Tallitot additionl info

Additional Information on Tallitot

What is a Tallit?

A Tallit is the traditional prayer shawl that has accompanied the Jewish people from their founding day. It is shaped as a woven or embroidered square of fabric and can be made of wool, cotton, silk or other materials. The tallit is commonly decorated with embroidery or illustrations. Fringes (tzitziot) are attached to its four corners, and in fact, the entire purpose of the tallit is to hold the tzitziot.

Most tallitot posses an atara (neckband) – an embroidered or painted decoration, placed to go around the nape of the neck and aimed to mark the tallit’s correct orientation when wearing it.

Why wear a Tallit?

The order to wrap oneself in a tallit is originated in the Book of Numbers. God commands Moses: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and tell them that they make them fringes (tzitziot) in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe (tzitzit) of the borders a chord of light blue” (Numbers 15:38), and in Deuteronomy: “Thou shall make thee tassels (gdilim) upon the four borders of thy vesture, with which thou coverest thyself” (Deuteronomy, 22:12). Hence, the purpose of the tallit is to hold the tzitziot, and the purpose of the tzitziot is to remind those who wear them of the eternal covenant with God.

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.

Who wears a Tallit?

In the past the command to wear the tallit was customarily understood as applying only to married men, from their wedding day. Today the custom of wearing a tallit has greatly expanded, so that many boys reaching the age of religious majority (gil mitzvot, the age of 13) wear a tallit at prayer time. In many progressive communities the custom has further expanded, and today many women and girls reaching the age of religious majority (age 12) wear a tallit at prayer as well. Today, when visiting synagogues at prayer time, one can find a wide variety of tallitot adorning both men and women.

The Tzitzit (fringe)

The commandment of tzitzit is one of the 613 mitzvahs in the Torah. According to this mitzvah, he who has a garment with four corners (knafot) must have four groups of fringes attached to the garment, one to each of the corners.

The Origin of the Mitzvah

The commandment to wear tzitzit appears in the book of Numbers, 15:38-39:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and tell them that they make them fringes (tzitziot) in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe (tzitzit) of the borders a chord of light blue. 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.”

How is the Tzitzit tied, and What are the 7-8-11-13 Knots?

The obligation to make a knot using four threads (ptilim, the word tzitzit signifying a group of dangling strings, as in a braid, which can be seen as a tzitzit on one’s head), that are interwoven into the four corners of a garment possessing four angular corners or more appears in Talmudic traditions. A garment possessing rounded ends, or less than four corners, is exempt from the commandment of tzitzit. It has been decided in Halacha that the threads of the tzitzit must be threaded through a hole at each end of the cloth and then multiplied by two, so that eight threads will be produced (one of which is longer than the others and is referred to as shamash). The threads should then be tied in a double, well fastened knot. The shamash is then wound around the other threads and additional knots are tied. There are various customs regarding winding and tying knots, but the two most common call of four groups of 7, 8, 11 and 13 or 5, 6, 5 and 10 windings, with knots tied in between them and at their end. All in all there are five knots in the tzitzit.

What is a Tallit Katan

These days, four-cornered garments are not very common. Therefore people have developed the custom of wearing a unique garment called “tallit katan“, in order for them to be able to perform the commandment of tzitzit. For them, the large tallit worn at prayer times comes in addition to the tallit katan.

While when wearing the large tallit one blesses “… and commanded us to wrap ourselves with tzitzit“, when wearing the small tzitzit between garments, this blessing is not said, as according to some scholars, the manner in which it is worn isn’t considered proper ‘wrapping’. Instead, one will say “…and commanded the command of tzitzit upon us”.

There are various customs in regards to wearing the tallit katan. Sephardic Jews and Jews of Middle Eastern communities go by the custom of HeAri and wear it under their shirt, keeping the tzitzit concealed in their clothes. Most Ashkenazi Jews keep to a different custom and while wearing the talit katan under the shirt, leave the tzitzit outside their garments. Many Hassidic Ashkenazi Jews are accustomed to wearing the tallit katan over their garments.

What is the Commandment of Tkhelet?

It has been explained that as part of the Biblical order to make fringes, one of the threads must be of a light blue (tkhelet) color.

According to tradition, the light blue color must be produced from a specific shellfish (chilazon).  The tekhelet dying came to a complete stop in the early Muslim period. It has been determined in the Halacha that “tekhelet does not hold the white back”, and so it became customary to wear tzitziot without threads of tekhelet.

Over generations, knowledge of the shellfish’s identity was lost. Recently, some attempts to rediscover it have been made, and today researchers are of the opinion that the tekhelet was produces from a shellfish by the name of Argamon Khé Kotzim (lit, Purple One with Dull Thorns). Most Halacha scholars refrain from expressing their opinion, due to the lack of a clear tradition on the subject. In practice, tekhelet is not produced from this snail today.

tallit color

tallit color

Argamon Khad Kotzim (Purple One with Sharp Thorns) – one of the shellfish species from which the Canaanites produced the colors of tekhelet and purple (argaman).

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