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The Systems of the Jewish Year

The Wrap – Putting On Your Tallis

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

A common situation. You’re standing in Shul behind an overly exuberant new Chosson, who after checking out his reflection in his shiny new Tallis bag, zips it open, pulls out his Tallis, and proceeds to whirl it around his head like a chicken at kaparos, giving everyone in a six foot radius Tzitzis lashes in the process.

The step by step tutorial:

- Remove the Tallis from the bag and separate the Tzitzis strings from one another.
- Check to see that all the Tzitzis are kosher.
- Fully unfold the Tallis and look at the Tzitzis.
- Make the Bracha
- Immediately proceed with the atifah. (More about that soon).

The bracha that we make on a Tallis is “lehisataif ba’tzitzis” to wrap with Tzitzis. What would be considered ‘wrapping’? The Tur (OC 8) records a dispute.

The Gaonim understand this to mean an “atifas yishmaelim” an Arab style wrap. The Gemara (Moed Katan 24) explains that this requires covering ones entire head and face in addition to their body.

The Itur says that only a normal body wrap is required.

The Halacha is like the Itur, although one should also cover their head. The common Minhag, as recommended by the various Poskim is to include the Gaonim’s shita as well.

There is no one right way to do an atifah with a Tallis. Here are several, I’d love to hear about other variations as well.

The Mishna Berura way

The Mishna Berura recommends the following: Have the Tallis draped over your back and head with the top of the Tallis draping over to your mouth level. Gather all four Tzitzis and flip them over your left shoulder, all the while being careful that the Tallis is covering your shoulders. Hold for 2 full seconds and release.

The problem many have with this method is, if the Tallis is covering your eyes, then that can’t be considered an atifah. [Several of the methods below avert this problem].  Rabbi Blumenkrantz ZT”L explained that the Mishna Berura means that you cover your face loosely, in a way that you can still see out.

The Sephardic way:

The Ben Ish Chai describes the procedure as follows: Put on the Tallis like a scarf (preferably whilst covering your head). Take the two right Tzitzis and throw them over your left shoulder covering the bottom part of your face in the process. Hold for two seconds, then throw the two on the right side over the left shoulder and hold all four for two seconds. Release and immediately drape the Tallis over your back.

The Lithuanian/Yekke way

The Minhag of the Lithuanian and German Jews was to put the Tallis on normally with their head covered and pull it slightly from the sides to cover their faces.

The Gra/ Chazon Ish way

The Vilna Gaon in Maaseh Rav writes that one need not do an Atifas Yishamaelim, just put on the Tallis and cover your head in the normal manner. The Chazon Ish added that covering your eyes may constitute a hefsek in the atifah and should not be done.

The Rav Moshe Feinstein way

Rav Moshe would put on his Tallis regularly and then pull the right side over his left shoulder covering to bottom of his face.

The minhag is to always keep the top of the Tallis on top and not to use it upside down, therefore we sew an Atarah on the top of the Tallis to signify ‘this way up’. The Arizal was not careful about this, perhaps this is the reason that Chabad Talliesim don’t have an Atarah.

Many have a custom to beautify their Tallis with a silver Atarah. The Aruch Hashulchan felt that this was a fallacy because it made it seem as if the main part of the Tallis is the part that covers the head whereas in truth the focus should be on the part that covers the body.

All agree that it is of primary importance that the Tallis covers the entire body, and not have it draped over the shoulders.

It goes without saying that one should follow their own Minhag.

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