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What is the Tzitzit and Tallit?

What is the Tzitzit and Tallit?

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"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: They shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments… And this shall be tzitzit for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G‑d, and perform them" (Numbers 15:38-39).

Most people don't think of Judaism as a fringe religion. Yet that's our uniform and badge of honor, our everyday reminder of who we are and what we're here for—four tassels hanging from the fringes of our clothes.

In ancient times, we would hang the tassels from the fringes of the four-cornered cloaks that were part of people's everyday wardrobe. Today, Jewish men and boys have two ways to do this mitzvah every day:

a) During prayer, wrap yourself in a tallit gadol (literally: big cloak). This is the large sheet-like fringed prayer shawl worn during the morning prayers.

b) Wear a little poncho called a tallit katan (literally: small cloak). For most of us, it fits neatly under the shirt.

The fringe tassels themselves are called tzitzit. Their strings and knots are a physical representation of the Torah's 613 do's and don'ts. It works like this: Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value. The numerical values of the five letters that comprise the Hebrew word tzitzit add up to 600. Add the eight strings and five knots of each tassel, and the total is 613.

Wearing tzitzit is a sign of Jewish pride. Jews have always had a way of dress to distinguish them from the people of the lands in which they lived—even when that meant exposing themselves to danger and bigotry. By the grace of G‑d, today most of us live in lands where we are free to practice our religion without such fears. Today we wear our Jewish uniform with pride and with our head's held high.

Kabbalah teaches that the tallit garment is a metaphor for G‑d's infinite transcendent light. The fringes allude to the immanent divine light which permeates every element of creation. By wearing a tallit gadol or a tallit katan, a Jew synthesizes these two elements and makes them real in his life.

Photo by Menachem Serraf, Montreal, Canada
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Anonymous Boston, ma November 8, 2015

I have an old tallit which I want to give away. Any suggestions? Reply

Chabad.org Staff February 13, 2014

To Karen Please see this link for information on the blue thread and why you don't see it around much nowadays. Reply

Karen February 8, 2014

tzitzit I believe Scripture indicates that a blue (Hebrew תכלת, tekhelet, tək·ā'·leth) thread (Hebrew פתיל "pəthiyl") known as "tekhelet" itself, is included in the tzitzit. I don't see the blue thread anywhere. In fact, I received a tallit as a gift from Israel and there are no blue threads included on the tzitzit at all.

Numbers 15:37 – “Adonai said to Moshe, "Speak to the people of Isra'el, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot on the corners of their garments, and to put with the tzitzit on each corner a blue thread.... Reply

Anonymous London January 28, 2014

"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: They shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments… And this shall be tzitzit for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G-d, and perform them" (Numbers 15:38-39). that really does apply to all Jews (not just men) since Jewish men and women are both children of Israel. If it were just for men it would say men. Is it the Chabad belief to interpret Children of Israel as just relating to men? Reply

Meira Shana San Diego January 22, 2014

Tzitzit - Rosary? I wonder if the Catholic rosary is a take off on the tallit and tzitzit. Reply

Anonymous new york, ny December 29, 2013

neck scarf? Hi everyone,

I recently received a neck scarf as a gift from a holiday party in my office (secular office in finance industry). I have never been one to wear scarves before, but I realized before putting it on that it seems to meet the requirements for a four cornered garment, which would require tzitzit to be attached to the corners. While I realize a simple narrow scarf would not suffice as a form of donning my tzitzit, is the scarf on its own unkosher to wear? Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal October 23, 2013

RE: Covering your head with the tallis Ideally you should cover your head with the tallis for the entire duration of the prayer (see Mishnah Brurah 8:4). Reply

Anonymous VA October 20, 2013

Covering your head with the tallis During prayer, when is it appropriate to cover your head with the tallis.

I have been covering my head when I say a brokah, and when I want to intensify my concentration. Reply

aussieVic Shoalhaven, NSW, Australia April 26, 2011

Graham's comment I find that your answer to the comment does not make much sense to me. Deuteronomy 22, sentence 1 is quite clear, you must "not wear a mixture of wool and linen together" full stop. Sentence 2 does not change this. Of whatever material the garment consists then the threads must consist of the same material, i.e. woolen garment, woolen threads; linen (cotton) garment, cotton threads. Surely, it's that simple? Or is it me that's simple??? Reply

Shmuel Shraga April 5, 2011

Graham Deuteronomy 22:
"You shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen together. You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."

You see the poetry here? You shall not wear the two together unless doing so will allow you to wear tzitzit. How does that sit with you? Reply

Graham speed telford, Shropshire April 2, 2011

tzitzit I have been told that the tzitzit may be made of wool and linen mixed. This seems to be against Torah.
Please help Reply

Kay auckland, new zealand May 5, 2008

general stuff Thank you so much for allowing an idiot learner like me to learn through your site. It helps me understand my bible as i begin to realise some of the laws, traditions, and understanding that my ancestors can hand to me. Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org July 8, 2008

Tallit during prayer Here are two reasons why the large tallit is word during prayer in addition to the small one worn under the shirt.

Rabbi Yosef Karo (Bet Yosef 8) writes that wearing a tallit over one's head helps foster a feeling of contemplative awe.
While the small tallit does fulfil the basic obligation, it is not the most optimal way of doing the mitzvah. For only in a tallit is the individual enwrapped in the garment. Since we read about the tzitzit during the Morning Prayer, it is appropriate that we do so while wearing the best sort of tallit possible.

See Why do we wear the Tallit only for the morning prayers? for another fascinating reason. Reply

asdq July 6, 2008

why do we need a tallit gadol if we are already wearing a tallit katan? 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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