The Torah explains about the fringes on the corners of a Jew’s garments. Many men and some women wear a small vest called a Tallit Katan (small shawl) under their daily clothing with fringes on each corner. Others wear Tallit (prayer shawls) for morning prayers, prayers on Sabbath, and some wear them whenever engaged in prayer or Jewish study. The, “big idea” is that when seeing and touching the fringes we should remember all the instructions of G-d and do them. The actual portion from the Torah is longer and is from Numbers, 15:38-40 (1)
I have been saying yes for deciding to take on the Mitzva (a good thing to do) of wearing a Tallit Gadol (a large prayer shawl that holds at its four corners fringes as commanded in the Torah) for prayers since the birth of my Daughter 10 years ago. Wearing a Tallit was not an option for girls when I became Bat Mitzvah. It wasn’t until my Daughter’s Naming, as she was wrapped in my beloved, now deceased, Father’s Tallit, that I decided to learn about it and the Tzitzit (the actual fringes). It is a lovely custom to wear a Tallit and the beauty of this and its observance, has brought a richness to my ritual practice that I had not previously enjoyed.
Since I teach 7 th grade students in our Congregation’s supplemental school, I now include instruction exploring the traditions of the Tallit and practice sessions for learning how Tzitzit are wound and tied. One of the things I love about the Tzitzit is that my Daughter plays with them while we pray. She adds extra knots some weeks, she braids them, wraps them tightly around her fingers, binding herself to me, them and our traditions; she curls up under the Tallit and cuddles next to me during prayers. Our Tallitot (I have several as I keep trying to find the right emotional and tactile,
"fit.”) are building their own stories; as well as my story and my Daughter’s story. A tradition yes, but an evolving religious family tradition as well.
One of my previous Gratz Classmates, Rabbi Debra Smith, compiled a wonderful book about Tallitot (plural for Tallit), Every Tallit Tells a Tale (2) . In the book, there are stories about individual choices to wear, make, share and even repair precious Tallitot. One of our family’s favorite stories about a Tallit though is not in Rabbi Debra’s book. It is in a book by Sheldon Oberman, called The Always Prayer Shawl (3), A young boy inherits his Grandfather’s Tallit. The telling of the story is his Grandfather’s journey to America. The protagonist Adam, is a young Jewish boy in Czarist Russia, who must leave his ancestral home at the outbreak of the revolution. As he departs, his Grandfather gives him the prayer shawl he received from his Grandfather, who wore it too. We like the story quite a bit and my Daughter is mesmerized because she is now the keeper of her Grandfather’s Tallit too. Which, of course has a story of its own as well.
When I pray, I feel perfectly wrapped up in my prayers while in my Tallit. It is a different feeling than that of praying without one. Steven Lewis, in the book The Rituals and Practices of a Jewish Life
(4 )expresses this well: “I pray. The tallit wraps perfectly around me in prayer- exposed, vulnerable, grateful, exhilarated, awed, helpless, distraught, and joyous. These feelings might arise at any moment in my day, but here they are different, felt as a Jew in prayer connected to other Jews in prayer next to me, around the world and backwards and forwards through time. For me, prayer is a portal to connection. Although I don’t need my tallit to pray, it does help. After the blessing, all wrapped up, eyes closed, I breathe slowly. I feel the material on my hands, cheeks, and forehead; I feel the warmth of my body and smell the cloth containing all of me- struggles and potential, disappointments and aspirations, all what G-d understands of me. Wrapped up that way in my Tallit, I feel closer to understanding it myself.”
As I continue to explore the richness of my Jewish heritage and continue to learn to understand my place within it, I hope you will continue to follow my blog as we once again, “Study Torah on the iPhone.”
L’heat (until next time)
1. http://www.sefaria.org/Numbers.15?lang=bi from the internet 05/09/2017
2. Smith, D.W. Every Tallit Tells a Tale, Stella Hart, Inc, 2005.
3. Oberman, S. The Always Prayer Shawl, Boyds Mills Press, 2005.
4. Olitzky, K., Judson, D. The Rituals &Practices of a Jewish Life, Jewish Press, 2014.