Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The History of the Talis (Tallit) -- Its Meaning, Purpose and History
by HOIM Staff
In Deuteronomy 22:12 we read: "Thou shalt make thee twisted cords upon the four corners of thy covering, wherewith thou coverest thyself."
Also, in Numbers 15:37-41 --
"And the LORD said unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them, that they make them fringes in the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and that they shall put with the fringe of every corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray; that ye may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God."
YEHOVAH God commanded Israelite men to wear tzitzit ("fringes") on the borders of their garments. These tzitzit (fringes) were viewed as acting as receptors of spiritual energy and inspiration. For instance, in Mark 5:25-34 where it is recorded that a woman with an issue of blood touched Yeshua's garment and was instantly healed without first asking the Messiah, it is understood that this woman had actually touched the energy-filled tzitzit on the border of Yeshua's garment. A garment with tassels was considered as a common everyday item of clothing for devout Israelite men according to the commandment given to Moses for the men of Israel. Therefore, Yeshua's question in verse 30 of Mark 5, "Who touched my clothes?," is historically appropriate in its wording.
The Bible, however, does not command wearing of a unique prayer shawl or tallit. Instead, it presumes that people wore a garment of some type to cover themselves and instructs them to add fringes (tzitzit) to the 4 corners of these. These passages do not specify tying particular types or numbers of knots in the fringes. Nor do they specify a gender division between men and women, or between native Israelite/Hebrew people and those assimilated by them. The exact customs regarding the tying of the tzitzit and the format of the tallit are post-Biblical and rabbinical and can vary between various Jewish communities.
The tallit was not used in the Tabernacle by the Levites or sons of Aaron. It is not mentioned among the garments of the priests. It is not mentioned one time in the Old Testament. There is no record that any prophet ever wore one. And there is no documentation of this garment by Abraham, Moses, the prophets, or kings of Israel. There is no evidence that John the Baptist wore one.
When the Messiah said of the religious leaders of his day, "But all their works they do for to be seen of men [this is pride, vainglory]: They make broad [make them wider so as to appear more righteous and holy than other men] their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments" (Matthew 23:5, KJV), or "lengthen the tassels" (NAS). He reveals to us that it was still, at that time, the custom (as YEHOVAH God had initiated through Moses for the normal outer garments worn by all Israelite men) to have the distinctive fringes with a blue cord or thread put upon them "to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after you own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God" (Numbers 15:37-41). It was not the tallit or prayer shawl -- as a separate and special garment -- with which they could have the fringes put upon; this the Jews developed many years later after the normal style of clothing changed and men no longer wore the type of outer garments that they had worn for millennia.
With the change in clothing styles and customs it became more difficult to wear the four commanded tassels or tzitzit. To compensate for this, the tallit or prayer shawl was developed that could be worn or draped over the worshipper's clothing in the form of a shawl.
Notice what the references have to say --
"TALLITH: Is of rectangular form, of varying sizes....The preferred material is wool, but silk is frequently used, especially in modern times" (The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, 1943, 1948, p. 159).
"TALLIT: Mantle with fringes (zizit) at the four corners; a prayer-shawl worn over the garments, and used by men after marriage and, in modern times, by boys after their confirmation as 'bar mizwot.' The tallit, which can be spread out like a sheet, is woven of wool or silk, in white, with black or blue stripes at the ends" (The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, 1905, p. 676).
"In ancient times [the early 'Common Era,' well past Biblical times] and with many Jews still today, it was the custom literally to wrap one's self in the Tallith, even covering the head; in modern times, however, the Tallith is often folded and placed around the shoulders, with the fringed part hanging down in front" (The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 159).
"The cabalists [Jewish doctors who studied the cabala, the mysteries of Jewish traditions] considered the tallit as a special garment [developed years later, and different from the outer 'garments' as added to Matthew 23:5c] for the service of God, intended in connection with the phylacteries [Matthew 23:5b] to inspire awe and reverence for God at prayer" (The Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 678).
Explains Nancy L. Kuehl:
"The tallit, a four-cornered robe, on which are tzitzit, or tassels, is commonly called the prayer shawl. It is the holiest garment a Jew [Israelite] can wear and expresses his monotheism; the garment was so holy, in fact, that the tassels must have been cut off before it might be sold. The tassels are said to be the pe'er (glory) of God. What makes it holy are the four tzitzit, which are said to represent the 613 commandments of written law outlined in the book of Deuteronomy, which is Torah, the Power of God's Word! Each tassel is tied in exactly 613 knots. In Jewish gematria (numerical equivalents of Hebrew letters) the sum of these knots equals YHVH Echad, meaning God is one.
