Any four-cornered garment, of any color, is required to have tzitzit (fringes) attached to its corners. Thus, a tallit, which is essentially a four-cornered garment set aside to use in prayer (hence the name “prayer shawl”), could be any color. Indeed it is interesting to note that in the late Middle Ages and early modern era, it was not unusual in Ashkenazi communities for people to wear colorful tallits.1 Yet, the overwhelming majority of tallits have historically been white, often with stripes.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Matching Colors

There is a disagreement as to whether the tzitzit strings must be the same color as the garment.

The Torah teaches that the tzitzit must be made of the same fiber as the corner of the garment. Some understand this to mean that they must be of the same color as well.2Others,however, maintain that the Torah was only concerned with the actual material of the tzitzit, not the color.3

The halachah follows the latter opinion. Therefore, the custom is that even if the garment is of a different color, the tzitzit are left white4 since that is the original “default” color of the undyed wool.5

The Significance of White

When G‑d taught Moses the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, the Torah tells us that “the L‑rd passed by before him.”6 The Talmud explains that G‑d metaphorically “wrapped Himself in a tallit like a prayer leader and showed Moses the structure of the order of the prayer.”7 Daniel 7:9 tells us that G‑d’s “garment was white as snow.” Put the two traditions together, and you get a white tallit.8

Additionally, white denotes divine mercy and forgiveness,9 as we read, “If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow.”10

Thus, it is preferable to wear a white tallit, which has the added advantage of being kosher according to those who require that the fringes and garment be of the same color.11


In light of the above, the custom in most Sephardic communities is to have a tallit that is completely white. The custom in Ashkenazi communities, however, is to add black (or dark blue) stripes at the edge of the tallit in commemoration of the techelet dye that would be applied to some of the strings during Temple times (for more on that, see Why the Tallit Barcode?).

(Despite the addition of stripes, the garment is still considered white since that is the primary color.12)

So the next time you see someone putting on a white tallit, take a moment to reflect on how it is evocative of G‑d’s attribute of mercy.