The History of the Tallit

Published: 26th June 2008
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For many, the tallit also known as a prayer shawl , is one of the iconic symbols of Judaism. The principal purpose or function of the tallit is to serve as the the four corners from which to hang the the fringes in compliance with the Torah's prescription in the book of Numbers 15:37-40.



The rise of the Bar Mitzvah and of Bat Mitzvah's in the 20th century have added to the tallit's designation as a Jewish garment of great significance. In many communities, it is used by men after marriage only.



In Kabbalistic circles, the tallit is a special garment related to a person's spiritual service, intended, in connection with tefillin, to inspire awe and reverence for God at prayer.



The importance of these symbols in Kabbalistic thought can be seen in the song sung on the Sabbath known as the Song of Glory which ascribes God the wearing of Tefillin which in turn connotes God's own dedication to prayer and hence the tallit. In traditional circles, the tallit is worn by all Jewish males at the morning prayer on weekdays, Sabbaths, and holidays.



The tallit or prayer shawl is worn by the cantor at every prayer while before the Ark; and by the reader of the Torah scroll when on the platform known as the Bimah. With the rise of the various liberal Jewish movements (e.g. Jewish Renewal, Reconstructionist, Conservative, etc.), the use of the tallit among women has been adopted. The tallit is often spread over as a canopy wedding ceremonies.



The ṭallit, which can be spread out like a sheet, is most often woven of wool or silk. Traditionally colors such as white, with black or blue stripes at the ends was and remains common. Woolen tallits remain preferable for most traditional and Orthodox circles.



The most important part of the Tallit is the Tzitzit (fringes) which according to Bet Shammai (House of Shammai) consisted of four threads of white wool and four threads of blue, but according to Bet Hillel (House of Shammai) of two threads of each. The tallit katan (small tallit) is worn today among more traditional Jewish men as an undergarment.



The reason a blue cord was entwined in the fringes is addressed by R. Meïr who asked, "Why blue?" The answer was, "Because this color resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the "Chair of Glory," of which it is said, "Under His feet . . . a sapphire stone."





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Jacob Lumbroso writes articles on history and Judaism. For more information on the Tallit, Bar Mitzvah or other Jewish symbols, visit http://www.judaicaquest.com

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