AskDefine | Define tallith

Dictionary Definition

tallith n : (Judaism) a shawl with a ritually knotted fringe at each corner; worn by Jews at morning prayer [syn: prayer shawl, tallis] [also: tallitoth (pl), tallithes (pl), tallaisim (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An undergarment worn by orthodox Jews. It covers the chest and upper part of the back. It has tassels (called zizith) on its four corners.
  2. A tasseled shawl or scarf worn over the head or thrown around the shoulders while at prayer.


  • WordNet (1.7).

Extensive Definition

The tallit (), also called tallis (Yiddish, plural taleysm), is a prayer shawl that is worn during the morning Jewish services (the Shacharit prayers) in Judaism, during the Torah service, and on Yom Kippur and other holidays. It has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. The tallit is sometimes also referred to as the arba kanfot, meaning "four corners," although this term is more commonly used to refer only to the tallit katan undergarment with tzitzit. The bible mandates that the tzitzit contain a thread of blue known as tekhelet. Since the bible itself does not describe how to tie the tzitzit, interpretation of the oral tradition has resulted in a number of methods of tying.
In some Jewish communities, a tallit is given as a gift by a father to a son, a father-in-law to a son-in-law, or a teacher to a student. It might be purchased to mark a special occasion, such as a wedding or a bar/bat mitzvah. Many parents purchase a tallit for their sons at the age of 13, at the same time as they purchase tefillin. While it is considered a personal item, and many men have their own, synagogues usually have a rack of shawls for the use of visitors and guests. Although non-Jewish male visitors are expected to wear a kippah (headcovering) when visiting a synagogue, they should not wear a tallit.
According to Rabbinic Judaism, the important part of the tallit is the tzitzis. The use of a tallit in the Reform community declined in the 20th century, but in recent years, both men and women have begun to wear them during prayer services. Various authorities differ on whether women are permitted to wear a tallit. Some Orthodox rabbis say it is forbidden, but in the modern Orthodox community, it is becoming more widespread, especially in women's minyans.


The word tallit in Modern Hebrew is ta-LEET, with the stress on the final syllable. Less common today, but historically quite widespread, is the pronunciation tallet [taˈlet]. The same word is pronounced [ˈtaləs] TA-les in Yiddish, with the stress on the initial syllable. Both pronunciations are commonly interchanged and refer to the same object.
The correct plural of tallit in Modern Hebrew is tallitot, pronounced [taliˈtot] tah-lee-TOT; the traditional Sephardi plural of tallét is talletot, pronounced [taleˈtot] tah-leh-TOT. The Yiddish plural, which has its roots in the Mediaeval Ashkenazi masculine form tallēt (compare Modern Ashkenazi/Israeli Hebrew tallit gadol with the masculine form of the adjective) with the analogous plural ending -im and diphthongisation of the accented ē, is taleisim, pronounced [taˈlejsım] tah-LEY-sm. Again, all these plurals are interchangeable and are more or less commonly heard. but some are said as "tolliot."

Historical origin

There is much confusion among the masses as to the origins of the tallit. The actual four-cornered garment began with no relevance whatsoever to Jewish practice, but gradually became linked to the wearing of Tzitzit. The Torah explicitly commands that Tzitzit be added to the four corners of garments (Maimonides considered it one of the most important of the 613 Mitzvot); traditionally the wearing of Tzitzit began with this commandment, though biblical scholars consider it to be much older, and argue that the commandment reflected an already existing practice.
In early Judaism, Tzitzit were used for the corners of ordinary everyday clothing; most Jewish people at the time wore clothing which consisted of a sheet-like item wrapped around the body, comparable to the abayah (blanket) worn by the Bedouins for protection from sun and rain, and to the stola/toga of ancient Greece and Rome. As recorded in the Talmud, these were sometimes worn partly doubled, and sometimes with the ends thrown over the shoulders. After the 13th century CE, Tzitzit began to be worn on new inner garments, known as Arba Kanfos, rather than the outer garments. This inner garment was a 3ft by 1ft rectangle, with a hole in the centre for the head to pass through; the modern Tallit evolved from this mediaeval item. By modern times, the four-cornered sheet-like cloth fell out of fashion, and became regarded as impractical compared with alternatives; since most modern western clothing does not have four clear corners, the rule essentially became obsolete in daily life.
However, traditional Jews began to voluntarily wear a small tallit in ordinary life, in order to explicitely fulfill the commandment to wear Tzitzit; some Jewish commentators argue that it is a transgression to miss a commandment that one is able to fulfill. Tallit are also often worn during prayer for this reason, and this is practiced by a wider group of Jews. Tallit is often used as a Chuppah in Jewish wedding ceremonies.

