Here in Eretz Yisrael we’re on the tail end of the longest heat wave on record. In much of the country it's been 40-45 degrees (104-113 Fahrenheit). One spot near Jericho got up to 49 degrees (120 degrees Fahrenheit). This early heat wave got me thinking about a topic I’ve written about several times in the past: How to keep cool wearing tzitzit. This time I’d like to present a wide range of strategies to accommodate different people’s preference, wardrobe, heat coping needs and halachic perspectives.
A netted tallit katan is economical and has large holes throughout, so it doesn’t absorb perspiration and is not felt much. On the other hand it’s not very elegant and is problematic from a halachic perspective according to some opinions.
A cotton tallit katan (rhymes nicely!) is definitely a good option for a number of reasons. It’s made of comfortable, thin cotton, is low cost and can easily be machine-washed providing you have a technique or device to protect the tzitzit strings. And there's a real boon for those who wear tank tops: If you prefer to wear three layers it enables you to have a lot less fabric and more ventilation under your shirt. In recent years some manufacturers have started making a special textured cotton weave that looks nice, stays in place better and seems to be highly breathable.
Also known as Perftzit or Neatzit, this has come into very widespread use over the past two decades, largely because it enables you to go from three layers to two. However, in some situations is may not be ideal. The fabric is not so thin, so if you really work up a sweat, once you get two layers of cotton drenched with moisture, you are likely to stay hot and clammy for quite a while. Also, since it’s worn against the skin it requires frequent washing. Whether it’s okay to wear a tzitzit garment directly on the skin is a bit of a halachic question.
What about for running, gym workouts, hiking trips and jogging? The undershirt tzitzit above gets you down to two layers, but you can also strip down to a single layer with either a cotton tzitzit t-shirt or a DryFit shirt. The design is almost identical; the difference between the two is the fabric, i.e. cotton or synthetic. The advantage of cotton is that it’s more comfortable and is preferable from a halachic standpoint. The advantage of the DryFit (sometimes referred to as Sport Tzitzit) is that it doesn’t absorb sweat and it’s more durable.
Many Sephardic Jews wear only wool as required by the Shulchan Aruch. (Most Ashkenazim wear cotton at least some of the time because it is permitted by gloss on the Shulchan Aruch written by the Rema.) For them the only question is how to find the coolest wool fabric possible. For traditionalists, the obvious answer is a lightweight traditional tallit katan (see here and here). You do not have to compromise on the elegance of the tallit katan garment and wool is quite durable.
If you think wool will invariably make you miserably hot, think again. It doesn’t absorb moisture and breathes well, so it actually does a decent job in many circumstances.
Wool Undershirt Tzitzit
For years Mishkan Hatchelet has made an undershirt with the exact same design as their cotton undershirt tzitzit, but using a soft, stretchy thin wool fabric. In recent years, several other companies have followed their lead, but using very slightly thinner wool. The end product is a very supple, breatheably and comfortable wool tzitzit garment, that stays in place fabulously and keeps you cool in most circumstances. Although the wool is quite soft, it’s still very slightly itchy, so you can’t get away with wearing a tank top beneath, but need a sleeved undershirt.