Tallit (The Prayer Shawl)

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

The tallit (tall-EET) or tallis (TALL-us) is a large rectangular shawl made of wool, cotton or synthetic fibers. In each of the four corners of the shawl are strings tied in a particular pattern, called tzitzit. The origin of the tzitzit is biblical:

Speak to the Israelite people 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…

Numbers 15:38-9

The precept is to put these strings on the four corners of one’s garment — in ancient tradition, with a single strand of blue as well — as a reminder of the duties and obligations of a Jew. Since most people no longer wear literally four-cornered garments, the tallit is worn specifically to fulfill the biblical precept.

Traditionally, men wear a tallit during morning services; in non-Orthodox synagogues, many women also wear a tallit. In some Orthodox congregations, only married men wear a tallit. One may see people gathering the tzitzit in their left hand and kissing them when the paragraph from the Torah referring to them is recited.

Most synagogues have prayer shawls available for visitors to use during services. However, many people prefer to purchase their own prayer shawl. A wide variety are sold at most Judaica stores and on the Internet.

Before putting on the prayer shawl, it is customary to say the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהִתְעַטֵּף בְּצִיצִית

Baruch atah adonai
Eloheinu melech ha olam
Asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav
Vitzivanu l’hitatef b’tzitzit.

Blessed are you Lord our God
Ruler of the Universe
Who has sanctified us with your mitzvot
And commanded us to wrap ourselves in tzitzit.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of how to put on tallit:

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