"The symbolic significance of the tzitzit is that the Power of the Holy Spirit resides in the tassels of the garments. The woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-44) understood that the power would make her whole if she could but touch it. In restoring the dead child to life, Jesus used the words (Talitha Koum) 'by the power of the tallit arise!' That is, he was, in effect, saying by the power of the Holy Spirit of the One God, YHVH, arise. The 'unclean' woman who had recently touched his tzitzit rendered him defiled. Since he was no longer in a state of 'purity,' he dared not physically touch another individual imparting to her his 'uncleanness.' Jesus merely used the power of the tzitzit (which was representative of the Holy Spirit) to raise the child from the dead, possibly by touching her dead body with one of the tassels" (A Book of Evidence: The Trials and Execution of Jesus, Resource Publications, Eugene, OR 2013, pp. 19-20).
Since the Israelite men were given talasim with tzitzit to assist with receiving spiritual energy and inspiration, they were, by implication, to pray with their heads uncovered in order to not obstruct the direct flow of spiritual energies. However, over time, it was erroneously permitted to wear a round-shaped cap (masculine) while studying the Torah, or to wrap the tallit (prayer shawl) around their head (supposedly symbolizing being enwrapped with the holy spirit) while studying the Torah.
Movies which are made with Roman Catholic assistance often portray the Messiah as praying with a tallit or prayer shawl over his head, but this is not historically accurate -- this was a Babylonian practice started many years after the life of the Messiah.
To the Jew, therefore, the Talis is a religious symbol...a garment... a shroud...a canopy...a cloak which envelopes him physically and spiritually.
In prayer and in celebration -- joy and sorrow -- the Talis has followed the Jew through the centuries.
In the Talmud we read: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, wrapped Himself in a talis...showing Moses how to pray" (Rosh Hashana 17b).
Also -- "The Atarah (crown) is usually embroidered in gold or silver. It is placed at the top of the talis so that its outside can be distinguished from its inner. The tent walls of the Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle) were marked thusly so they always hung in the very same manner" (Taamin 45a).
In the Nehar Mitzraim, Hilchot Tzitzit, chapter 2, we find: "The priests cover their heads with the talis to contain the light of the Divine Presence [Shekinah glory] which descends on them when they recite the priestly benediction."
According to the Zohar (Exodus 141a), wearing a talis "inspires awe and reverence for God at prayer."
The Talis and its wearer never part -- even in death. The pious wrap their deceased in a Talis over his shrouds.
Holy writings and religious articles -- wrapped in the Talis -- are always buried when unusable; they are never just discarded.
A Thread of Tekhelet
The Torah commands that tzitzis (fringes) contain a thread of tekhelet (blue). The reason for this is contained in Sotah 17b:
Blue is like sea,
Sea is like sky
Sky is like the Throne of the LORD.
According to Baruch and Judy Taubes Sterman, "for ancient Israelites tekhelet was God's chosen color. It was the color of the sumptuous drapes adorning Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 3:14) as well as the robes worn by Israel's high priests (Exodus 28:31). Even ordinary Israelites were commanded to tie one string of tekhelet to the corner fringes (Hebrew, tzitzit) of their garments as a constant reminder of their SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD (Numbers 15:38-39)" (The Great Tekhelet Debate -- Blue or Purple? BAR, Vol. 39 No. 5, September/October 2013).
The dye used for this color (as we shall see) came from a species of the snail family called Chilazone -- identified as the Trunculariopsis trunculus. The Talmud recounts that the Chilazone appears only once in seventy years (Menachot 44a).
Rabbinic literature indicates several locations for Chilazone:
(a) -- The mountains (Sanhedrin 91a).
(b) -- The land of Zevulan (Megilah 6a).
(c) -- Lake Kinneret (Zohar-Exodus 48a -- Lev 150a).
(d) -- The City of Luz (Sotah 46b).
(e) -- The Phoenician border (Shabat 26a).
So what shade of blue did YEHOVAH God intend tekhelet to be?
In modern times, two rabbis of renown dedicated their lives and talents to the search for the tekhelet and the Chilazone. The first was the Radziner Rebbe, Rabbi Gershon Chanoch. In 1887 he began a year-long journey to various ports along the Mediterranean coast. He visited aquariums and talked to men of science. He finally thought he found the Chilazone and identified it as the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). This creature has no outer shell, contrary to the opinion of many authorities who preceded him. Within two years, a tekhelet dyeworks was set up and about 10,000 Jews were wearing the Radziner tekhelet on their tzitzits.
However, this particular tekhelet met with great opposition. Numerous of the leading rabbis all refused to approve of the Radziner's findings.
