Which type of wool tallit katan is kosher without compromise?

Posted by Ben G. on 28th Apr 2020

Yesterday I received a question from a prospective customer wondering which type of wool tallit katan would be best for him.

Hi- Is there any halachic disadvantage to choosing the Wool Comfort Tallit Kattan instead of a Classic Wool Tallit Katan? I would rather personally prefer to use the more comfortable one as long as there is no halachic downside...

Really a brilliant question. I say “brilliant” out of a distinct lack of humility because, well, I had the same question for quite a while.

I’ve been wearing a tallis katan for the past 25 years. Over that time period I have worn mostly mesh (for a short time), standard cotton and white-striped wool.

Some people who wear wool wear only wool, primarily for halachic reasons. I usually wear wool, but sometimes wear cotton during the summer. (If I were Sephardic the question would be a bit different.)

I never worn an undershirt tzitzit garment because to me they looked sort of modern. One day, I saw someone at a tallit store in Jerusalem try on a Wool Comfort. Speaking with the salesman, he mentioned that he snips off the side bands, and voila! he has a regular rectangular tallit katan, just without the striping and fringes, and with a super comfortable, stretchy wool fabric.

That made an impression on me, but I didn’t go out and do the same.

A few months later I started to sell a product similar to the Wool Comfort, but with a snap on each side, allowing you to make it like the Wool Comfort with the side band, or open (like that customer who snipped off the side bands). One of the ones we had in stock had a slight defect, and it was my size, so I decided to give it a try.

As a former semi-professional tzitzit tie-er, I can’t bring myself to have someone else tie tzitzit on for me. But as a lifetime procrastinator, it took me a few weeks to find the time to do the tying. Finally it was ready to try on...and I have never gone back.

I still have a traditional wool tallit katan I wear on Shabbos. But I don’t love it, because it sometimes rides up until I start to feel strangled (and testy until I realize what’s bothering me) and because it’s not so great during my Shabbos nap, when I take my shirt off and it gets a bit in the way.

Uh oh. I see that instead of answering Paul’s question, I meandered on a long-worded autobiographical excursion. Let’s get back on track.

A few years ago the rabbi of a local shul gave an entire Friday night drasha on the topic of נוי ציצית, which obviously is a subject close to my heart. Among other things, he said there are really two questions, one is the beged and the other is the tzitzis. Obviously if you let your tzitzis strings get grungy and frazzled without putting on new ones, that’s lacking in נוי ציצית. A few weeks later I approached him and asked him about the beged. I said that wool invariably looks nicer than cotton, so is cotton a compromise in terms of נוי ציצית? He said no, that if you go with cotton, you just have to make sure that for a cotton garment it looks respectable. (For example, one that looks like one of the undershirts that your wife sees you in and chides you for not going out to buy new ones.)

The next question, then, is if you’re sticking with wool, should you stick with the traditional type of tallit katan, with a nice wool weave, bright white base color, striping and usually fringes along the bottom. Personally I’d say no, that as long as the garment you’re wearing is clean and not old and tattered looking, that you are fulfilling the mitzvah b’hiddur, that you’re not required to choose one type of fabric or tailoring over another.

Still, I had some vague reservations, so I took a sample of the Wool Comfort to our mara d’asra, and he agreed that it was mehudar.

In my humble opinion, in one aspect it might be more mehudar than the traditional wool type, because depending on size you choose, there might be certain questions regarding שיעור בגד, and the v-neck (as opposed to a t-neck) may help you eke out a bit more material from the bottom of the neck opening to the front bottom edge, if that’s how you hold the שיעור should be measured. (This last paragraph may be obscure for those who haven’t dealt with this halachic issue in the past.)

Also, it may have another advantage over other wool tallit katan garments. In Iggros Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, responding to the question of whether Ashkenazim should prefer wool over cotton, writes that in extreme heat you may not be properly fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzit wearing wool, because you need a garment that provides you with benefit, whereas a garment that just makes you overheated does not offer any real benefit.