How white is a white wool tallit?

Posted by Benjamin on 10th Apr 2024

What shade of white is a wool tallit? It could probably be best described as off-white. Here's an inquiry we received from a customer this week:

I've just received my order . Initially,when I put on my talis over my white cotten shirt,it looks Yellow .I understand that all of that depends on the bulb being utilized ,but even under white light it seemed a little yellow.I will look again in sunlight tomorrow. Even in sunlight, the atara of the talis is very white,  whereas the talis itself is slightly yellowish. Perhaps i will check out my friend's talis on Shabbos. He purchased exactly the same one from you probably 9 months ago. I will let you know what i find.
Thanks, Bernie R.

Bernie's comment threw me for a loop. The truth is that in recent months I myself had noticed that the base color of Mishkan Hatchelet tallits seems less white than it used to be. I asked one of the company veterans working out of their production center in Be'er Sheva, and she said she hasn't noticed that at all. I also asked a colleague, a fellow tallit seller, and he very vaguely concurred. Mishkan Hatchelet is one of the biggest, most established tallit manufacturers in the world. Many people know them by their US name, Keter Judaica. So at this point, it's still unclear to me whether the current shade of Mishkan Hatchelet tallits is deliberate or not. It could be that the shade is meant to give their tallits a vintage look (we sometimes get customers who are reluctant to part with their 20-year-old tallis) or that there are advantages in avoiding some of the chemical treatments needed to whiten the wool.

But the thing is, the tallit Bernie ordered was not made by Mishkan Hatchelet/Keter, but by their rival, Talitania, which also has been making tallits for many, many years. 

After reading his remarks, I put a David Tashbetz (the Talitania tallit he ordered) alongside a Tashbetz (Mishkan Hatchelet) and immediately saw that the David Tashbetz was visibly whiter. I also compared it to another less-known brand, and the whiteness was the same, so I'm perplexed as to what Bernie was seeing on his end. 

Note that Bernie wrote, "When I put on my talis over my white cotten shirt, it doesn't look as white as cotton." He's entirely correct. White cotton is not a good yardstick for white wool.  Wool is not pure white, but has a natural off-white hue that depends on many factors, including as the breed of the animal, the season, the climate, the diet and the health of the animal.

Most traditional tallits are all-wool, but a few less expensive models are a wool/synthetic blend, and the base color of those is noticeably whiter.

White-striped tallits

All of the above applies to black-striped tallits. With white-on-white tallits, it's a bit different. Today's white-striped tallits can be divided into two main types: tallits with shiny lurex striping and integrated matte striping.

Many white-striped tallits, often referred to as "Beit Yosef," are all wool, including the corner patches, striping and atara. They are a creamy white, and seem to be essentially the same shade regardless of the manufacturer.