The second scholar to delve intensely into the search for the hidden Chilazone was the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchok HaLevi Herzog. In 1913 he wrote a thesis for his degree of D. Litt. at the University of London on the very subject. His work was called Hebrew Porphyrology. Porphyrology means the study of purple dye. After years of research, Rabbi Herzog concluded that the true identity of the Chilazone was the shelled murex snail called Trunculariopsis trunculus. These are the same murex who shells were later found in the archaeological remains of ancient dye factories in northeast Israel.
"...Rabbi Herzog, like the overwhelming majority of Jewish scholars since antiquity, had firmly believed that tekhelet was sky-blue, with NO purple tinges. Maimonides (1135-1204) had declared unequivocally that tekhelet was 'the color of the sky opposite the sun when there is a clear sky' (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tzitzit 2:1). Nearly a thousand years ealier, the second-century scholar Rabbi Meir declared, 'Tekhelet resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the heavens, and the heavens resemble God's holy throne' (Midrash Sifre, Shelach)" (Baruch and Judy Taubes Sterman, The Great Tekhelet Debate -- Blue or Purple?).
The preponderance of evidence -- archaeological, linguistic and literary -- clearly supports the traditional position and points to sky-blue as the authentic color of tekhelet.
According to Exodus 39:2, 8, and 22 we find that the priestly garments were blue and white, like the blue thread among the white tzitzis.
The Talis itself should be white and blue (Berachot 9b); and the blue or black stripes in the present-day Talis remind us of the commandments (Peri Migdanim chap. 9).
The Flag of Israel
The striking similarity between the striped prayer shawl of the Jew -- the Talis -- and the striped banner of the Jewish people -- the flag of Israel -- is not accidental. Three people, in separate locations and without contact, designed similar flags: each said the Talis inspired him.
Israeli Air Force Flag
Rabbi Jacob Askowith, of Boston, Mass., displayed a banner almost exactly like the Israeli flag on July 24, 1891. In his letters, he wrote that the Talis serves as the basis for his design.
According to Jacob de Haas' book, Theodore Herzl, Isadore S. Donn, a Russian Jewish artist living in London, made a Jewish banner in 1893. Donn said "...the colors were based on biblical authority, and the stripes from the talis."
David Wolfson, Herzl's aide, is usually given credit for the Jewish flag's design. In an article penned in 1911, pertaining to the Second Zionist Congress, he said: "Suddenly I got a brainstorm! We already had a flag -- the blue and white of the talis! We had only to unfurl it before the eyes of the Jewish people and the world at large. Accordingly, I ordered a blue and white flag, with the Shield of David in its center. And when it finally waved over the hall...no one raised a question or expressed surprise. It seemed perfectly natural!"
A Major Part of Jewish Life
The Talis is present at all of the major occasions of a Jew's life: circumcision, bar mitzvah, wedding and burial. Talasim are worn by all of the bris milah participants.
The canopy of the Talis unites all who stand under it. On Simchas Torah, the children of the congregation are called to the Torah together. The Talis is spread over them, uniting all in religious experience.
For most males, a Talis is worn initially when he celebrates his bar mitzvah. The Talmud says, however, that a child of less than thirteen should wear a Talis if he knows how to wrap himself in one (Succah 42a).
When moving the Torah scroll, the Talis acts as a protector.
Customs using the Talis as a chupa vary. In certain communities, it is canopied over the heads of the bride and groom. Other communities wrap the bride and groom in one Talis. Some communities spread the Talis over the heads of the entire wedding party.
In some congregations, only married men wear Talasim. The object is that bachelors be recognized, become embarrassed, and will hasten to marry (Divrai Koheles 47).
Another explanation for this is the proximity of the law of tzitzis to that of marriage (Maharil).
Throughout the ages various styles of Talasim arose. The Yemenite Jews have an all black Talis which is worn during a period of mourning -- the German Jews have an all white Talis worn on Yom Kippur.
Old Talasim are scarce because of a beautiful tradition: burial in the Talis a man had prayed in.
From An Ancient Garb
Today's Talis issues from an ancient garb. It has its origin in the biblical commandments to wear fringes (tzitzit). In the desert, the ancient Israelites donned woven cloaks not unlike the four-cornered Abaya worn at present by the Bedouins. Putting fringes on their garments was one of the first commandments fulfilled by the Israelites after Moses descended from Sinai with the Torah.
As styles changed, pious Jews quickly designed special four-cornered garments to preserve this symbol of the commandments. The Talmud compares the Talis of the scholar to the Roman Pallium -- a toga worn by distinguished personages.
Beautifying the object used in performing a mitzvah (cheftzoh shel mitzvah)
has been a Jewish tradition for centuries. Jewish craftsmen, often housewives,
believed that aesthetic beauty added to religious experience.
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