Judaica Guide: A Complete Guide to Essential Judaica & Hebrew

Tallit - Prayer Shawl - Tallith

The Tallit (also sometimes spelled Tallith) is a Prayer Shawl worn by Jewish men and women (Orthodox women do not wear Tallit) after they reached their Bar Mitzvah (13th Jewish Birthday) for boys or Bat Mitzvah (12th Jewish Birthday) for girls. The Tallit is used during the morning prayer, on all weekdays (including Sabbath and other holydays). It is not worn for afternoon and evening prayers.

In Ashkenazi communities it is usually only worn by married men, but there are different customs about this.

Tallit

Tallit

The Tallit itself is a white rectangular piece of fabric, which is usually made of wool, but sometimes is made of cotton, poliester or silk. On each of the four corners of the Tallit are special knots called Tassels (Tzitzit) in fulfillment of the biblical commandment. The purpuse of the Tallit is to hold the Tassels, so the Tallit itself has no religious meaning. The purpose of the Tzitzit (according to the Torah) is to remind us of God's commandments. Many Tallitot have blue or black stripes woven in along the shorter ends. They also commonly have an artistic motif (also called Atarah or crown) of some kind along the top long end (the part that goes against your neck). There is no particular religious significance to the Atarah, it simply shows which side of the Tallit shoudl be up.

The word Tallit originally meant "gown" or "cloak." It was a rectangular mantel that looked like a blanket and was worn by men in ancient times. Initially, the Tallit was worn as a daily habit, but after the exile of the Jews from Eretz Israel and their dispersion, they came to adopt the fashions of their gentile neighbors and the Tallit became a religious garment for prayer; hence its meaning of Prayer Shawl.

Types of Tallit

  • Tallit Gadol - The Tallit Gadol is the large Tallit worn during prayers. It should be large enough to cover most of the wearer's body.
  • Tallit Katan - The Tallit Katan is the small Tallit worn by men and boys almost always. It is usually worn under the clothing. It should be at least 16 x 16 inches in the front and in the back. The Tallit Katan is usually referred to simply as Tzitzit.

Tallit Requirements

A Man wearing a Tallit

Man wearing a Tallit

  • The Tallit must be long enough to be worn over the shoulders (as a shawl), not just around the neck (as a scarf), to fulfill the requirement that the Tzitzis be on a "garment."
  • The Tallit may be made of any material, but must not be made of a combination of wool and linen, because that combination is forbidden on any clothing.

The Blue Thread

In the Bible it is said that one should insert a blue thread into each corner of the Tallit. This particular blue is known as Techailis and can only be obtained from an animal known as the Chilazon.

Since we no longer know the identity of this animal we are unable to perform this part of the mitzva of Tzitzit. Nevertheless, Tzitzit which does not contain the blue thread is perfectly valid.

The Biblical Source

  1. Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
  2. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
  3. That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.

Numbers, 15:38-40

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