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How to choose a Tallit

The purpose of the Tallit



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The Tallit, or prayer shawl, is a religious shawl-like garment worn for prayer. The purpose of the Tallit is to keep the commandment of wearing a tallit (the fringes, which are tied on the four corners of the Tallit) on a four-cornered garment.In general the fringes are supposed to remind us of all the commandments God gaveus through the Torah. The Tallit is usually worn during the morning prayers as wellas on holidays and on Shabbat during the day. The person who leads the prayer (ShaliachTzibur) wears the Tallit for every prayer, including in the evening. Traditionally, the Tallit was only worn by men but increasingly women also wear the Tallit, most commonly in reform congregations. In some congregations children wear the Tallit from an early age, in most Sephardi communities from their Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and in most Ashkenazi communities from their wedding day. Also the way of the tying the tzitzit on the Tallit varies according to Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs. Many people find it difficult to choose the right Tallit, whether for themselves or when buying the first Tallit for their children.


Traditional Tallit and modern Tallit


Tallitim can usually be divided into two categories: Traditional Tallit and modern Tallit. A traditional Tallit is white, often made of wool, with stripes, which come in black, blue and white, possibly with additional gold or silver stripes as a decoration. This style is predominant in orthodox and traditional congregations. The more modern Tallit can come in many different colors and designs. The background of the Tallit is still usually white, but designs can come as colorful silk paintings, embroidery or other creative styles. Modern designs are chosen by many people attending reform congregations, but can increasingly be found in traditional places. A modern Tallit is equally suitable for men as for women, although some colors and designs are especially targeting women. The attarah, which is the decoration part behind the neck, can either come with the blessing which is said when the Tallit is put on, or it can also a Tallit is regarding Tallit size. Traditionally the Tallit is quite large and covers a large part of the body, folded over the shoulders and hanging down over the back, sometimes also put over the head. This style of wearing the Tallit can be found in traditional congregations. A more modern way to wear the Tallit is the shawl style, which is simply put over the shoulders, not founded or hanging down. Therefore is somebody chooses to wear a shawl style Tallit, he or she needs to choose a much smaller size than for the traditional style.


Blue Thread on a Tallit


Some people put a blue thread called the techelet threat on each corner of the Tallit among the other white fringes. The "techelet" fringe is mentioned in the Torah as part of the commandment to tie fringes on the corners of our garments: "Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of techelet on the fringe of each corner." The two commandments of affixing the fringes to the corners of a four-cornered garment, which today is usually the Tallit or the Tallit katan, and on the other hand the commandment of having one of the fringes in blue, are independent of each other. The Mitzvah of wearing the tzitzit is fulfilled even when no blue thread is available and all threads on the Tallit or Tallit katan are white. The right kind of blue color which is used to dye the thread is taken from a sea animal, the chilazon. Today it is not very common to wear the techelet fringe on the tzitzit of the Tallit, because the exact identity of the chilazon became unknown. Many have tried to find the chilazon in order to find the right kind of blue to dye the fringes of the Tallit, among them the Radziner Rebbe, Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner (1839-1891) and Israeli Chief Rabbi Y.I. Herzog (1889-1959). Rabbi Leiner produced the dye from cuttlefish. Recently the marine snail Murex Trunculus has been identified as possibly being the elusive chilazon. Many people use its dye for the techelet thread on the Tallit. Because of the uncertainty of the right type of blue, many people wear only white threads as the tzitzit on their Tallit and they are waiting for the Moshiach, when the definite identity of the chilazon will be clear and the Tallit can be worn with a techelet threat that is for certain the right type of blue.


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