The Tallit or Tallis, depending on how you want to spell it (Hebrew/Yiddish), is a Jewish prayer shawl. Typically these shawls are tied with knots or fringes along the edges. Additionally they are almost always made of wool and are traditionally white, with black and blue stripes running down two sides of the garment (Chabad, 2007). When worn, the Tallit draped over the shoulders like a cape, with two corners at the front of the wearer, and two at the back (Chabad, 2007). As stated in both Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12, the Tallit should be worn all day; however, but this is not practical in today’s world and as such the shawl is mostly worn during Morning Prayer. (But tzitzit can still be affixed to clothing worn under the shirt). Depending on the community the Tallit is worn during prayer by either married individuals or people who have gone through their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. Even though any individual can wear a Tallit, traditionally only men are obligated to wear one (Mjl.).
To start with the symbolism behind the Tallit one has to first look at the colors of the Tallit. Specifically the blue present on the Tallit carries heavy meaning. This blue wool, known as tekhelet, was at one point, the hallmark of nobility, and its inclusion on the shawl served to remind Jews wearing the Tallit that they are member of G‑d’s “kingdom of priests.”(Mjl.). The other major symbolic aspect of the Tallit is the strings and knots of the tallit. These are seen physical representation of the Torah’s 613 mitzvahs (Mjl.). Supposedly each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. A Tallit can also sometimes be referred to as a Tzitzit. The numerical values of the five letters that comprise the Hebrew word tzitzit add up to 600. When the eight strings and five knots found on each tassel is added to that total the number 613 is reached.
Whether or not this bit of mysticism is believed or not. Wearing a Tallit is seen as both a sign of pride in being Jewish and a way of distinguishing oneself when they live in a traditionally non Jewish land.
When dressing oneself with a Tallit it is traditional to say the following prayer:
“Baruch atah adonai
Eloheinu melech ha olam
Asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav
Vitzivanu l’hitatef b’tzitzit.
Blessed are you Lord our God
Ruler of the Universe
Who has sanctified us with your mitzvot
And commanded us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.”
Chabad.org. (2007, July 6). Tallit: The Jewish Prayer Shawl.
Mjl. (n.d.). Tallit (The Prayer Shawl).
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