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What is the Tallit?

By Ariel Smith - Eshofar


Often we see worshippers in Israel involved in prayer under a striped garment. This type of thing is normally synonymous with the Jewish religion. The question that now arises is one that asks, whether this assumption is necessarily the only truth?

The answer to this question is a resounding, No!!

What then is a Tallit, Tallis, Tallit Katan, Talleisim or Prayer Shawl and why can we as believers in Yeshua (Jesus) Messiah also make use of a Tallit?

Before we move into a detailed discussion of the Tallit, we need to understand a very important point; 

As with many things in life, people tend to become attached to customs and physical items.  We see this even in our daily routine of worshipping the Father.  I have personally stood astonished at many occasions, were believers would kiss rocks and objects to the point of worshipping these items.  These actions were all intended to spiritualize the moment more, no doubt, but is this truly the way in which we should seek serving Yeshua?

 

We should be very careful in not allowing ourselves to fall victim to this type of behaviour, when involved in prayer, worship or our structures of faith and belief as a rule.

Do not become a victim of any type of tradition! Follow Yeshua and serve Him, through the word of God.(The Bible). This should always be your guideline.

Yeshua Himself says in: Joh 14:15  If ye love me, keep my commandments.

The Tallit should therefore always be used as an item that strengthens your relationship with Yeshua and is used because you love Him and want to keep His commandments.

Background on the Tallit or Prayer shawl

The garment that we call the prayer shawl or the Tallit is not necessarily the one spoken of in the book of Numbers. It is an adaptation of what people use to wear in the days of the exodus. The Biblical Tallit (prayer shawl) is the four cornered garment that was worn over their clothes. The under garment or robe was called a Haluk and was lighter in weight than the outer garment. The outer garment was theTallit (prayer shawl) and was heavier in weight.

The foundation for the Tallit as garment

When referring to the Tallit, we normally refer to an over garment. This garment consists of three main parts;

The Physical garment

The physical Tallit resembles a striped sheet.  It is normally rectangular and traditionally worn by religious men. This garment is worn over the head an shoulders and ranges in colour, from white to decorated in an assortment of colours.

The main purpose of using a Tallit should always be to seek the presence of the Lord. It should never become an instrument of tradition or dictation.

The Kanaph (Wings)

On every corner of the garment is a corner piece called the kanaph.

In Hebrew Kanaph means wings or corners.

Just as the Tallit (prayer shawl) surrounds us in prayer, so God surrounds His people with His wings. It is therefore symbolic, that just as we cover ourselves in our prayer shawls to separate and shield us from external distractions and foreign thoughts, God shields and protects us through His commandments, love, grace and glory.

The large Tallit (prayer shawl) surrounds one and symbolizes protection.” We can thus recognise the fact that God’s law symbolised in the tzizit of our prayer shawls is our guardian.

Exodus 19:4  You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.


When a person wraps himself in his Tallit (prayer shawl), he symbolically places himself under God’s sheltering love. Indeed, when he dons the Tallit (prayer shawl), he recites Psalms 36:7, 9. This material action gives new and more meaning to Psalms 57:1’s declaration: “In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge.”

The Ark of the Covenant that was the focal point of the “Most Holy Place” in both the tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem demonstrates the fact that even God’s throne itself is overshadowed by the wings of divine protection. The mercy seat on the top of the Ark of the Covenant was the site of the localised material manifestation of the Spirit of God, the Shekhinah. Covering the four corners of the mercy seat were the wings of two cherubim. What powerful imagery: God’s provision of mercy and loving kindness for His people is always overshadowed and protected by the wings of the “living creatures” that both guard His throne and extend perpetual, unceasing worship that exalts His Holiness: “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” (HOLY, HOLY,HOLY)

 

The testimony to God’s ancient people (and to His people of all ages) is that His mercies are unending, extending to the age of ages. Those in the Messiah are “seated with Yeshua in Heavenly places, “enfolded in the wings of His everlasting mercies.

