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Significance of the Tallit (Prayer Shawl)

October, 2012

The tallit (sometimes called a "tallis" with an Ashkenazic pronunciation) is a garment one can wear to create a sense of personal space during prayer. By wrapping yourself in it, or by covering your head with it, the intention and direction of your prayers can be enhanced. The tradition is that the tallit is worn only during the morning prayers, though it is also worn for the evening Kol Nidre service during Yom Kippur. The garment can be made out of linen, wool, silk, or synthetics, so long as the biblical prohibition against the wearing of clothing combining linen and wool is observed.

It is not the garment itself, whether beautiful and adorned or plain and simple, that makes the prayer shawl special. What transforms a piece of cloth into a tallit are the tzitzit, the fringes on its four corners. The Torah instructs us to wear these fringes on the corners of our garments; that we will see them and be reminded of all God's commandments (Numbers 15:37-41). The mitzvah (commandment) is to remember God, to further holiness in our lives, and to keep the commandments; the tzitzit are the visual reminder. The tallit is not worn at night because we are supposed to "see" the ritual fringes by daylight.

Receiving a tallit can be a wonderful moment during a bar or bat mitzvah. Here, Stella receives a tallit from her grandmother at her bat mitzvah and it becomes a focal point of the ceremony.

You might also find our Blessing for Putting On Tallit helpful, with audio and English transliteration of the blessing as well as a video.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Aramaic for "all vows," the opening words and name of the first prayer that begins the evening service on Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre has come to refer to the name of the evening service itself. Hebrew for "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") Hebrew for "tassel" or "fringe," the name for specially knotted ritual fringes (strings). They appear on the four corners of a tallit (prayer shawl worn during prayer services) and tallit katan (small shawl, worn by observant Jews every day under their shirts). Yiddish for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. Hebrew for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
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