Tallit (The Prayer Shawl)

The corner fringes on this ritual garment remind the wearer of all the commandments in the Torah.

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Another device similar to the tallit has also been adopted by pious Jews. This is to wear under the outer garments a kind of vest with four comers to which the tzitzit are attached. This garment is worn all day and is known as the tallit katan ("small tallit") or the arba kanfot ("four comers").

Who Should Wear the Tallit?

According to the halakhah [Jewish law], women are exempt from the obligation to carry out those precepts that depend for their performance on a given time. Since the precept of tzitzit is binding only during the day and not during the night it follows that this is a precept from which they are exempt. Thus women have no obligation to wear the tallit, and until recent years it was extremely unusual for women to wear it for prayer. Nowadays, even among some Orthodox women there has been a strong desire to wear the tallit for prayer, and many women now do so, often having a Tallit, tallis, or Jewish prayer shawlspecial colored or decorated tallit in the latest fashion. Orthodox Rabbis generally disapprove of women wearing the tallit, chiefly because it is untraditional for women to do so, but others see no objection to it.

In some Ashkenazic communities unmarried men do not wear the tallit. The reason given is that the Deuteronomic verse about the wearing of a garment with fringes is followed by the verse (Deuteronomy 22: 13): "If a man marries a women," indicating that a tallit is not to be worn until one is married. It has been remarked that the real reason is to enable the young ladies in the women's section of the synagogue to observe which young men are eligible for marriage.

The tallit is usually of wool or silk and should ideally be long enough to cover most of the body. Although many Jews in modern times wear a silk tallit that is really little more than a scarf around the neck, in more recent years the older form of a woolen tallit covering most of the body has again become the norm.

Blessings Recited on Donning the Tallit

Before putting on the tallit the benediction is recited: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments, and hast commanded us to enwrap ourselves in the fringed garment." In the traditional prayerbook the following meditation before putting on the tallit is found, based on the Kabbalah: "I am here enwrapping myself in this fringed robe, in fulfillment of the command of my Creator, as it is written in the Torah, they shall make them a fringe upon the comers of their garments throughout their generations. And even as I cover myself with the tallit in this world, so may my soul deserve to be clothed with a beauteous spiritual robe in the World to Come, in the garden of Eden."

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.