From What is The Perfect Tallit Made?

February 13th, 2009

Choosing the perfect tallit is a difficult choice, but to start with, you must know what material you want it to be made from. Below, is a guide to many of the different types of materials from which the tallit is nowadays made.

Silk Tallit

There are many varieties of silk tallitot available on the market today. Crepe, taffeta, embroidered, beaded, crepe, douppioni, crepe backed satin, charmeuse, and raw woven silk are just some of the options available. Then there are multitude of mix or combinations such as silk with rayon, silk with viscose, silk with wool and so forth.
Cotton Tallit

Usually hand woven, cotton is a popular material chosen for a tallit as it is flexible, but not fragile, durable but not heavy, and is able to support many designs and colors easily. It is also easier to clean.

Wool Tallit

The ideal tallit is made from either sheep’s wool or lamb’s wool, which was the material from which the traditional tallit was made. It is very warm as was needed in ancient times. Depending on the weave, such a tallit can be quite itchy or very soft. It is important to note that goat’s or camel’s wool does not qualify as a suitable material from which to make a tallit.

Viscose Tallit

Tallitot made from viscose is a much newer trend, though the material, which is extremely light and soft, and completely natural (originating from wood pulp), has been embraced with designs for both men and women. Designs that appeal to men tend to be in more darker, somber colors, such as navy, black, grey, or brown – all colors that match suits easily. Designs for women, on the other hand, are vibrant and colorful, using pinks, yellows, oranges, vivid blues, and greens to depict beautiful scenes or religious images.

Organza Tallit

Usually reserved for womens’ tallitot, organza is a very delicate material made from nylon, polyester, and silk filaments, but which feels very much like silk. It supports an expansive range of colors and appears very luxurious, graceful, and sophisticated, so is a popular choice for many women.

The Environmentally Friendly Tallit

For those concerned about the environment, there exists a very small niche market of weavers who use only environmentally friendly textiles, such as organic cotton. Though more expensive, to some, the contribution to the environment does justify the increased cost incurred when purchasing an eco-friendly tallit.

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The Eco-Friendly Tallit: Does It Exist?

February 13th, 2009

With many people becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, it begs the question of whether or not it is possible to buy an eco-friendly tallit. Well the answer is a resounding yes. There are several companies that deal with the production of ‘green’ tallitot, though there are many people who do not completely understand the concept of what it means to be ‘green’ as far as tallitot are concerned.

The eco-friendly tallit is made from completely natural, organic fibres, and importantly organic cotton. Eco-friendly as a concept may be somewhat confusing to some, however essentially it is a move away from artificial and toxic means of assisting growth.

The entire growing process of cotton usually involves use of pesticides and fertilizers. Organic cotton farming procedures do not use pesticides or herbicides and thus the impact on the environment is greatly reduced. Additionally, plants are not in any way genetically modified. Organic cotton costs substantially more to produce than cotton farmed with conventional farming procedures and as such, the eco-friendly tallit will no doubt cost more than one that is mass produced from materials that are not dangerous to the environment.

After harvesting, many cottons are treated with toxic chemicals in order to dye or print patterns on, again this having a negative effect on the environment. Organic cotton is dyed with non-petroleum based and thus far less toxic dyes. There is far less waste created and overall far less impact on the environment. There has also been increasing success in growing naturally colored cotton utilizing organic methods, as there has been been an increase in the demand for eco-friendly tallitot.

Although it may seem as though supporting the environmental cause through purchasing eco-friendly garments such as tallitot may have minimal effect, what is little known is that farming cotton with conventional methods accounts for 16% of the entire world’s pesticide use, and uses more chemicals per unit than any other crop. Contemplating the fact that this includes all grains and other such crops, the scope of this statement is mind-blowing. Thus, although it may seem a small gesture, each person that steers towards eco-friendly will help minimize the impact on the earth.

One of the additional benefits of choosing an eco-friendly tallit is that you can basically guarantee that it will be a quite unique – as the tallit is usually not mass produced, each tends to be an original. Several companies will take your design and create a personalized, new designs with hamsa, eco-friendly, creative and beautiful tallit which is a ‘work of art’, to enhance your prayer experience.

