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.
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).