Who doesn’t want a Christian tallit marketed as a beach shawl?
Walmart, it turns out, which removed that item from its website after Jews noticed it — and greeted it with a mixture of ridicule and outrage.
Walmart’s site described the product as “Elegant Sunscreen Scarves Sun Block Shawl Scarf Beach Shawl Towel Clothing Accessories for Women Judaism (Blue),” a description clearly optimized for search engines if not cultural sensitivity.
Once discovered, reactions ranging from curiosity (“I have so many questions,” tweeted Atlantic columnist Yair Rosenberg) to outrage (from the watchdog group Stop Antisemitism). By the next afternoon, Walmart had removed the item, which had been listed for $40.99, as well as a second product with a similar name from a different seller that had been available for the cut-rate price of $14.39.
“Walmart has a robust trust and safety program, which actively works to prevent items such as these from being sold on the site,” a spokesperson said. “After reviewing, these items have been removed.”
Like other products that have drawn criticism from Jewish consumers — including “Schindler’s List” leggings printed with scenes from the iconic Holocaust film — the “elegant sunscreen scarves” reflect the oddities of contemporary merchandising.
In this case, the products were sold by third-party vendors using Walmart’s online marketplace, where shoppers can browse up to 60 million items. Those products are not subject to the same practices as those that Walmart sells directly, and many of them have names that are more a list of keywords than an accurate description of what a customer might receive.
Additionally, the tallitot for sale were not actually intended for use by Jews. The printed Bible verses on the corners and the fish imagery visible in some of the product photos are giveaways that the items are made for Messianic Jews, who pray using the trappings of Jewish tradition while also believing in the divinity of Jesus.
Messianics and others who appropriate Jewish practices, including, increasingly, right-wing Christian activists, represent a growing market for ritual items. A search for “tallit” returned 286 items on Walmart’s website; some were clearly marked as Messianic but many others lacked language indicating that they are not traditional Jewish ritual items.
A search on Amazon, home to the internet’s largest storefront, turns up even more results, some coming from reputable Judaica brands but many others from brands seeking to appeal to Messianics and traditional Christians.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency