Salvaging or replicating a vintage tallit

13th Mar 2023

A few times a year we get inquiries from customers who have an heirloom tallit in the family with a lot of sentimental value. Here's one recent inquiry:

Recently my Uncle passed on his grandfather's tallit from Austria. It has disintegrated in parts and is too fragile to be worn in its current state. I was thinking that I would like it to be restored/salvaged into a new tallit for my son's Bar Mitzvah in 2023. My questions to you are: 1) Is it a mitzvah to salvage old instead of buying a new one for my son? 2) Is this done regularly?

I'm a bit hesitant to send it, but here's the reply I've drafted:

Thank you for your inquiry. I don't feel qualified to tackle this question, but I can share with you my personal feelings.

The idea of a tallit for prayer is largely to stand before G-d in a distinguished fashion.

Foregive the parallel, but for the sake of argument, let's say your husband has an appointment with the Chief Rabbi of Israel. He decides to wear a tattered suit that was worn by a relative who was a Holocaust survivor. The suit was worn at his wedding in a DP camp six months after Liberation. Your husband assures you he'll fill the Rabbi in on the background as soon as he steps in, to avoid any affront for seemingly coming dressed in an unbefitting manner.

Not such a great comparison, but do you get the idea? You might tell your husband to think twice about wearing the suit.

I once had a customer who said he wanted us to put techelet tzitzit on his tallit. He lived about 10 minutes away in Modi'in. The next day he brings me a tattered tallit, and tells me he'll pay extra if we untie the old frayed tzitzit and incorporate those strings with the techelet in his new tallit. His father had passed away not so long ago, he explained, and he wanted to remember his father every morning when he kisses his tzitzit during Kriat Shema.

Quite touching. In fact, it was so touching that I didn't have the heart to state my objections, even in a gentle manner. But truth be told, we have a concept of noy tzitzis, which means tzitzis should be aesthetically pleasing. Not just tzitzis. The same applies with every mitzvah object. Zeh Keli v'anveihu. That's why a lot of people have a nice menorah for Chanukah, buy tefillin with attractive writing and a good paint job, put their mezuzah scroll inside an attractive case, buy a pretty challah cover for their Shabbos table, etc. And the same applies to the mitzvah of tzitzit, which we fulfill with a tallit.

In addition to requests to restore a vintage tallit, sometimes we get customers who want to buy a tallit as close as possible to the old tallit passed down in the family. (BTW, this reminds me of the think begadim chamudos passed down through the generations all the way from Adam and Chava down to Yaakov Avinu.) That makes more sense to me. Then we can try take a look at the striping pattern, the atara (neck band) and the corner squares, and see if we can come up with something that comes close.