Making Your Own Ritual Objects

Creating a tallit (prayer shawl) or designing a bar/bat mitzvah invitation can add a meaningful personal dimension to the celebration.

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Creating ritual objects in preparation for a bar/bat mitzvah can add another layer of personal meaning and is  also a way to involve other family members. A mother can make a tallit for which the grandmother needlepoints the atara, or crown. This article offers a "recipe" for creating a tallit as well as for tying its tzitzit, which are the fringes attached to the tallit garment. Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Catalog, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

There are no limitations as to the size or decoration of the tallit except for the taste, sensitivities, and personality of the person who is going to wear it. Within this, you are free to explore the range of your creativity and imagination. Some suggestions follow, but these are meant as guides or structures upon which you are invited to impose yourself.grandmother sewing 

Creating the Tallit

Watch this video to see a demonstration of how to make a tallit and tie tzitzit.

The simplest and often the most elegant way to make a tallit is as follows. Carefully search out a piece of material that appeals to you and in which you would like to wrap yourself. Buy it. Hem the ends, if necessary. Attach the tzitzit, or fringes [see below for how to tie the fringes]. Wear it beautifully.

Some refinements on the theme:

    1.  If you are concerned with shatnez [the mixing of wool and linen fibers in a single garment, which is forbidden by traditional Jewish law], check the composition of the material. If in real doubt, send a piece of it to a shatnez lab. [Find out about shatnez labs by calling the National Committee of Shatnez Testers in the United States or Canada, at 800-SHATNES (800-742-8637), or 732-905-2628 (which is in Lakewood, New Jersey). In Israel, call either (02) 654-0928, in Jerusalem, or (08) 974-0648, in Kiryat Sefer.]

    2. When selecting material, pay attention to the weight and lay of the cloth. Since it takes a lot of material to make a tallit, if it is too heavy it becomes uncomfortable. If it is not flexible, it is difficult to wear.

    3. It is probably best to get a double-sided piece of material (referring to the print or design), since both the inside and outside of the tallit are visible.

    4. A good size is: length--the span of your arms; width--36-48 inches [it's a good idea to measure some existing tallits to get an idea of what size will work best for you].

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.