If you are searching for tzitzit strings to tie yourself or are trying to decide which type of tzitzit to have tied on your next tallit or tallit katan, you may have come across the term avodat yad, which is Hebrew for “handmade.” In this context, a better translation is probably hand-spun. Do you really need hand-spun tzitzit? Why are hand-spun tzitzit strings better than machine-spun tzitzit?
Ironically you will find machine-spun tzitzit come standard on less expensive tallits, on NeaTzit – and on many handwoven tallits, which typically cost $225-$500! The reason is that some of the very nice handwoven tallit makers are operations run by secular Jews who have never opened up the Shulchan Aruch in their lives.
Since tzitzit are the essence – the raison d’être – of a tallit or talit katan, we offer a broad range of options including machine-spun, tzitzit avodat yad (thin, medium and thick), lashonot hatzemer, niputz lishmah and techelet options.
The Torah tells us to make tzitzit for ourselves – v’asu lahem tzitzis (Bamidbar 15:38). Based on this verse, the Sages of the Talmud and later the Shulchan Aruch ruled that tzitzit strings must be made with intent (“lishma“), i.e. when making the strings one must have intent from the outset that they eventually be used for the mitzvah of tzitzit.
The main stages in the tzitzit production process are gozez (shearing), libun (bleaching), niputz (carding), tevia (spinning) and shezira (plying). The basic halachic requirement stated in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 11:1) is that you must do tevia lishmah (spinning with intention). Since for the most part we say a machine cannot have intention to perform a mitzvah, tzitzit must be made manually, which is known as avodat yad.
Some people are under the misimpression that “machine tzitzit” can be tied by machine. There is no such thing as a machine that ties tzitzit and there is no allowance in halacha to permit such a thing. Tzitzit are always hand-tied. (Also, among Christians who observe certain Torah mitzvahs – so-called Messianic Jews – you will often see tzitzit that are tied and then simply clipped onto a belt or shirt. This is explicitly forbidden by halacha and clearly cannot be considered kosher tzitzit.)
Avodat Yad tzitzit strings: Thin or thick?
Machine-spun tzitzit are invariably thin, whereas tzitzit avodat yad come in thin, medium and thick. (We also have extra long available upon request.) For aesthetic reasons, thin tzitzit are generally used on a tallit katan, although some may prefer thick, which are less likely to break. On a tallit gadol, thin tzitzit generally come standard. Traditional black-and-white or white-on-white tallits may be sold with no tzitzit, and often buyers will choose to go with thick avodat yad tzitzit strings, again for aesthetic reasons.