From Academic Kids

Tallit טלית (or tallet) in Hebrew, or Tallis in Yiddish, is a prayer shawl "cloak" that is worn during the morning Jewish services (the Shacharit prayers) in Judaism. It has special twined and knotted "fringes" known as tzitzit of about six inches attached to its four corners. The tallit is sometimes also referred to as the arba kanfot, meaning the ‘four wings’ (in the connotation of four corners).

According to classical Rabbinic Judaism only boys and men are required to wear it at various points of their lives as Jews, and many regard it as compulsory. This is still practiced by Orthodox Judaism. Historically, women have been either permitted (mainly Sephardi and western Ashkenazi rishonim), seen as obligated (mainly Karaites), or forbidden (mainly eastern Ashkenazim) to wear it. Many modern, mainly non-Orthodox, groups have allowed women to wear them if they so desire.


Historical origin

The original tallit probably resembled the "'abayah," or blanket, worn by the Bedouins for protection from sun and rain, and which has black stripes at the ends. The finer tallit, very likely, was similar in quality to the Roman pallium, and was worn only by distinguished men, rabbis, and scholars (B. B. 98a; Midrash Genesis Rabbah xxxvi.; Midrash Exodus Rabbah xxvii.). The tallit was sometimes worn partly doubled, and sometimes with the ends thrown over the shoulders (Talmud references Shab. 147a; Men. 41a).

Dying the strings sky-blue

The Israelites used an indigo colored dye called tekhelet; this dye is now believed to have been made from the snail murex trunculus. This dye was very important in both Jewish and non-Jewish cultures of this time, and was used by royalty and the upper-class in dyeing their clothing, sheets, curtains, etc. This dye is known as Tyrian purple.

In the Torah the Israelites are commanded to dye on of the threads of their tallit (prayer shawl) with tekhelet; when they look at this dye they will think of the blue sky, and of the God above them in Heaven. Tekhelet corresponds to the color of the divine revelation (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xv.).

Sometime near the end of the Talmudica era (500-600 CE) the industry which produced this dye collapsed. It became rarer and rarer; over time the Jewish community lost the tradition of which species of shellfish produced this dye. Since Jews were then unable to fulfill this commandment, they have since left their tzitzit (tallit strings) white. However, in remembrance of the commandment to use the tekhelet dye, it became common for Jews to have blue or purple stripes on their tallit. This blue on a white background became accepted as a symbol for the Jewish community, and was the inspiration for the development of the Flag of Israel.

While many statements about this dye existed in rabbinic literature, they were not clear enough to provide positive identification. Only in the 20th century has archaeological research, combined with readings of rabbinic literature, allowed scientists to conclude that the murex trunculus snail was the source of this dye. Since that time at least one company in Israel has been set up to manufacture tekhelet. A number of religious Jews now use this dye on the strings of their tzitzit.

Kinds of tallit

There are two kinds of tallittallit gadol and tallit katan.

Tallit gadol or tallet gedolah

The tallit gadol or tallet gedola, meaning a "large tallit", is worn over ones clothing resting on the shoulders. This is the large prayer shawl that is worn during the morning services in synagogue.

Tallit katan or tallet ketannah

The tallit katan or tallet ketannah, meaning "small tallit", is worn as an undergarment beneath the shirt preferably not touching the body, but worn between a T-shirt (in the UK known as a "vest") and the actual shirt one is wearing. This is preferably worn at all times according to Orthodox Judaism. The tallit katan is also known as arba kanfot or arba knafot (Yid. arba kanfos or arba knafos) or tzitzit (Yid. tzitzis).

Description of tallit gadol

The tallit gadol, which can be spread out like a sheet, is traditionally woven of wool or silk, in white, with black, blue or white stripes at the ends. The silk ones vary in size, for men, from about 36 × 54 inches (91 × 137 cm) to 72 × 96 inches (183 × 244 cm). The woolen tallit is proportionately larger (sometimes reaching to the ankle) and is made of two lengths sewed together, the stitching being covered with a narrow silk ribbon. A ribbon, or a band artistically woven with silver or gold threads (called "spania"), with the ends hanging, and about 24 inches (61 cm) long by from 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) wide, may be sewed on the top of the tallit. This band, which is considered an important part of the tallit in Ashkenazi traditions, but mostly considered of minor importance amongst Sephardim, is known as the atarah, or ‘crown’.

From the four corners of the tallit hang fringes called tzitzit, in compliance with the laws in the Torah (Book of Numbers 15:38).


When putting on a Talit Katan

While holding the Tallit Katan in readiness to put on, the tzitzit are inspected, and the following blessing is recited. The Tallit Katan is then donned; many kiss the tzitzit.

ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על מצות ציצת

יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלהי ואלהי אבותי שתהי חשובה מצות ציצת לפניך כאלו קימתיה בכל פרטיה ודקדוקי וכונותיה ותריג מצות התלוים בה אמן סלה

Barukh atah, adonai, eloheinu, melech haolam, asher kiedshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzievahnu al mitzvot tzitzit

Y'hie rahtzon miel'fanehchah, adonai ehlohay vaylohay ahvotay, sheht'hay khashuvah mitzvot tzitzit lfahnehkhah, k'ielu kieyahm'tieah b'khal prahtehyah v'diek'dukehyah v'khahu'notehyeh, v'tahr'yag mitzvot hat'luyim ba. Amen Selah

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding the commandment of fringes

May it be the will before you, Lord, my God and the God of my forefathers, that it should be considered the commandment of fringes before You as if I had fultilled it in all it's aspects, it's details and it's intentions, as well as the 613 commandments that are dependent on it. So be it, [consider what we have said].

