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A note to converts and other first-time tallit buyers

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Converts and prospective converts sometimes sound sheepish when they ask me tallit questions, as if apologizing for not knowing how to go about buying a tallit. But the truth is for many Jews buying a tallit is a first-time experience, or it's been so many years since they bought their last tallit that it might as well be the first time. Here's a inquiry we received this week from a soon-to-be convert.

Hello, so I have a couple of questions, as someone converting to Orthodox Judaism, and I'm unable to find any clear answers.

1. Do I need a weekday and Shabbat Tallit?

2. I love your Hod handwoven Tallit, but noticed the sizes are limited, and I'm a size 70. I don't know what's normal and what's not to wear, but I think the size would be shorter than the ones I primarily see in synagogue. What does size indicate, and why are the sizes for the handwoven tallits smaller, I.e. Not down to the back of the legs like I've seen.

3. Does it matter if my tzitzit have techelet or not?

Regards,

Danny

Most people have a special tallit for Shabbos, I explained to Donovan. Some people might even wear a size 60 for weekday use, to keep it manageable, and a size 70 for Shabbat, to wear it long and elegant. Or their Shabbat tallit might have a fancy atara (neckband) sewn on.

The Mishnah Berurah mentions having a special tallit for Shabbat.

Danny is right about the Hod Tallit, which is woven by hand by Maaseh Oreg. The looms used by Maaseh Oreg are only big enough to go up to a size 55.

What does size indicate? The first thing to make clear is that a size 24 or size 36 tallit is designed to be worn with all four corners in front. This is almost unheard of in Orthodox congregations. A size 45 is quite small. Size 50 is normally considered extra small, size 55 small, size 60 medium, size 70 large and size 80 extra large.

The more frum a person is the longer his tallit tends to be. So someone who is not necessarily so pious, at least outwardly, might choose a size 55 instead of a size 60, even if he's average height, say 5'6" to 5'8". Or if he's very frum, he might go with a size 70. But this is a bit of a generalization. Some people simply like it a bit long or a bit short. From a halachic perspective, a tallit just needs to be big enough to wrap around you, so arguable even a small size meets that requirement on a big wearer.

Whether to use all-white or techelet tzitzit is a very complex question that I'm not qualified to answer. And you'll get very different answers from different people. Some are very pro-techelet, some are anti, and others are neutral.

There's a whole lot of information online on the topic, most of it quite opinionated, as you might imagine. You can find some links at the bottom of this page.

And here's a post on the topic you might want to read.