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Cleaning Your Tallit

February 13th, 2009

Unfortunately, many people are afraid to clean their tallit or tallis, as it can be known.
With such a highly respected garment, it seems strange that one wouldn’t clean it,
However some people believe the tallit ought to show its age and usage through the many stains and marks that it acquires over the years.

For others, the fear that something will happen to their tallit – that it might get ruined or fall apart – overrides their desire to keep it clean.

And such concerns are justified. Indeed, many non-Jewish cleaners will not take enough care with the tzitzit to ensure it remains intact, nor that the colors do not run. As almost all tallitot do not have labels attached or cleaning instructions, it is a bit of a guessing game for the cleaners, many of whom do not realise the tallit’s importance to their customer.

In fact, many consider giving a tallit to a non-Jew for cleaning not to be kosher.

It is suggested that a tallit be cleaned twice a year, although, if you are living in a hot country and sweating a lot, this is neither practical nor hygienic.

Luckily, cleaners do exist – usually Jewish – that are specialized in cleaning tallitot and they maintain that all tallitot can be dry cleaned and that most stains will come out. Very familiar with the variety of tallit that is available, and that many have embroidered motifs that sometimes come away during cleaning, the cleaners are usually happy to re sew small items back onto the tallit.

However, such cleaners do sometimes also request their customers to sign a release form in the case of multi-colored designs, which may be oil-based and run, despite the cleaners’ best attempts at preventing this.

Possibly the most problematic concern is that of the tzitzit as they can easily tangle and get stretched. Contrary to popular belief, if the tzitzit have started unravelling, subsequently bearing the incorrect quantity of knots, they are not invalidated. The problem should be corrected, however the tallit is still a useful and acceptable one.
A tallit should always be cleaned on a delicate cycle – whether at home in the washing machine or in the care of a cleaner.
Despite best efforts, one of the trickiest problems is to remove age spots, which appear over time when a tallit remains inside a bag, particularly one that’s made of plastic. If the bag is kept within a smoking environment the problem is compounded again. They appear as small yellow spots and the easiest way to ensure they don’t appear is to use the tallit occasionally.

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Tallit Bags – Luxury Or Necessity?

February 12th, 2009

The tallit is arguably the most important item of clothing in a Jewish person’s wardrobe. It commands respect simply by its purpose, and as such should be cared for and treasured. Tallit bags are specifically designed for this purpose.

A tallit bag stores the tallit when not in use. Though not so much a necessity, tallit bags are incredibly useful to preserve your tallit and protect it from outside influences that may lead to its wear and tear. When the tallit is not in use it should be kept in such a bag.

When one considers that in many instances the tallit must be taken to places external to the home, having a place in which it may remain safely increases in importance. Were it to remain at the home the need for a tallit bag would no doubt be greatly reduced. A damaged prayer shawl may no longer be kosher – thus it is important to take care to respect and care for a tallit.

As they are a very practical item, considering the inevitability of Jewish individuals owning a tallit, the tallit bag does make a wonderful gift, whether for bah mitzvahs or even as a personalized and thoughtful wedding gift.

Many makers of tallitot also make a matching tallit bag to protect the garment. That the items match is not a requirement, but it does add to the aesthetic value of the tallit, and some even believe it enhances the mitzvah to have a lovely bag in which the tallit may rest when not being utilized in prayer.

In addition to those tallit bags that are made to match an individual tallit, bags of varying designs can also be purchased separately. It is very common to see tallit bags made from velvet (a very soft fabric) to ensure the prayer shawl is cushioned and protected as much as possible. This velvet is frequently embroidered, using motifs like the Ark of the Covenant, the Star of David, a Torah scroll or similarly symbolic designs to signify the importance of the contents of the bag. Such traditional designs are popular as they are not garish or bold and do not attract undue attention.

To have a bag to protect your prayer shawl (or more accurately to protect the tzitzit) could really be seen as a mark of respect – for the Torah’s commandments and the tzitzit.

Tallit bags are widely available at various specialist shops and online stores.

