What to Expect when we make a tallit together...

Last night I was at a Shiva House. Two different people asked me about the possibility of making atallit with me and they wanted to know what it is like. So partially in answer to them, here is the answer.

First of all, I can't tell you what your tallit will look like before we meet.  Each tallit is made specifically for the client.

First we study the text around putting on a tallit. Wew look at the third paragraph of the Sh'ma which is the biblical source for out wearing a tallit. We also look at the verses and intentional prayers recited when we put on a tallit. Looking at the biblical and rabbinic texts together my client gets a better sense of what a tallit is legally but also some of the larger spiritual job that a tallit needs to fulfill.

Then, I pull out lengths of silks and wools for my client to try on. A tallit needs to feel right on the body. A tallit that is too itchy or too slippery distracts the wearer from prayer.This part of the process is always fun. The feel of fabric on the body is a very personal thing. This piece of the process is usually very easy to figure out.

Then we need to think about the size of a tallit. Some people want a large shawl style tallit. Others want a smaller scarf type tallit.  The size also helps to determine the fabric choice.

The tallit is our uniform for the task of prayer.  We need to create a tallit that helps the client be prayerful.  We then start poking around in Jewish texts to find the theme for the tallit. The texts might come form the bar- mitzvah readings or it may come from a completely different source.

Some Torah readings have terrific stories but no appropriate text. Others are jam packed with wonderful choices. For some clients a line from Psalms, or an entire Psalm  might be the jumping off point for designing a tallit. During this point of the process, my client and I thumb through Jewish texts, throwing ideas back and forth while we both sketch possible ideas. It's a classing brainstorming session.

After not very long we narrow down the ideas. Often a pentimento of a rejected idea is present in the final design. many of my clients are in their early adolescence, a moment of transition from childhood to adulthood. The Tallit will often acknowledge both their childish self as well as looking towards the adult that they are becoming.

During this meeting I also take in who my client is. The colors that make my client happy. All of this information goes into the tallit as well. Sometimes, it is clear that my potential client is not ready to have a tallit at this moment. Sometimes, my client would prefer an off the rack tallit from a Judaica store. If this is the case, then they go home, with no hard feelings.
Then the client goes home, and I get to work.While I work, my client lives in my head. As I make each design decision, I want the piece to work, but I am also thinking about my client's happiness. The client comes back, usually a few weeks before the bar or bat mitzvah, and we tie the tzitzit together. Having my client tie the tzitzit serves to transfer the ownership of the piece, from me, to the client. The father of one bat mitzvah girl once described the experience to tying tzitzit with me as both deeply silly and deeply spiritual.


  1. Do you ever make tallit for people out of your area?
    I love the one above and would be interested in one like it for my daughter. We live in Florida.
    my email is lisabarr@aol.com

  2. YES,

    I do make tallitot with people long distance. In the ancient days I did it by phone. Now, I love setting up Skype client meetings for the last couple of years. While it isn't quite the same as showing up for a visit in my apartment. It's an awfully good alternative. I responded to yor email and I will be delighted to work with you.

  3. Would you be interested in doing a workshop with a group of mom and or daughters getting ready for their bat mitzva. our synagogue is in westchester? Please let me know how to contact you. thank you

  4. I would love to do a tallit workshop!! Please email me at sj.hand@verizon.net.


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