What is a Tallit Prayer Shawl ?
The Tallit is a rectangular garment with Tzitzit strings threaded through at the corners. Men wear the Tallit during prayers at the synagogue. In addition, there is a smaller garment called the tallit-katan which is worn every day, all day long, in order to keep the mitzva of the tzitzit at all times. In terms of the halacha, the Tallit is considered a ritual object for this commandment.
The Tallit is generally made out of pure ewe’s wool, because according to the Shulchan Aruch, only a woolen or linen garment can be used for the fulfillment of the mitzva. According to some, also garments made of synthetic materials carry the obligation of Tzitzit (Rabbinic ruling). As such, there are also acrylic and silk Tallitot.
The source of the commandment is written in the Torah:
…”“Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the lord, so as to do them”… (Numbers 15, 38-41)
The purpose of this mitzva according to the Torah is to remind the person of the commandments, and to distance him from following his eyes and heart, meaning to distance him from bad deeds. The Tallit creates a barrier between the worshiper and his surroundings and assists in finding focus in the prayers.
In Ashkenazic communities it is traditional to wear a Tallit only after they wed. The source of this tradition comes from the proximity of the Parshiyot ‘Make for yourself tassels’ and ‘So the man takes a wife’. However, the Mishna Brura, which most of the ashkenazic community accepted with affection, disagrees with the tradition, writing ‘Until a man gets married he’s to sit around unable to perform the mitzva of tzitzit?!’ and for that reason unmarried boys traditionally wear the Tallit-katan.
The Sephardic tradition is for boys to wrap themselves in the Tallit from Bar Mitzva age, or even earlier, and in Yemenite communities the tradition is to wear the Tallit from the age of education (about 5 years old). In Yemen they would wear the Tallit all day long, folding it narrowly over the shoulder when outside, but that tradition has been completely rescinded.
A few important points to know about the Tallit:
Choice of fabric:
As mentioned earlier, today’s Tallitot are made of three types of fabric: Wool, Acrylic and Silk.
- The vast majority buys and uses wool tallit. That is, a prayer shawl made from – 100% wool of ewes. Most Poskim’s opinions point towards wearing this type of Tallit. Therefore, is the most common tallit prayer shawl, commonly named ‘AA wool’. This is a prayer shawl made of wool ewes according to all of the rules of Halacha.
- Let it be noted that after much thought and effort, Mishkan Hatchelet has developed a lightweight tallit called the ‘Kalit’. The uniqueness is in a special weaving method, which reduces the Kalit’s weight and thus makes it more light and airy. This Tallit’s tremendous advantage is feeling comfortable in everyday life, even in the intense heat. This design also exists in a bigger version, called the ‘Kalil-Tchelet’, for light comfort during prayers.
- Another development is Tashbetz’s Tallit, which is made using a special technique weaving of wool squares, and with which it stabilizes the prayer shawl over the shoulders and prevents the Tallit from falling.
- Acrylic: These Tallitot are made of acrylic and polyester strings. These shawls are less popular, and cheaper due to the type of fabric. It should be emphasized that acrylic Tallitot are kosher under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv.
Choice of Tallit color:
Today there is a large selection of differently colored Tallitot, all of which are kosher and Mehudar according to Jewish law.
- Black stripes – mostly acceptable in Ashkenazic communities.
- White Stripes – For Sephardim. Special model – Beit Yosef – Also the Atara and corners are made of wool.
- Very broad black stripes – For Yemenites (with an option for mesh-like fringes).
- Stripes of different colors – For whomever wants a more decorative Tallit, usually blue stripes, gray, blue or silver.
Choose a Size of the Tallit:
Israel-Catalog.com has a huge variety of prayer shawls, so you should know the size required in order to facilitate the selection of tallit:
Recommended dimensions table below:
|Age||Height||Suggested Tallit Size(cm / inch)|
|Bar mitzvah||120 -130 / 3 ft 11 in – 4 ft 3 in||Size 45 : 110×160 / 43.3×63|
|130 -140 / 4 ft 3 in – 4 ft 7 in||Size 50 : 120×170 / 47.2×67|
|140-150 / 4 ft 7 in – 4 ft 11 in||Size 55: 130×185 / 51.2×72.8|
|Young Adult :||160 cm -175 cm / 5 ft 3 in – 5 ft 9 in||Size 55 : 130×185/51.2×72.8|
|Young Adult||170-180 / 5 ft 7 in – 5 ft 11 in||Size 60: 140×185 / 55.1×72.8|
|Adult||180-185 / 5 ft 11 in – 6 ft 1 in||Size 70: 150×185 / 59×73.8|
|Adult||185-195 / 5 ft 11 in – 6 ft 1 in||Size 80: 170×200 / 67×78.3|
|Tall Adult||195 and up / 6 ft 5 in||Size 90: 180×210 / 70.8×82.6|
Preferably measure you old Tallit before purchasing a new one, so you come prepared with the measurements.
In summary, the principles to buying a suitable tallit:
- Decide whether you want a prayer shawl made of wool or synthetic.
- Know your height and accordingly select the right size.
- Choose your favorite color.
- Select the fringes: smashing or handmade – thick or thin, or machine made.
- Would you like blue strings: thick or thin, Rambam – one thread of the eight blue, or R”abad – two of the eight are blue.