Buying a tallit for a groom from Azerbaijan (or Iraq, Morocco Persia, Syria, etc)

16th Jun 2023

Often we get inquiries from the family of an Ashkenazi bride who wants to know what tallit to buy for the Sephardic groom, or the family of a Sephardic bride asking which tallit to buy for the Ashkenazi groom.

This week we received an inquiry of that sort which went a step further.

Our only daughter is getting married on August 13th this year to a lovely young man who was born in Toronto but whose family is originally from Quba in Azerbaijan.We thought it would be a wonderful way to welcome him into our family by purchasing a tallit that reflects his Kavkazi Juhuro heritage.Ideally, we would like this tallit to also be used under the Chuppah to wrap the Chatan and Kallah during their wedding ceremony.

I must confess that I am completely ignorant about what a typical Jewish Azerbaijani design looks like, so I’m hoping that you may be able to give my some guidance, so we can purchase a tallit that would be most meaningful to him and his family.

I did a bit of research and found out that there are 3 “strains” of Jews in Azerbaijan.One is Ashenazi, one is Sephardic and one is of Persian origin!!! And of course, my future son-in-law falls into the Persian bucket. I don't know much about Persian artistry.



I found it odd that Lauren wanted to know about artistry from many years ago. I would have liked to send a more delicate reply, but I couldn't find the words, so I just spit out a blunt answer, writing to her (I suppose Lauren could be a him) as follows:

Let's turn the tables. Let's say you're marrying off your only son to a lovely young lady from Azerbaijan of Persian origin. She grew up in Azerbaijan and never met an American until a few weeks ago. And she sends me the following inquiry: I thought it would be a wonderful way to welcome him into our family by purchasing a tallit that reflects his Byelorussian [or Russian or Polish or Hungarian etc] heritage.

So I do some research and find in the Israel Museum website a tallit from Byelorussia circa 1890. Why would your son want to be the only one in the synagogue wearing a tallit design from 130 years ago? The traditional Ashkenazi tallit for a long, long time has been fairly plain black stripes, with striping patterns that haven't changed all that much for centuries. 
What about Sephardic tallits? The predominate custom is white-striped i.e. white-on-white. So today -- in Israel at least -- you'll find Jews from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, Persia, etc. all wearing pretty much the same white-striped tallit. (When it comes to the tzitzit, there are two customs, which we refer to as Sephardic 7-8-11-13 and Sephardic 10-5-6-5. Many people wouldn't notice the difference at a glance at all. The vast majority of Sephardim follow the 7-8-11-13 custom, but Persian Jews don't, and since there's a lot of overlap between Persian customs and Azerbaijani customs, it could be that they too tied their tzitzit 10-5-6-5 -- I really don't know.) 
Normally if a family says 'the groom is Sephardic and wants a traditional tallit, which tallit should I choose?' I simply point them toward the white-on-white category
 Let me just add one caveat: When someone wants a traditional tallit with a bit of flare or uniqueness or self-expression, typically that comes across in the atara (neck band). The vast majority of traditional tallits made over the past few decades include a staid white satin atara with a subtle leaf and diamond design. But often a customer asks us to put on a unique atara. Among many chassidim, there's a long-standing tradition to sew on what's called a geflochtene atara, and that custom remains to this day. There's a very small segment of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal who maintain an old custom of wearing a very unique silk tallit (which actually has no atara but colorful striping and very fancy corners). 
Now it could be that in Azerbaijan there were unique local atara styles. That might be something to look into. But that's really a matter taste, so if I were in your shoes, I would bounce it off him first.