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Kissing the Tzitzit

February 12th, 2009

In ancient times, tzitzit were worn on everyday clothes as a sign of freedom. They served as a means of identification, as only those who were free were able to wear tzitzit. In these times, kissing the tzitzit was often seen in business dealings wherein it signified the sealing of a contract.

During prayer it is customary that a ‘tallis godal’, a large rectangular garment with tzitzit attached, is worn and that prayer take place while wrapped in this garment. The tzitzit on these prayer shawls are kissed on many occasions, dependent upon what the wearer is doing.

Before putting on the prayer shawl, a blessing is uttered:

Blessed are you Lord,
Our God, Ruler of the Universe
Who has sanctified us with God’s commandments,
And has commanded us to wrap ourselves in fringes.

The tzitzit are then kissed and the prayer shawl is placed over or covering the head before being laid upon the shoulders.

Today, the tzitzit are kissed during recitation of the Shema to reinforce that the words being recited are taken seriously. Prior to recitation of the Shema, the tzitzit are gathered in one hand. During recitation of the third paragraph of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41) the tzitzit are mentioned on three occasions and on each occasion the tzitzit are kissed.

During the procession (Hafakeh) of the Torah through the synagogue, the tzitzit are often kissed. At this time, the Torah having been removed from the Ark will be taken around the synagogue, and those who are able will reach to the Torah, touching it with their tzitzit. Subsequent to this, the tzitzit, which had touched the Torah scroll, are also kissed, signifying the sheer importance to the people and their love for the Torah. If no tallis is being worn, the prayerbook (siddur) will be offered forth to touch the Torah and subsequently kissed. That the Torah is only touched by the siddur or tzitzit is a sign of respect.

When an individual is called to read a passage from the Torah, the corner of the tallit is placed upon the first word to be read, then the tzitzit will be kissed.

Some kiss the tzitzit each time the word tzitzit is mentioned, others kiss the tzitzit every time they are looked at. Overall, such kissing can be seen as an expression of love for, and dedication to, the mitzvot (commandments of the Jewish law).

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Is My Tallit Kosher?

February 12th, 2009

In order for a tallit to be kosher, it must adhere to certain specifications when being made, and of course be constructed according to history requirements. The construction of the tallit itself should not be undertaken lightly. If you want to make your own tallit, do so with the assistance of someone who is au fait with the requisite laws and requirements so that the garment will end up as a kosher tallit.

The cloth used to construct the tallit must not be of mixed fibres (referred to as shaatnez) – if wool is used it must be fully constructed of wool and so on. A mix of such fibres as linen and wool must not be used.

The garment must comply with measurement specifications, being large enough to wrap around the entire body. The tallit must have four corners, two being at the front and two at the back. Additionally, as the tallit is in fact a garment, an indication at the neck of which way is ‘up’ is required.

The threads (fringes), or tzitzit, are the most important part of the garment, and it is preferable that these threads be of the same fibre as the garment itself. Kosher threads can be purchased from a Judaica, Jewish Book Store, and also from several websites online.

For each of the four sets of threads making up the tzitzit, there must be one thread longer than the other. According to Jewish laws (halacha), the tzitzit are made of pure wool and are tied by a God fearing individual.

The tallit itself does not require a specific pattern or scene as these are of a more decorative nature, and can be fabricated from such natural materials as silk, cotton or wool, or indeed from synthetic materials such as nylon. If tzitzit are not kosher, the commandment for wearing tzitzit will not have been fulfilled.

It is recommended to check the tzitzit each morning to ensure they are kosher prior to putting the tallit on. Any strings that are broken should be replaced immediately and if more than one string is missing the tallit is no longer kosher to wear. If the five knots down the side have been unraveled, the tallit is still kosher, however it is best to keep the knots tightened to avoid this occurring.

The Torah commands that each fringe should contain one blue string. However, as time passed, the dye (extracted from a particular fish-worm called Chilazon) was lost, and the exact shade of blue became no longer known. Thus, only white threads were then utilized. There are only very few circumstances where the blue shade remains in use in tzitzit amongst some Chassidic groups. As a result, there are mixed feelings amongst rabbis as to whether blue utilized in tzitzit today is kosher or not.

