The Talit: Prayer Shawl

It is a longtime custom for the family of the bride or the bride herself to buy the groom a talit, a prayer shawl. The talit is actually just a four-cornered shawl; since it is four-cornered, the Bible requires fringes on each corner called tzitzit. Though it is one of the commandments for which we do not know the reason, it is a mitzvah, and so such a shawl has been worn to honor prayer services for millennia. Sometimes the bride and groom will use this talit with each of the corners tied to a wooden pole for a chuppah, the wedding canopy they are married under, and have friends hold up the poles.

In the Book of Numbers, the Bible describes the tzitzit, the fringes that are tied to the corners of the talit, and then states, “And you shall see them (the tzitzit) and remember all of God's commandments and perform them, and not go after your heart and your eyes after which you lust.” Thus the talit is seen as a spiritual guidepost for being faithful both to God and to one's spouse.

While all married Orthodox and Conservative men wear a talit for morning prayers, many Conservative and some Reform and Orthodox women also wear a talit for prayers. If this is so for you, you may both want to give each other a talit for your wedding and use both talitot (the plural of talit) for the chuppah. Another option is to use one talit for a chuppah and the other to wrap yourselves in for the sheva berachot, following a sometimes utilized Sephardic custom.

Talitot come in many different sizes and colors. The talit should be large enough to cover the whole upper body, but the color of a talit cloth does not make a difference in Jewish law. Many are white with black or blue stripes, but others are rainbow, multicolored, or tie-dyed. The only requirement is that it be woven, preferably of natural material, usually wool.

You have two choices when it comes to the type of tzitzit, fringes, that are on the corner of your talit. The Bible commands that among each corner's fringes should be one blue thread. For the past 1,900 years, until very recently, all the talit fringes were white because the source of the biblical blue dye for this thread was lost. In the past several years a snail has been found in Israel that is thought to be the original species from which the biblical blue dye (ekchelet) for this blue thread of the tzitzit is derived.

Many Judaica stores today carry talitot with one blue string among the white strings on each corner, the way the talit would have looked in biblical times. Though it is significantly more expensive for this type of talit, it is thought by some to be much closer to the authentic biblical form of the tzitzit, and you and your fiancé may want to consider this type.

Since the wearing of a talit is a mitzvah, a blessing is recited prior to its donning. The blessing is, “Boruch atah Adoni Elohaynu melech haolam asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hitatef ba'tzitzit.” (“Blessed are You God, Sovereign of the Universe who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the tzitzit.”)

Subsequent to one's wedding the talit is worn at all daily, Sabbath, and holiday morning prayer services and on Yom Kippur eve at the Kol Nidrey service. The large talit prayer shawl which is worn when praying is mirrored by a smaller talit that many people wear under their clothing in order to fulfill this biblical commandment all day long.

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