On Shabbos, I sometimes find myself gazing at the tallits in front of me. Usually I can figure out which tallit I'm seeing. My congregation has very conservative proclivities, so there's not a whole lot of variety.
Today, probably the vast majority of traditional wool black-striped tallits are made by one of two companies: Mishkan Hatchelet or Talitania. Both are located in Israel (with distribution centers in the US and elsewhere) and the two are head-to-head rivals. When one company comes out with the new tallit concept, the other often introduces a very similar version of their own.
So the leading top-end tallits (not including more Chassidic styles, e.g. Chabad or Belz or Turkish) can be narrowed down to three types: the age-old smooth tallit fabric, a slightly textured weave and a more discernibly textured weave.
Prima A.A. vs. Prima A.A.
The heading is a bit of a misnomer. Mishkan Hatchelet used to call their bread-and-butter tallit Prima A.A., but at some point changed the name, here in Israel, to Tzemer A.A. But we didn't change the name. To this day we call it Prima A.A.
To make matters confusing, somewhere along the way Talitania started making a Prima A.A. tallit of their own. Although I've heard very good things about it, we don't currently carry the Talitania Prima A.A. Part of the reason is because every once-in-a-while we get a customer who is very particular about the striping pattern, and believe it or not, Talitania uses a slightly different striping pattern for different sizes of the Prima A.A. (see photo on right).
But which is a better tallit - the Talitania or the Mishkan Hatchelet? The jury's still out on that. If you ask me, I'd say the Mishkan Hatchelet, but last week I asked a colleague and he ooh-ahed the Talitania. I made a point of asking him because he worked for many years in a tallit shop that sold both manufacturer's tallits, and now works for a wholesaler who sells both. Most retailers work with one manufacturer or the other, and tend to be partial to whichever supplier they have chosen to work with. But this particular tallit seller (like us) was accustomed to working with both, so I felt he would be likely to be an impartial observer.
Hamefoar vs. Malchut
Made by Mishkan Hatchelet, Hamefoar is marketed under the name פאר קל in Israel. Here's a stab at a very rough translation of that: Light Luxury. The texturing is very subtle, the airy weave is superb, it does a good job of staying in place on your shoulders, drapes nicely. Everything you could ask for in a tallit. And the Malchut is quite similar. Personally I like the weave of Hamefoar a bit more, although I myself owned and wore a Malchut for several years, and it served me well.
Tashbetz vs. David Tashbetz
The Tashbetz is marketed under the same name in both Hebrew and English. Here in Israel, Talitania calls their version of this box-weave concept David, but we felt that didn't have the right ring to it, and because it's almost identical to the Tashbetz, we call it David Tashbetz. The box weave is designed to have optical nonslip qualities.
Weekday or Shabbos Tallis?
If you want one tallis for weekday use and a second tallis for Shabbos, there are three possible strategies:
1. Use pretty much the same tallis, only whichever one is new gets the honor of gracing your shoulders on Shabbos. So after one or two or three years, when it's starts looking like white and clean and crispy, you downgrade it to weekday use and get a new Shabbos tallis.
2. You use pretty much the same tallis, only one is a size bigger and is reserved for Shabbos use. To some people, a longer tallis looks more elegant, and a shorter tallis is more practical and manageable.
3. Your Shabbos tallis has special additions, such as a lining and side bands to make it a bit heftier, or maybe a special atara.
Of the six tallits mentioned above, all of them has what it takes to qualify as a Shabbos tallis.