Many items come complete with a kosher certificate upon purchase. This is the best way to ensure your tallit is kosher.

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Colour my tallit

February 12th, 2009

Tallitot are made using many different colors. There is no specific colour combination that is viewed as kosher – it is not the colour but the construction of a tallit and the tzitzit that makes it kosher.

Traditionally tallitot have been made using stripes of white and blue or black, however this is no longer the limitation at all today, where luxurious shades are often seen in a variety of tallit designs. Predominantly tallitot are white, a color deemed as being a sign of purity. The most traditional of all color schemes incorporates blue and white. These colors are featured on the Israeli flag and possess special meaning in this regard. Silver and gold are also often featured for a more luxurious effect.

Also known as prayer shawls, tallitot can now be personalized, with regards to both fabric and design, using vivid patterns and colors previously unseen. Bright shades of pink (believed by some to be the most beautiful tallit color for women) are much more commonplace, as are more modern interpretations depicting various different scenes and color combinations. In fact, an entire family history can be incorporated into the design of a tallit.

Naturally, certain colors tend to be more highly favoured than others in the same way that other colours are not, due to their deeper meaning or association. Black for example, which is understood to signify death and grieving is not widely utilized as the base color of the tallit. You would not see very many tallitot with a design upon a black background, though it is commonly used as the color of the stripes (along with blue).

Although the colors themselves do not play a significant part in the meaning of the tallit, some colours are associated with different meanings or historical beliefs – for example tallit which was completely pale blue could be seen to embody the Hebrew saying meaning someone with no sins (tallit shekula tehelet).

Tallitot made from silk are becoming increasingly common and as such the range of color combinations is almost limitless. It is also interesting to note that silk is the only fibre utilized in a tallit that is able to be mixed with a different fibre (not silk) and still remain kosher and in accordance with the mitzvah.

Makers of tallitot are able to tailor the garments to the individual needs and desires of the Jewish person, incorporating whatever colours desired, in whatever scene or pattern desired. Such makers may also offer the additional service of a matching tallit bag to protect your important garment.

With the vast array of tallit makers creating works of art in fabric, an individual can have a truly personal prayer shawl to further enhance their prayer experience.

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The Tallit After Death

February 12th, 2009

Being buried with their personal tallit is part of the ritual observed by traditional Jews when they die. It is traditionally accepted that if you wear a tallit for prayer during your lifetime, then that tallit is the one that will be buried with you on the occasion of your death. Whereas previously it was only males that were buried with their tallit, today it is also accepted for females to be buried with their tallit, if they too, have worn a tallit during their lifetime.

In accordance with the Bible, as we are all seen as equal before G-d, burial garments (tachrichim) worn by the deceased are the same for all, be they rich or poor. White garments signifying purity, dignity and simplicity, and often handmade, are standard burial garments. For males, a kippah and tallit is also added, and for females, a tallit, where applicable. (If the woman customarily wore a tallit during prayer then this would mean it was appropriate for her to be buried with it. If she did not, then she would not be buried with a tallit).

In order for the tallit to no longer be used for prayer, a corner is removed and placed upon the body of the deceased prior to burial. This corner removal renders the tallit no longer kosher. As the tzitzit serve as a reminder of the commandments, once the body has died, these commandments are no longer able to be fulfilled.

Although it is not obligatory to be buried with your tallit, it is certainly desirable. Problems can arise however, if you wish to bequeath your tallit to a loved one upon your death. In this instance it may be pertinent to have more than one prayer shawl: one to be utilized in prayer and passed down through the generations; and one to be taken with you, to the grave.

You may even wish to have several tallitot to be used as items for inheritance. As a tallit must have been used in prayer in order for it to be utilized in burial, it is important to ensure that you have done this during your lifetime.

It is not the tallit itself that is holy, but rather your actions – immersing yourself in prayer and respect and maintenance of the mitzvah, that make, and keep, the tallit kosher (in addition to the actual kosher requirements of the tallit itself).

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The Importance of Tallit Clips

February 11th, 2009

A tallit clip really is only something to hold the tallit in place, however, for something that seems so insignificant, it really is actually quite important.

