How Do I Pick The Right Talit For My Child’s BMitzvah?

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Dear Miriam,

My child’s B’Mitzvah is coming up in a couple of months. We just started looking for a tallit for them to wear at the service, and I immediately got sticker shock. It would be one thing to spend a lot of money on something that would get a lot of use, but it’s possible that my child will only wear this a handful of times. (We don’t go to synagogue regularly, and adults at our Reform congregation often opt not to wear a tallit at all.) Even if my child does want to wear a tallit as an adult, it’s likely that their taste will change or they’ll outgrow the one that fits now. What is a reasonable amount to expect to spend, and where can I look for a range of options that won’t break the bank?


One-time Wear


Dear One,

Before I dive in, I want to note that I’ve kept this letter entirely gender-neutral for a couple of reasons. First, because in an egalitarian setting like a Reform congregation, your child’s gender doesn’t matter when it comes to ritual garb, and I love an opportunity to emphasize that. And second, I was asked this same question twice in the same week by two different parents with children of two different genders, and I want my answer to speak to them both equally. 

Also before I dive in, I want to define my terms and provide a little more background. A tallit (or tallis) is a ritual prayer shawl that many Jews wear to pray. (There are specific times and circumstances prescribed for wearing it that go beyond the scope of this column.) Typically, in a lot of Orthodox communities, men begin to wear a tallit when they get married. In most egalitarian communities, people of all genders begin to wear a tallit when they reach the age of adulthood, the age of BMitzvah (traditionally understood as between ages 12 and 13 for girls and 13 for boys).

I’ll start answering your question with a story: When my spouse and I got married, we decided to buy new Shabbat candlesticks. I experienced an intense sticker shock, which the very religious storekeeper could obviously see. She said to me something I think about almost every week: “What you put into Shabbat, you get out of Shabbat.” She explained that if you spend a lot of money (or time of effort) to honor Shabbat, you get a lot of fulfillment from Shabbat. I bought the cheap candlesticks, but when I spend money on the fancy ingredients to serve guests on Friday night or take the time to try out a complicated new pastry for Saturday breakfast or put in extra effort to clean the house before Shabbat starts, these words echo back to me and make the investment feel purposeful. 

You are (and hopefully your kid is) almost definitely putting in a lot of effort to make your child’s BMitzvah feel worthwhile. You are probably also putting in a lot of money. In the scheme of things, $500 on a tallit is probably small potatoes compared to how much you’re spending on… actual potatoes? Bagels? Flowers? You get the idea. This is a tangible, ritual component that won’t be consumed and won’t go away and might be neglected but might not. So I’d encourage you to think about the actual cost in the context of the whole budget and the purpose of the experience. 

That said, you certainly don’t have to spend that kind of money. Synagogue gift shops and Judaica stores are likely to carry tallitot (plural of tallit) in a range of price ranges. These stores have the advantage of letting your kid get a feel for what size and fabric feels right to them. Many synagogue gift shops can place special orders for you, and then you can feel good that your purchase is supporting the synagogue. Once you have a sense of what size and fabric your kid prefers, many websites sell tallitot for $150-200. If you’d like to spend even less, you can ask family members if they have a tallit lying around that is available to have or borrow. This option has the added benefit of being both free and sentimental. 

Believe it or not, you can also make one yourself – or with your kid! – for the cost of fabric and not much more. You will need someone to help you or teach you to tie the tzitzit, the fringes on the corners, so there’s a clear trade-off of money versus time here, but 1) see above on effort, 2) think about what it might mean to your kid to have a tallit they make themselves, and 3) it’s worth knowing that this isn’t some mysterious foreign object that requires only specific kinds of fabric and colors of stripes or patterns. Some styles are more traditional than others, but you have a lot more leeway than you may think. 

As you said, sometimes people outgrow the tallis they wear to their B’Mitzvah, but plenty of people don’t, and they wear it or cherish it or hold onto it to pass onto someone else in the future. Better to embrace buying a tallit as part of the planning and part of the budget and buy something your kid feels great about now than trying to project what they might like 20 years from now. Best of all would be to find something that feels cost-appropriate, age-appropriate, religiously-appropriate, and that gets approval from your kid. That last sentence applies to pretty much everything about B’Mitzvah planning! How you handle this purchase can give you practice for all the other decisions to come, and for a lifetime of balancing priorities with and for your growing-up kid. 

Be well, and mazel tov,