jews who wear a tallit seven days a week will eschew the blessing, which can come across as “amateurish” and superfluous. Some people have a special Shabbos tallis with an ornate atara featuring rich embroidery work or embedded metallic squares.

The modern tallit atara

In the realm of the modern tallit, anything goes. Often the atara is designed to highlight a motif in the prayer shawl itself or to match the corners.

If you would like a traditional tallit (or not-so-traditional tallit) with a unique or custom atara,
please go to our Custom Tallit page.
For a standard tallit, go to our Traditional Tallit page

Jan 252011

This fabulous poem on the personal meaning of the tallit and its resonance was written by the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. It brilliantly captures the role of the tallit in our memories: feeling sheltered by a father’s tallit as we played with the tzitzit, the first time we donned a tallit and felt that we had come of age – whether as children, young teens or later as adults.

Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:
taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,
spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband (embroidered
or trimmed in gold). Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead
like a sky, a wedding canopy, a parachute. And then winding it
around his head as in Hide-and-Seek, wrapping
his whole body in it, close and slow, snuggling into it like the cocoon
of a butterfly, then opening would-be wings to fly.
And why is the tallis striped and not checkered black and white
like a chessboard? Because squares are finite and hopeless.
Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go
like airport runways where angels land and take off
Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.
When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,
he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again
over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,
still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.

Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 44

Jan 192011

I just did a quick survey of online articles about “how to put on a tallit,” and it seems everyone left out a key step.

Let’s take out the Shulchan Aruch, turning to O.H., Siman 8, which explains how to don a tallit. Paragraph 7 tells us to untangle the strings. Paragraph 9 tells us to make sure the strings are intact. And sandwiched in the middle is a halacha telling us as follows: “One should have in mind, when wrapping himself in a tallit, that the Blessed One commanded us to wrap ourselves in it, in order to remember all of His mitzvahs and fulfill them.”

This is no passing matter! (I keep picturing a slick Aish.com how-to video including that step by showing a bubble pop up over the head of the person donning the tallit, revealing his thoughts.)

The Mishnah Berurah adds that this is in addition to having the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzits itself.

The Bach adds an interesting note. He says that although generally one can fulfill a mitzvah regardless of what he is thinking, three mitzvahs are different: tzitzit, tefillin and sukkah. Tzitzit, because the verse says, “in order that you remember,” tefillin, because another verse says, “in order that Hashem’s Torah be in your mouth,” and sukkah, because the verse says, “in order that your generations may know.”

The Pri Meggadim and the Mishnah Berurah add that the Bach’s requirement is in order to fulfill the mitzvah properly, but nevertheless if one did not have the right intention in mind while putting on his tallit, he still carries out the mitzvah.