Tallit – Tzittzit

Most Jewish people think more of the tallit than they do the tzittzit. The tallit is the prayer shawl worn during service. However, the tallit is just a garment on which to place the tzittzit. G-d never instructs us to wear a tallit but He does tell us to tie fringes on the four corners of our garments.

Deuteronomy 22:12 says “You shall make tassels (tzit-tzitot) on the four corners (kanafim=wings) of the clothing with which you cover (kacah) yourself.”

Numbers 15.37-41 says, “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God.”

So, the tallit is a rectangular shaped garment that has tzittzit or fringes on the four corners. A tallit is worn only in the morning prayer service because the Scriptures say “look at it”. The rabbis have interpreted that as meaning to see them by daylight. The leader of the prayer will wear a tallit in the afternoon and evening service.

A tallit is worn when one becomes a bar/bat mitzvah, which traditionally would be age 13 for boys and age 12 for girls. According to the rabbis, women are not obligated to wear the tzittziyot.

The tzittzit consisted of four strands of thread. One was to be blue and it was longer than the others were. The blue was a reminder of the sky and thus our focus on heavenly things. The fringes were tied so that they were doubled in number.

The tzittzit are tied in a very specific pattern. “A hole is carefully made and reinforced in each corner of the tallit. Through each hole, four strands are inserted: three short strands and one long strand. The longer strand is called the shammash and this is the one, which is used for winding around the others. To tie the tzittzit, line up the four strands so that the three of equal length are doubled evenly, and the fourth strand is lined up at one end with the other seven ends. With four strands in one hand, and the other four in the other, make a double knot at the edge of the fabric. Then take the shammash and wind it around the other seven strands seven times in a spiral motion. Make a second double knot, with four strands in one hand and four strands in the other. Then wind the shammash around the seven strands eight times and make another double knot. Wind the shammash around eleven times and make a double knot. Finally, wind the shammash thirteen times around the remaining seven strands and make one final double knot. When done correctly, the tzittzit will have 7-8-11-13 winds between the double knots.”

What is the significance to this pattern? One interpretation is that each winding stands for one of the four letters of G-d’s name. Another interpretation is that the numbers have special meaning in this way: 7+8=15, which in Hebrew is written yod-hay, the first two letters of God’s name (the Tetragrammaton). The 11 equals the third and fourth letters of G-d’s name, the vav and hay. So the first three windings spell G-d’s holy name. The last set is equivalent to the Hebrew word echad, one, so the windings could be interpreted as saying “G-d is one”.

A third interpretation is that the first three numbers 7, 8, and 11 equal 26, which is the equivalent of G-d’s name. The 13 then represents the 13 attributes of G-d given by Maimonides and recited in the Yigdal prayer. Finally, the numerical value of tzittzit is 600 plus the 13 knots equals 613, the number of commandments contained in the Torah. Therefore, every time we put on the tzittziyot, we are reminding ourselves of the commandments of G-d.

Along with the primary purpose of the tzitzit based on the Pentateuch, we find another, later meaning. In ancient times, tassels were part of the hem of a garment, and the hem symbolized the wearer’s authority. When David spared Saul’s life in the cave at En Gedi, he cut off the comer of Saul’s robe, symbolically demonstrating that the king’s authority would be cut off. This is seen in Saul’s response: And now I know indeed that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand (1 Samuel 24:20).

Tassels added to the hem were not worn by commoners, but by the nobility or royalty.The second significance of the tzitzit, then, is that they showed the wearer to be more than a commoner. He was a noble, or a royal personage.

Today’s observance is slightly different from that given in the Scriptures. The main thing is that the tzittziyot are not a part of our regular garments. Instead the tzittzit are put on the outer garment, tallit, which is worn in the synagogue. This practice came about during the Middle Ages when we were persecuted for being Jewish. In orthodox circles, a tallit katan, a small prayer shawl is worn every day as an undergarment.

There is one thing missing from the modern tzittziyot, the blue thread. Over the years after the destruction of the Temple, its usage faded away and was forgotten. The blue was extracted from a snail in the Mediterranean. That snail disappeared and helped to forget the blue. In recent years this particular snail has reappeared. This is something that is of great excitement to Orthodox Jews and specifically to those known as the Temple Mount group, who desire to see restoration of the Temple worship.

Some Jewish Siddurim (prayer books) have a meditation to be said after a Jewish man puts on the tallit, while it fully covers the head and eyes. Quoting from Psalm 36:8, 9, this prayer suggests the full significance of the tallit: “How precious is Thy loving-kindness, O God! And under the shadow of Thy wings do the children of men take shelter. . .” As an observant Jewish man covers himself with his tallit, he has a physical symbolic awareness of the fact that he is secure in the shadow of God’s presence. He is under the wings” of the Almighty. “When you put on a tallit you should think that the Light of the Infinite One is hidden within this tallit that you wrap yourself in . . . and that when the wings of the tallit cover you, you are covered in the wings of the Light of the Infinite One.”( Or ha-Ganuz l.Tzaddikim, p. 36, quoted in Yitzhak Buxbaum, p. 106.)

Psalm 91.1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. . .” The word for “wings” in this powerful passage is kanaph, the same word for the corners of the tallit.

Messiah was believed to come with healing in his tzittzit because of what was written in Malachi 4.2:  “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (kanaph in Hebrew). As we previously stated, kanaph is the same word used for corners in the Numbers passage.

We know that Yeshua wore tzitziyot Himself, and that many people reached out to touch them to receive healing.

Matthew 14.35, 36: “And when the men of that place recognized Yeshua, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all who were sick to Him and begged Him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched Him were healed.”

Matthew 9.20, 21: “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If only I touch His cloak, I will be healed.'”

Mark 6:56 “Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged Him that they might just touch the border of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Rabbi Paul was not a “tent” maker. More than likely he was a maker of tallitim. Acts 18:3 Many were healed from the handkerchiefs/aprons from his body. Acts 19:11-12. Could these perhaps have been part of his tallit/tzit-tzit?

Most tallitot have a neckband, called an Atarah. This often has the blessing on it that is recited before placing on the tallit.

How to put on a Tallit:

  1. Open the tallit and hold it in your hands so you can see the atarah.
  2. Recite the blessing: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu melech haolam asher kid’shanu, b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hit’atef ba’tzittzit.
    Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the tzittzit.The blessing over the tallit katan is as follows:
    Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu melech haolam asher kid’shanu, b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al mitzvat tzittzit.
    Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of tzittzit.
  3. You then kiss the end of atarah at the last word of the blessing and then at the first word.
  4. Wrap the tallit around your shoulders, holding it over your head for a moment of private meditation.
  5. Adjust the tallit on your shoulders comfortably.

Kissing the tzitziyot takes place several times during a service. The first time is when the third paragraph of the Shema is recited which mentions the tzittzit three times. Every time the word is heard, the worshipper kisses the tzittziyot, which have been gathered into one hand. The other occasion to kiss the tzittziyot is during the Torah hakafah. The tzittziyot are kissed and then used to touch the Torah mantle. This shows our devotion and love for the Holy Scriptures.

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