Quoting from Psalms 36:7 this prayer suggests the full significance of the Tallit (prayer shawl): “How precious is thy loving-kindness, O God! And under the shadow of thy wings so the children of men take shelter…”

The Tzizit (Tassels)

In Numbers the Lord speaks to Moses and instructs him to communicate with the Hebrews and inform them of His commandment, regarding Tzizit.

Numbers 15: 37-41The LORD said to Moses,

v. 38Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.

v. 39  And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.

v. 40so you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.

v. 41I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God."

 

From this section in Numbers you will find out that the children of Israel were commanded to attach Tzizit.

The Tzizit are the tassels that are attached to the four corners (Kanaphim) of the Tallit. The customary practice is to have 3 white and 1 blue strands as part of the construction of the Tzizit.  This definition is however not scriptural and freedom in construction of these tassels are common.  There are many variations in the construction of these tassels. Some are very colourful and others focus on a main colour as theme. The only true requirement, according to the scriptures is to have a blue cord on the tassel of each corner.

The long fringe is commonly knotted in a particular way today. This is purely driven by tradition, mostly derived from the Jewish religion and is not  a pre requisite and also not according to scripture.  We will however consider the significance of the tying style applied by the Jews, to enable us to understand this tradition.

Jewish significance in tying the tassels or Tzizit

Today we find many variations of tying Tzizit.  These are all based on traditions and filled with symbolism.  The most common way of tying Tzizit today is that, used by the Jews.  Herewith an example of how they tie the Tzizit.

The symbolic significance of this tying method can be explained as follows:

There are 4 tassels. One on each corner of the garment.

  • Each tassel comprise of the following:

8 strands per tassel and 5 knots with 4 windings per tassel.

When adding these numbers together (8+5+4) it equals 18.  18 is the numeric reference to the Hebrew letters Chet and Yod. These two letters spell Chai or Life.

  • Windings per tassel

Each tassel represents 1. 1 is the numeric equivalent of Echad meaning the

Lord YHWH, He is one God.

There are 4 windings in each tassel. 4 windings is numeric equivalent of the letters of the covenant name of God. YHWH

 

There are 5 knots in each tassel. The 5 knots are symbolic to the first five books of Moses; the Torah.
Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers/Deuteronomy

 

The four windings are wound as follows:

 

(1st-7) 7 windings between knot 1 and 2

This is added to the second and third windings.

(2nd-8) 8 windings are wound between knots 2 and 3.

This is added to the first and third windings.

(3rd-11) 11 windings are wound between knots 3 and 4.

This is added to the first and second windings.

A total of 26 is obtained by adding these together26 is equal to the total value of the letters: YHWH(The name of God.)

(4th -13) 13 windings are wound between knots 4 and 5.

This is equal to the word Echad (One) dxa (1+8+4=13)

Together these spell:  (YHWH is one)

Deu 6:4  "Sh'ma, Yisra'el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, Isra'el! YHWH our God, YHWH is one];

Remember that even though there is nothing wrong with this method of tying the Tzizit as done by the Jews, the only Biblical command is that there needs to be a blue cord in the tassel.   We should thus not get fixated on traditions, but focus on obedience to God and serving Him with that which He commands.

 

Strange practice.

Some questions could surely be asked on the reasoning for this “strange” practice. Why did God want his people to wear these strange tassels?

We need to consider that the Israelites were commanded certain things, in order to be able to be differentiated by others. They were even commanded to eat certain things and not eat other things. Many examples of these are present in the Bible.  The one external differentiating quality that we are focusing on here is that they were told to dress in a certain way. All of these were visual reminders of setting them apart, sanctifying them.

It was a visual announcement or reminder to those around them that these are a particular people, these are peculiar people. These are people that God calls His bride.  They are therefore to keep his commandments.  These fringes or tassels reminded them of the importance to do so.  Because they lived in a world where there were all kinds of ways to dress, to eat, to worship and to speak. God Himself set them apart from all people to make them distinctive as His bride. He wanted them to be identifiable, because He loves them.

When we read the “Old Testament”(Tanach), we come across 613 commandments (laws). I have often heard it said that, we’re under grace now, not under law.(Yeshua died for

our sins on the cross) This is true, gloriously true, however if you would read most of the 613 Biblical commandments in the Torah (first five books of the Bible) you will find that you as

Natsarim/Nazarenes/Christians keep them without even thinking about it. It just makes sense.

