As b’nei mitzvah students and their families prepare for their big day, life can start to feel like a whirlwind of phone calls with caterers, chanting Torah trope while pacing up and down the hallway, and a hundred other details that both the kids and the parents have to do to get ready. As a tallit (prayer shawl) artist and the founder of Advah Designs, I’m lucky to get to spend a lot of time with b’nei mitzvah families, and one of my favorite parts is working with people who decide to tie the (knotted ritual fringes) on the tallit together.
In the midst of the chaos of planning a bat mitzvah, carving out time to sit together as a family and learn a new ritual together can be a powerful and memorable experience for all involved. Tzitzit are perhaps one of the most evocative Jewish symbols and are meant to serve as a reminder of the mitzvot (commandment) Jews commit themselves to observing.
While the actual process of tying tzitzit is quite simple, I’ve found that parents can often be intimidated by the process, worrying that they won’t do it right or that their kids will get frustrated with it. In fact, in teaching workshops with kids and adults, I’ve found that it’s usually only the parents who are worried, and that most kids are thrilled to dive in and rarely worried about messing up. You can follow these simple instructions to create a great, memorable tzitzit-tying experience for your b’nei mitzvah student.
1. Select a tallit where you have the option to tie the tzitzit yourself.
Many artists and small Judaica businesses offer this option. You can also ask if your local Judaica store or synagogue gift shop can special order a tallit for you without the tzitzit attached. For more advice on picking the perfect tallit, check out this post written by a Jewish teen about how to choose the perfect bar or bat mitzvah tallit.
2. Learn about the different ways to tie tzitzit and decide which you’d like to do.
There are many different ways to tie tzitzit strings, based on Spehardic and Ashkenazi traditions and other local customs. Each of these traditions has a different meaning, and it can be fun to explore this meaning together with your child. For example, in one traditional Ashkenazi tying method, the strings are wrapped seven, eight, and 11 times, which add up to the 26, the numerical equivalent of God’s name. The last string is tied 13 times, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for one. Together, these tzitzit spell “God is One.” This is a great resource to explore different tying options.
3. Plan a time to tie the tzitzit together where there will be no interruptions.
Put away the telephones and tablets, clear off the dining room table, and set aside a good 45 minutes to dive into this project together as a family.
4. Set an intention.
Before tying tztzit, we are commanded to set an intention about the holiness of the work, and to say “Le Shem mitzvat tzitzit,” for the sake of the commandment of tzitzit.
To make this ritual more relevant to kids, I often encourage them to think about also setting their own intention before beginning tying the tzitzit. What do they hope to feel when they wrap themselves in their tallit? What would they like to think about and remember each time they feel these tztitzit in synagogue?
5. Start tying!
You can follow these simple step-by-step instructions of tying the traditional Ashkenazi tzitzit, or seek out instructions for other styles. I encourage you to let go of your inhibitions and not worry about getting it exactly “right." If you follow the instructions you’ve selected and enjoy the time together as a family, you will end with a truly memorable and personal tallit that your kid will be proud to wear for years to come.
Do you wear a tallit? How do you feel when you wear one? Have you tied tzitzit together as a family? Please share your experience in the comments below!