Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi, Los Angeles, CA

The Wrap – Putting On Your Tallis

by | Jun 18, 2009 | 16 comments

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.

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.


  1. Elisha

    Very informative. All new Chossonim (i.e. Yechiel Pesach Shmuel and Chester) should read this to avoid foolshiness on the first day. Although the custom of the Miamonideans is to wear a Tallis even as a bachur.

  2. Rabbi Yaacov Haber

    The morning after my wedding (in Torah Ore) I put on my Talis and smacked Rabbi Moshe Tendler who was visiting accross the face. I received a lecture that I never forgot.

  3. Gavriel

    Why bother to check the strings when the tallis was kosher the day before?

    What is there to check when you only need one or maybe two knots?

    Why do people bother to check on shabbos when, if on the off chance something came loose, there’s nothing they can do to remedy it anyway?

  4. Tzvi Haber

    The problem over here is making a bracha levatala on a non kosher Tallis, and is only a recommended stringency. So we don’t trust the chazaka of the day before, we want to make sure its kosher lechatchila with all the knots, and on Shabbos we would not use it if its pasul and thus avoid a wrong bracha.

  5. Elisha

    Rabbi Haber,
    I loved your anecdote – but one question, I thought you’re not supposed to go to shule during the sheva brachos days?

  6. Ari Enkin

    I would love to see a follow up of this post: Why, where, and when did this seemingly independant mitzva – within the umbrella of tzitzis – of “atifa” come about?

    It appears that the wearing of a tallis/atifa is not a mitzvah as those who are not married dont do it (in most Ashkenazi circles). In fact, in theory a person may never come to do this mtizva in an entire lifetime if he never married.

    Ari Enkin

    p.s. I heard in the name of Rav Gifter that the only Kavana one should have when putting on a Tallis is not to hit the guy behind you with the tzitzit.

  7. the last of the litvaks

    Rabbi Haber
    I was wondering why yu call it the Rav Moshe way when the Aruch Hashulchan says it?
    It would seem to me that this or the Gaon way would be the Litvishe way? I guess i should be happy that in this the so called Litvaks dont do like the chassidim as is theusual lakewood way.

  8. Lakewood Litvak

    Last Litvak,
    You accuse Lakewood of bucking to the Chassidishe system, but what has the Litveshe system produced? The only truly Litveshe yeshiva today is YU. Would you rather us be like YU, or Lakewood and Chassidishe?

  9. mommy

    Gentlemen, gentlemen, if one must be careful not to lash his fellowman in the face with his tzitzis I don’t think that the tone of this conversation is correct either. And by the way, Rabbi Mendel Poliakoff has already cornered the market on being the ‘last of the Litvaks’. He’s over 90 and I wouldn’t want to contest him for the title!
    The Haber Mother

  10. UR

    what does “cover the whole body” mean?

  11. shlomo

    Lakewood Litvak
    There is another way. The Tiferes Yerushalyim way. Located in Lower Manhattan, it is the true Jerusalem of Manhattan.

  12. Mike

    What about the chabad way
    and what do most other chassidim do??

    and also
    the arzial did have an atarah and was very machmir in this as chabad is
    but the arizal ( and chabad) is against having an expensive(ie. silver)atarah because that would be more expensive than the tallis itslef

  13. Ta

    I was never shown how to properly put on a Tallis so this is extremely interesting and informative. Now I have to figure out whose method to follow!

  14. H A Arnevet

    According to Sedur Abotanu (Morocco/North Africa): 1), Page 57: 1) Check/separate the tzittzit (even on Shabat) 2) Fully open the tallit 3) Sat the blessing and immediately 4) put on the tallit completely covering the body and the head 4) Gather the tallit so all tzittzit are hanging in front of the wearer 5) Place both LEFT tzittzitot over the left shoulder 6) Place the two RIGHT tzittzitot over the left shoulder, in the process covering the lower part of the face a la Ismaelim (Arabs); the eyes are not covered 7) lower the tallit from the head (see next).
    Only hakhamim keep the tallit on their heads during the service.
    As a general rule, Sefardim & Mizrachim boys start wearing a tallit “gadol” when they are very young – old enough to understand/respect the tzittzit.
    We also don’t look kindly on being struck by flying. Tzittzitot. (I once say a father in an Ashkenazi shul strike his son with tzittzitot – I’m glad I was far away from them.
    Finally, North Africans saw the blessing for tallit and tefillin out load so others can share in the blessing with Bruk Hu and Amen.

  15. micha

    One more step, when checking… Make sure your tzitzis hang to the side, not downward. The side as worn — which may be the side of the garment or not, depending on how you tend to wear it. At the very least, that the knot does not rest exactly on the corner of the garment.

    The Shulchan Arukh records the opinion that tzitzis must hang down along the corner in order to fulfill the mitzvah. It is not a universal opinion; the Levush too records the opinion, but say it’s not mandatory. But the Levush does add that having the knot rest on the corner (the loop on a diagonal) is prohibited.

    And the SA says that taking care to have the loop go to the side is the accepted practice, the Rama is silent — so I assume it was his practice too. The Ah”S (se’if 19) treats it as mandatory, as does the SA haRav (OC 11:35) — the Litvaks and Chassidim agree!

    It’s in the Shulchan Arukh, and yet I don’t find too many people who know to watch for at least the Levush’s point.

    Many taliyos have loops that are too tight to easily go around the corner, so for them the risk is small. Also, it’s negligible for those who have two holes on each corner where one is for three strings and one for the fourth, as the threading through the holes guarantees it.

  16. Betty

    The part regarding how a Yekke puts on his tallis is incorrect. I know, I’m married to one!


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