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The Jewish Prayer Shawl

The Jewish Prayer Shawl

The Tallit


The mitzvah of tzitzit is discussed in the third section of the Shema, which is recited during the morning prayers. Therefore, during the morning prayers it is customary to don a tallit gadol (“big tallit”)—a prayer shawl. Wearing a tallit is the ideal way to observe the mitzvah, for only in a tallit is the individual enwrapped in the garment.

In most Ashkenazi communities, men begin to wear the tallit only after marriage (and continue to do so even if they are widowed or divorced). According to Sephardic tradition, boys begin wearing a tallit at the age of bar mitzvah or even earlier.

In most communities, a person who is called up to the Torah for an aliyah—even if he is a bachelor or isn’t praying at the moment—dons a tallit out of respect for the congregation. Similarly, the chazzan always wears a tallit, even if he isn’t married, and even during the afternoon and evening services, when he is the only one who wears the tallit. On the other hand, many, including Chabad, do not follow this tradition.

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Ariel London June 5, 2017

Why there is this difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim? Reply

Mendel Adelman June 6, 2017
in response to Ariel:

Well, the source if the difference is a quote from the Maharil (Sefer Hamaharil, Minhagim-Hilchos Nisuin Siman Yud).

He writes that there is a custom not to wear a tallit gadol until you get married.

The halacha itself would seem to suggest that one should wear a tallit gadol as soon as one turns thirteen (Mishna Berurah 18:10).

The Bnei Yissachar explains the minhag in Kabbalistic terms.

He says that the tallit gadol represents "ohr makkif", surrounding light. That level is the level of simcha. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) says that unmarried men are not on the level of simcha. So unmarried men should not wear a tallit.

The custom to wait until marriage was adopted in areas where the Maharil was the main rabbi. In other Ashkenazic communities and all Sephardic communities, they stuck with the basic understanding of the halacha. Reply

Lyn Brooklyn June 5, 2017

What to do with tallit of deceased? I have a bar mitzvah tallit and wedding tallit of my father. His burial wish at the time was to just be buried in the shroud not his tallit. Reply Staff June 6, 2017
in response to Lyn:

My condolences on the loss of your father. If it's in fair condition you can keep the tallit and give it to a grandchild or relative, if that's not an option you can give it to a rabbi who can use it at synagogue or give it to someone who could use it. Reply

Vanessa Bridgeport February 9, 2017

Can you please tell me what is the words around the neck of the prayer shawl says Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For January 6, 2017

To Burton Jay Benenson This is really a question for the rabbi of your synagogue, but here is my take. Since you have adopted the custom of wearing the Tallit during prayer, you should not stop doing so without consulting your local orthodox rabbi to see if you would require an annulment of a vow, since performing a good practice three times may be considered a tacit vow. You should, in any case, wear Tzitzit during prayer, whether on a large Tallit or on a small garment. There are many communities where boys begin wearing a large Tallit at Bar Mitzvah, so one is not out of line to do so. Reply

marilyn myers toronto December 25, 2016

What should one do with a used/old tallis? Reply

Burton Jay Benenson Philadelphia December 25, 2016

Unmarried Men Wearing a Tallis I went to Hebrew school and was bar mitzvahed at a Conservative shul. Even though I've never married, I became accustomed to wearing a tallis during morning services. I now usually attend an Orthodox shul and see many men over 13 without a tallis. Is it wrong for me to continue wearing a tallis during morning services since I've never married, or may I still wear it since it has become a habit? I think I would feel very uncomfortable not wearing it. Thank you. Reply

Suze Greenbelt, MD January 9, 2015

Special Prayer Insert Into Prayer Shawl, Where?? The local rabbi said there is a special prayer contained inside prayer shawls. Can you tell me where to look in my brother's prayer shawl to find it? Reply

Larry F. JACKSONVILLE May 25, 2017
in response to Suze:

The prayer is usually embroidered into the tallis so it lays from shoulder to shoulder. I have always seen it embroidered in Hebrew letters. Never seen it in English. Reply

Cliff Christmas, FL April 4, 2012

Tallit and Passover... Being new to this I have many questions. One that has been on my mind as of late is: Being the head of the house (and married), do I wear my tallit during the Passover Seder? Reply

Mr. Alex Linares Klein via October 23, 2011

The Jewsh Prayer Shawl I really enjoy your articles. They are helping me for my studies and training. I have a question. Can a non-jewish person wear a tallit during services?
Thank you in advance. Reply

Anonymous Colorado August 22, 2017
in response to Mr. Alex Linares Klein:

No. The tzitzit represent OUR covenant with HaShem (613 mitzvot). This tradition stems from the Mitzvah given to us (read the third paragraph of the Shema), not the rest of the world. It is inappropriate for non Jews to done a tallis. Reply

This is no fringe mitzvah! The tallit and tzitzit serves as constant reminders of our obligations to G-d and our fellows.
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