I have a tallit that I bought last year that I really love. However, it is too long for me, and I have stepped on it more than once. Is there a good way to ‘shorten’ it so that I can wear it without worry (over Simchat Torah I wound it around my neck a bit so that it wouldn’t get trampled on while I was dancing!)?
I’m thrilled to hear that you have a tallit that you really love. It should be fairly easy to either make it smaller to fit you OR to take the pieces of it that you love and transfer them onto a smaller piece of fabric so that you’re not stepping on it.
At the very basic level, we wear tallitot in order to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit on four cornered garments (Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12). The Torah assumed that most of our clothes had four corners, but since our fashion sense has changed since Biblical times, we create a garment with four corners in order to fulfill this commandment. Our tallitot typically have a decorated atara (the neckband). This serves to both decorate and enhance the tallit, as well as direct the wearer to the correct direction of the tallit — the atara belongs on the top. While many store-bought tallitot have stripes on the fabric, these have no religious purpose other than to help people recognize it for what it is, a tallit.
Just like any other ritual item, it is certainly preferable not to be stepping on it! But at the same time, if you do, pick it up off the ground, clean it off, kiss it, and try not to do it again. Short of having torn it, there is no need to repair anything. You can learn more about tallitot from MyJewishLearning.com and Wikipedia.
If it is the atara, the corners, and the tzitzit that you love from your too-large tallit, the solution is fairly simple. Using a seam-ripper, remove the corners and atara from the current fabric, and resew them onto a new piece of fabric that fits you better. Unless you have a piece of fabric that you already love, I’d suggest taking a trip to a fabric store and trying on different colors and materials. Feel free to be creative about where you find your fabric or what you repurpose. I’ve seen tallitot made from an El Al airline blanket, sports themed fabric, and tie-dyed fabric. I’m currently making my fiance a tallit from fabric we bought from the Arab market in Jerusalem. The fabric we bought was probably more-often purchased for a tablecloth, but we loved it, so we bought it.
If it is the fabric itself that you love, you need to figure out if the pattern/material would survive making the tallit smaller. Depending on what the fabric looks like, this is more-or-less likely. If you’re not an experienced sewer, take the tallit to a seamstress and ask him/her if it is possible. If it is not possible to make the tallit smaller while also keeping the design, you need to decide if you’d rather have the fabric in its entirety or if you’d prefer a tallit that fits.
Rabbi Rachel Silverman is the Director of Congregational Learning at Congregation Kehillath Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Brookline. She is also the founder of Homegrown Judaica, an online source for Judaica and art from the Jewish Community.