Wearing a Tallit

The tallit is made of a densely knit fabric, usually either cotton or silk, and is decorated with patterns that can be of many shapes and kinds. The four tzitziot (fringes) at its corners express the Biblical commandment of wearing fringes, and form an inseparable part of the tallit.

A tallit is customarily worn for the morning prayer (Shacharit) of every day of the year, weekdays, Shabbat and holidays included. A tallit is also worn for the Musaf Prayer on Shabbat and holidays, and throughout the Yom Kippur prayers. The Public’s Delegate (shliach tzibur) commonly wraps himself in a tallit throughout the daily prayers (though not all communities are strict on this point regarding Mincha and Arvit prayers). The tallit plays a role on special events as well: The father of a newborn dons a tallit during his son’s Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony, and in some communities a bridegroom wears a tallit under the chupah (wedding canopy), during the wedding ceremony. Finally, it is a common custom in Judaism to wrap the deceased in a tallit, for his burial.

The color of the threads (ptilim) on the sides of the tallit is traditionally a pure sky-color light blue (tekhelet), and white. In the past the light blue color was produced from the fluid of a particular species of shellfish (khilazon). After the color’s precise source was lost, the use of a light blue thread was stopped, and all tzitzit threads were hence white. In recent generations renewed attempts to produce the color tekhelet have taken place, and some believers have gone back to wearing a tallit featuring a light blue thread on each of its four sides.

There is no uniform age among all Jewish communities, after which it is accustomed to use a tallit: While Jews of Middle Eastern communities begin wearing a tallit at the age of religious majority (gil mitzvoth, 13 for boys), in Ashkenazi communities it is customary that a man must wear a tallit only after his wedding. It is quite possible that the more lenient Ashkenazi approach stems from the harsh economic situation experienced by the Jews of pre-modern Europe, which made purchasing a tallit for a family’s youth more difficult.

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