For putting on a Tallit Gadol

On inspection of the Tzitzit

ברכי נפשי את ה׳ ה׳ אלהי גדלת מאד הוד והדר לבשת עטה אור כשלמה נוטה שמים כיריעה

Barkhie nefshie et adonai, adonai ehlohay gadaltah m'od, vhadar lavashtah. Oteh aur kasal'mah, noteh shamahyim kah'rieah

Bless, O my soul, you Lord, Lord my God, You are very great; glory and majesty You have worn; donning light as a garment, stretching out the heavens like a curtain

Before putting on the Tallit

ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להתעטף בציצת

Barukh atah adonai ehlohaynu melekh haolam, asher kied'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzievanu lhiet'atayf batzitzit

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to wrap outselves in fringes.

After wrapping the Tallit around the body

מה יקר חסדך אלהים ובני אדם בצל כנפיך יחסיון ירוין מדשן ביתך ונחל עדניך תשקם כי עמך מקור חיים באורך נראה אור משך חסדך לידעיך וצדקתך לב

Mah yakahr Khas'd'khah ehlohiym uvnay adam b'tzayl k'nahfehkhah yehkhehsahyun. Yier'v'yun miedehshen baytehkhah v'nahkhal ahdahnehkhah tahsh'kaym. Kie em'kha m'kor khayiym, b'or'khah niereh aur. M'shokh khas'd'khah l'yod'ehkhah, v'tzied'kaht'khah l'yiesh'ray layv

How precious is your kindness, O God! Mankind in the shelter of Your wings takes refuge. They will be sated from the abundance of Your house, and from that stream of Your delights You give them to drink. For with You is the source of life; by Your light may we see light. Extens Your kindness to those who know You, and Your charity to the upright of heart.


Who wears a tallit

Men: Obligation

The prayer-shawl (No. 1 above) is worn over one's clothes, and is traditionally worn by Sephardi men from early childhood and by the majority of Ashkenazi men only after marriage; although many Ashkenaz criticize this practice as it delays an important mitzvah beyond the time a Bar Mitzvah boy is responsible for it. In some Ashkenazi communities, especially western European Ashkenazim, one accordingly has the practice of all men over 13 wearing the tallit gadol.

Women: diverse views on obligation/permissibility

Historically, the tallit has mostly been permitted (but not seen as obligated) for use by women (Isaac ibn Ghiyyat (b. 1038), Rashi (1040-1105), Rabbenu Tam (ca 1100-1171), Zerachya ben Yitzhak Halevi of Lunel (ca 1125-1186), Rambam (11351204), R. Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi (ca 1140-ca 1225), Rashba (1235−1310), Aharon Halevi of Barcelona (b. ca 1235?), R. Yisrael Yaaqob Alghazi (1680-1761), R. Yomtob ben Yisrael Alghazi (1726-1802)), but with a gradual movement towards prohibition mainly initiated by the Medieval Ashkenazi Rabbi Meir von Rothenburg (the Maharam). Since the 1970s, in non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism it may be worn by women. Among Karaim, the mitzvah of tzitzit is viewed as equally binding for men and women, and both sexes therefore generally wear tallitot.

Order of putting on tallit and tefillin

In the Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods the tefillin were worn by rabbis and scholars all day, and a special tallit was worn at prayer; hence they put on the tefillin before the tallit, as appears in the order given in "Seder Rabbi Amram Gaon" (p. 2a) and in the Zohar. The correct way though is the opposite. Based on the talmudic principle of Tadir V'She'ayno Tadir, Tadir Kodem, (תדיר ושאינו תדיר, תדיר קודם). Meaning, when was has to do several mitzvot in an order one should do the more commonly done ones first. Since Tefillin are not worn on the Sabbath and Holidays while the Tallit is, one is obligated to put on the Tallit first.

The Kabbalists considered the tallit as a special garment for the service of God, intended, in connection with the tefillin, to inspire awe and reverence for God at prayer (Zohar, Exodus Toledot, p. 141a). The tallit is worn by all male worshipers at the morning prayer on week-days, Shabbat, and holy days; by the hazzan (cantor) at every prayer while before the Ark; and by the reader of Torah.

At weddings

Use by groom

In many Sephardic communities, the groom traditionally wears a tallit under the chuppah (wedding canopy). In Ashkenazi communities, a more widespread custom is that the groom wears a kittel, although many Ashkenazim have in recent years started to wear a tallit according to the Sephardic custom.

As wedding canopy

A tallit is commonly spread out as a canopy at the wedding ceremony. This may be done either instead of or in addition to the regular chuppah.

See also: Tefillin, Judaism, Siddur

Template:JewishLifeCyclenn:Tallét de:Tallit he:טלית


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