Tallits (Jewish prayer shawls) are often received at a milestone moment in one’s adult Jewish life. At bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, many families choose to give their child a tallit, which they will wear for the first time as they lead a congregation in prayer and learning.
This process of choosing a tallit can be emotional, but in the midst of planning for a family event, it can often be put off until the last minute. Taking the time to choose a tallit allows a moment for everyone involved to take a step back and focus on the importance of this event in their Jewish journey.
If you and your child are finding the process of choosing the perfect tallit a little daunting, here are four tips to make the process a little easier.
1. Try it on for Size
Generally, tallits are offered in two sizes, a traditional tallit gadol and a shawl size. Shawls are made using less material and are worn with all four corners hanging in the front of the person wearing it. A tallit gadol is larger, and is typically worn draped up and folded over the person’s shoulders.
While traditional styles may be more prevalent in Orthodox communities or for prayer leaders, they have recently taken hold as a popular choice for many women. The large swath of fabric can be wrapped around a family. The shawl style, simply because it is smaller, allows for more movement while wearing it, so if you are someone who likes dancing while praying, this might be the size for you.
The best way to figure out which size you like is to try them on! Don’t be afraid to take the tallit off the rack, wrap yourself up in it, and try to imagine what it will feel like as you are standing on the bima for your bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah.
2. Be True to Yourself
When you are preparing for your bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, there can be many voices vying for attention in each decision; the food, the decorations, the attire. The decision of which tallit to choose, size, color, or where to buy it, should be yours. Your friends and relatives may offer some wisdom that can help guide you, but trust your gut and choose something you can see yourself being excited to wear for the rest of your life.
3. Find a Connection
For some people, the opportunity to wear an older relative’s tallit can bring joy and strengthen a bond across generations. While these tallitot are not new, they can carry a story of family history and importance in one’s own Jewish identity.
A connection can also be found in a new tallit. Perhaps a certain color or pattern may bring to mind a memory that serves as central to your personality and approach to life.
Or perhaps you are inspired by the story of who made your tallit. You can choose to work directly with an artist who’s work you love (see the lovely weaving from Amy Smith of Blue Feet Studio for an example!), or you can find a tallit from social enterprises like Fair Trade Judaica or Advah Designs, dedicated to supporting and celebrating the work of artisan weavers.
There are many ways that you can find a connection to your tallit—the important part is to find one that feels authentic and inspiring to you, so that you will be proud to wrap yourself in your tallit.
4. Make Your Own
If none of the tallitot you see suit your fancy, you can make your own! Some choose to start from scratch, sewing or crocheting the shawl itself. Others can use a kit that provides all the parts and allows you to piece them together, tying the tzitzit as a final step.
Planning for your bar or bat mitzvah can definitely be stressful; all that studying and organizing, and remembering of everything. Choosing a tallit is your time to see a little bit of what becoming a Jewish adult is all about! There might be a lot of opinions and definitely a lot of choices, but the final say is your responsibility. You get to direct the conversation and make a statement about your Jewish connection.