Prior to wearing a tallit, a blessing must be said. If the tallit remains in place, then the blessing is said just the one time. However, if the tallit slips off or falls down, then the blessing must be repeated – every time it slips or falls. A badly-positioned tallit would mean that you might have to repeat the blessing a number of times, which can be very distracting when you are trying to concentrate on prayer.

Therefore, tallit clips, although a small item, remain a way to stay focused in mind and spirit during the morning prayer.

Naturally, tallit clips are also a lovely way to accentuate the beauty of a tallit. For many tallitot that exhibit colorful or even luxurious qualities, particularly talitisha (prayer shawls for women), tallit clips are a wonderful way to enhance these.

Designs include flowers, gold mesh, those inset with sparkling Swarovski crystals, and more, in a variety of colors, for a variety of prices.

For tallitot that are more traditional and more likely to be worn by men, such as those with the black or blue stripes, tallit clips ought to be quite simple, relatively plain, and somewhat masculine. Silver plated designs incorporating everything from the Ten Commandments to the skyline of Jerusalem are available for this purpose. For those whose budget does not extend to purchasing a solid silver or silver plated set of tallit clips for several hundred dollars apiece, metal ones are also available for a fraction of the price and produce a similar effect.

Depending on the fragility of the tallit clips, some of which are very delicate, they may even have their own little bag. It is important to make sure tallit clips are well-cared for, as along with the tallit or prayer shawl, they form part of the religious attire and should be respected as such.

Many people do prefer to choose their own tallit clips as it gives them a chance to exert a certain degree of individuality when in prayer. However tallit clips can also make a wonderful present. Even if the recipient already has a set of his or her own, an additional set of well-chosen tallit clips can always be put to good use.

In fact, particularly unique or beautiful tallit clips are a very humble way to convey your good wishes to someone else. Sometimes, the difference between feeling that you are dressed in an appropriate and respectful manner during prayer time, which is very important, and not, comes down to what tallit clips you are wearing at that time.

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Tefillin Utilizes Strategic Acupuncture Points

February 11th, 2009

Tefillin is the name given to the ancient Jewish practice of attaching two small leather boxes, one to the head and the other to the upper section of the weaker arm. Whether by coincidence or not, the placement of these two boxes forms pressure points that are located in exactly the same place as certain acupuncture pressure points. Interestingly enough, these pressure points act as a way to “clear the mind and harmonize the spirit” according to Dr. Steven Schram, in his article entitled: Tefillin: An Ancient Acupuncture Point Prescription For Mental Clarity in the Journal of Chinese Medicine, Number 70, Oct 2002.

The boxes are each affixed to a long strap, made of leather, 9mm wide. One is placed on the head, and, according to explicit directions, positioned centrally between the eyes, with the base of the box sitting upon the forehead, just within the hairline. This corresponds to a pressure point known as Shenting-DU24 otherwise known as “Tianting” or “Courtyard of Heaven”.

Traditionally used to treat any mental disorder, this pressure point is responsible for instilling calm in the mind and balance to the spirit.

Where the straps meet behind the head at the base of the skull (external occupital protuberance), there is a knot which corresponds to the acupuncture pressure point named Fengfu DU-16 also known as “Gui Zhen”, “Wind Mansion” or “Ghost Pillow”.

Fengfu DU-16 is widely recognized to benefit memory and concentration. On the Yang Linking vessel, this is also the point that unites all heaven-bound Yang energy.

The weaker arm (left arm for right handed people and right arm for left handed people) is wrapped with the second strap seven times, so that the box lies over the bicep muscle. There are four major variants to bind the arm: Chassidic, Sefardim, Sefard, and Ashkenazi.

Essentially, though, the differences between each of the major variants are slight but important to each, they all incorporate in excess of fifty acupuncture points situated on the arm.

Possibly even more important are the pressure points stimulated on the hand, which act as a multiplier to those already activated on the head.

It does not take an expert such as Dr. Schram to see that the act of laying tefillin was strategically engineered to create a heightened sense of calm and harmony within the spirit. However, it is strange that this non-Chinese practice, harnessing energy and spiritual health has clearly been established for thousands of years.

For now, it remains the mystery of the tefillin.

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