Remember what Yeshua said in Joh 14:15  If ye love me, keep my commandments.  It is also said in 1Jn 2:3  The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands.

We are thus not able to gain salvation through any of our works or by keeping any type of commandments. Yeshua came to pay the price for us with His precious blood. We have salvation because we believe in Him.

Regardless of this being true, the commandments of God still remain His way for us to live.  We are still His bride and should still keep his commandments. They may not

bring us salvation, but they are still His commandments and they do still please Him. This remains the way He wishes us to act as; a “Set apart” bride.

 

Tzizit as commandment from God

The Tzizit were commanded by God.  These are to be tied to the four corners of the garment.

In modern day Bibles the Tassels or Tzizit are however translated from Hebrew into Greek and then back to modern languages, which tends to give miss representation of the actual words.  This creates situations where it is translated as ‘hem of the garment’. Many of us will identify with the “Hem” as the bottom of our pants, or the edge of our sleeve which is folded over and sewn to avoid fraying. This is certainly not what is referred to as the tzizit.

The ancient seal of purity/holiness.

In the ancient days, when a prophet had to give word to a king, it was practice for him to scribe the prophecy and then press his seal into the letter by using his tzizit. This was a symbol of the documents official-ness. It was thus confirmed to be pure and holy. The modern day method of wax and monogram sealing was derived from this practice.

The Tallit as visible symbol

The Tallit (prayer shawl) as the visible symbol of the Word of God is a demonstration Of the positional and personal power that is transferred when the mantle passes. In all

subsequent generations, the term passing the mantle has come to mean the transfer of authority and anointing from one leader to another, from one generation to another.

An example of this is when Elisha picked up the mantle (Tallit) of Elijah after he was taken up by a whirlwind. 

2Ki 2:13  He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;

 

The Tallit as little Tent

The Tallit (prayer shawl) is known as a prayer shawl or little tent because it can be worn over you like a little tent. This I personally do when in need of privacy, whilst speaking to the Lord.  Only men were obligated to wear them in the time of the ancient Hebrews, but women also wear them today, if they wanted to.
Psa 61:4  I will live in your tent forever and find refuge in the shelter of your wings. (Selah)

The Tallit as the Closet

Greek word for closet is (tameion), which means “an inner chamber, or a secret room.”
The closeting of oneself in the covering of the Tallit (prayer shawl) was a symbolic separation from the world around the Hebrew man.

Matt 6:6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Types of Tallit

Various forms of Tallit are worn today.  Firstly we have the Tallit or Prayer shawl, described in the introduction.  There is also Tallit Katan (Small Tallit), which are garments that are worn under or over the clothes.  The normal practice is to wear this garment under the clothes.

It is possible that the seamless garment that the soldiers gambled for at the
 foot of the cross was this type of garment.

The colours on the Tallit (prayer shawl) according to the description of those worn by the High priests were usually crimson purple and royal blue as outlined in the Torah

The Levitical Tribe has blood red and white with black stripes. These colours are also in the banners of the tribes. The bible makes reference to the garment of Moses being red, black, and white. Signifying he was from the tribe of Levi.

Epilogue

As you cover yourself with the Tallit (prayer shawl), you have a physical symbolic awareness of the fact that you are secure in the shadow of God’s presence. Being “under the wings” of the Almighty.

“When you put on a Tallit (prayer shawl) you should think that the Light of the Infinite One is hidden within this Tallit (prayer shawl) that you wrap yourself in…and that when the wings of the Tallit (prayer shawl) cover you, you are covered in the wings of the Light of the Infinite One.”

 Malachi 4:2-3Butfor you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. v. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.



Comments on this article...

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Jan Van Zyl - 22nd August 2010 at 22:07pm
Wow. What a wonderful article. I now have clarity about this subject. First time that this makes sense and is not sold as a Jewish tradition. We should welcome this inner closet to draw us nearer to God.
I wish we could read more articles about how we could connect Christianity to our Hebrew roots.