The Tallit and the Tzitzit: the garments and what they represent

The Tallit and the Tzitzit: the garments and what they represent

We have all seen Jewish people wearing garments that have a certain string or strings attached to it. Have you ever wondered what they are? what do they represent? For many people, this type of clothing may seem out of fashion or even strange to wear to parties or to social events. Even to wear them it could seem strange. Some may think that only the high hierarchy religious people may wear them; others may think is a religious garment and it could be worn by anybody anywhere; others may think that it could even become fashionable.

Anyway, these two garments, which really are one are like this. The thing is that one is the whole garment and the other one are just the strings, they have great meaning in the Jewish world and they are there for a reason. In fact, for many reasons.

Yosef Meystel took the time to put together some information about these two garments or concepts that are very well known in the Jewish community. Here is what they mean and what they are.

First, it is written that these types of garments should be worn at all time “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 Gd, and perform them” (Numbers 15:38-39). So it is a commandment to do so but it is still up to each person to wear the garments.

There is a difference and here it goes:

  • The tallit is a cloak that Jewish people wear to represent their beliefs. There are two types of tallits. The first one is called the tallit gadol which means a big cloak. People use it during prayer and they wrap themselves around it. This is the same garment used in the morning prayers. There is also another type of tallit that can be worn under the shirt and is called a tallit katan which means small cloak.
  • If you take a look at the traditional garments in Jewish people you will see some sort of strings. These strings are tassels and they are called tzitzit. It is a combination of knots and strings and they represent the Torah’s 613 do’s and don’ts. The word itself represents the number 613 because each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The word tzitzit represents the number 600 and if you add eight strings and five knots that are done in each string your number will be  613.

When people use the tzitzit it is because they have a lot of pride on the fact that they are Jewish. Since ancient times Jewish people have always been recognized because of the way they dress. Even when it was not safe to show yourself as a Jew, Jewish people carry a lot of pride in their garments. The Tzitzit is a sign of that pride and now that in most parts of the world it is possible to be free to wear any type of clothing, Jewish use these garments with great pride and honor.

The Kabbalah writings say that the tallit garment is a resemblance to gods light, to god´s power to shine over everything on earth.  The fringes, that are in the tzitzit represent all the elements of creation. When a Jew wears these elements it means that he wants god´s light or be everywhere and in every act that he or she performs.

The tzitzit has many fringes that could be tied to any garment that a Jew wears, representing the same status and honor it does if you wear the complete tallit with its own tzitzit. If a Jew wears this garment the whole day it is considered a great mitzvah. The idea according to the Torah is that by looking at the tzitzit fringes the person is protected against the urges and impulses of the heart. However, this garment is not a strict requirement but Jewish people should wear it during morning Shema and prayers.

Image courtesy of Shandi at Flickr.com

The tallit has 4 corners and there is where the four woollen spun fringes are and they go through a hole that in turn makes the fringes dangle making them 8 fringes and their ends hanging loosely.

Each corner will have 8 strings and when one of those strings is shortened or torn off, the garment becomes invalid. If for some reason the fringes have problems the garment cannot be worn until the fringes are fixed and attached and they have at least 7 fringes hanging loosely.  It is a kosher tradition to wear the tallit and the tzitzit and if it becomes complex or one string is longer than the other, a rabbi should be visited.

Be sure to also read this post about Hebrew: The language that united a nation