An Introduction to the Jewish Prayer Shawl

An Introduction to the Jewish Prayer Shawl

Posted by Yevgeni Kuritski on 2nd Mar 2014

Tallit or the Jewish prayer shawl is one of the many important religious items used by the Jews. The Jews wear it over their outer clothes to cover heads during morning prayers, Shacharit, as well through the other prayers too. The textual reference of the shawl however suggests that the Tallit must be worn only during the daytime prayers.

Since the worshiper wraps himself with the shawl during the prayer time, it’s called the prayer shawl. It holds a very special place in Jewish tradition. Often it is presented to the groom as a part of the dowry before marriage. However, there were no initial references of Tallit in Jewish texts. Even in Bible there is no mention of a special shawl. Rather, Bible instructed worshipers to cover themselves in some kind of garment with fringes. The practice of tying knots in the tzitzit (fringes) evolved afterwards.

In Bible there were also no gender specifications between men and women about wearing the prayer shawl. So, we can conclude at the specifications were added later on. The tradition and customs of wearing the Jewish prayer shawl vary between Jewish communities. It is handed down from the father to the son or the teacher to student. It’s also gifted to the bride-groom during marriage by the father-in-law.

But normally, it’s always purchased during a special occasion. In some Jewish community, the parents buy the talit along with tefillin when the children turn 13. Among more reformed Jewish both men and women are seen wearing talits.   The practice of wearing talit started during the Biblical period around 1800 BCE. However, talits that time were different from the design we see now. It was a piece of rectangular clothe with tzitzyot; also its use wasn’t excusive only to prayers. The tallit was as well used as garment, to cover bed or burial shroud.

Nonetheless, the Jewish prayer shawl is an important religious item. Its references can be found in several important texts related to Jewish religion, such as in book of Numbers where Israelis are instructed to put tzitzit on their talits to remain humble to God’s laws. Similarly, there are also mentions of tallits in the book of Deuteronomy where it’s said that fringes must be placed at the four corners of the tallit. According to the Kabbalists depiction of Judaism, the talit is a special and sacred garment to offer prayer to the God.

Many Jews carry their own tallits to the synagogue but normally there is also a stock kept for those who do not carry one.