Kinds of tallit

There are two kinds of tallit — tallit gadol and tallit katan.

Tallit gadol

The tallit gadol (traditionally known as tallét gedolah amongst Sephardim), or "large" tallit, is worn over ones clothing resting on the shoulders. This is the prayer shawl that is worn during the morning services in synagogue and by the leader of the prayers during some other services.

Tallit katan

The tallit katan, or "small" tallit, is worn for the duration of the day by Orthodox Jewish men. While it should not be worn directly on the skin, it is often worn beneath one's shirt (yet above an undershirt) so as to conform to societal dress codes. However, chasidim tend to wear them on top of their shirts, under a suit vest.

Description of Tallit gadol

The Tallit gadol, which can be spread out like a sheet, is traditionally usually woven of wool — especially amongst Ashkenazim. Some Spanish and Portuguese Jews, however, have the tradition to use silk talletot, and cotton or linen are also traditional choices. In our days, other materials are also used — including synthetic materials like rayon, polyester and acrylic. Talletot may be of any colour, but are typically white, and usually with black, blue or white stripes along the lateral sides (see Historical Origins above for stripe explanation).
Sizes of talletot vary greatly. The silk and synthetic ones vary in size, for men, from about 36 × 54 inches (91 × 137 cm) to 72 × 96 inches (183 × 244 cm). The woolen tallit is proportionately larger (sometimes reaching to the ankle), conforming to the Halakha that the tallit should be large enough to be full-body apparel and not just scarf-like. A ribbon, or a band artistically woven with silver or gold threads (called "spania"), and about 24 inches (61 cm) long by 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) wide, may be sewn on the side of the tallit that is nearest to the head, and is called the atarah, or ‘crown’.
From the four corners of the tallit hang fringes called tzitzit, in compliance with the laws in the Torah (Book of Numbers 15:38).

The World's Largest Tallit

The World's Largest Tallit is 26 feet x 40 inches. It is housed at Temple Hillel B'nai Torah (HBT), in West Roxbury, MA. The World's Largest Tallit was presented by the congregation and friends as a gift to Rabbi Barbara Penzner on December 1, 2007 in celebration of the 20th anniversary of her ordination as a Rabbi. Derek Jeter, and members of the HBT congregation each contributed blessings, congratulations and good wishes on fabric squares. These squares were sewn together and quilted. The four tzitzit were tied by friends and family members. Temple Hillel B'nai Torah is a member of the Reconstructionist Judaism movement.


Obligation for men

The prayer shawl (No. 1 above) is worn over one's clothes, and is traditionally worn by Sephardi males from early childhood and by the majority of Ashkenazi males only after marriage; although some Ashkenazis criticize this practice as it delays an important mitzvah beyond the time a Bar Mitzvah male is responsible for it. In some Ashkenazi communities, especially western European Ashkenazim, one accordingly has the practice of all men over 13 wearing the tallit gadol.

Views on use by women

Historically, women have not been obligated to don a tallit, as they are not bound to positive mitzvot which are time-specific (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Kiddushin 29a), and the obligation of donning a tallit only applies by day. Still, many early authorities permit women to wear a tallit, such as Isaac ibn Ghiyyat (b. 1038), Rashi (10401105), Rabbeinu Tam (ca 11001171), Zerachya ben Yitzhak Halevi of Lunel (ca. 11251186), Rambam (11351204), R. Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi (ca 1140–ca 1225), Rashba (1235–1310), Aharon Halevi of Barcelona (b. ca 1235?), R. Yisrael Yaaqob Alghazi (1680-1761), R. Yomtob ben Yisrael Alghazi (17261802)). There was, however, a gradual movement towards prohibition, mainly initiated by the Medieval Ashkenazi Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (the Maharam). The Rema states that while women are technically allowed to don a tallit it would appear to be an act of arrogance (yuhara) for women to perform this commandment (Shulkhan Arukh, O.C. 17:2 in Mappah).
Within contemporary Orthodox Judaism, there is a debate on the appropriateness of women wearing tzitzit, which has hinged on whether women are allowed to perform commandments from which they are technically exempt. According to Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik the issue depends on the intention with which such an act is undertaken, e.g. whether it is intended to bring a person closer to the Almighty, or for political or protest purposes. Other commentators hold that women are prohibited generally, without making an individual inquiry. The view that women donning a tallit would be guilty of arrogance is cited as applying to attempts of making a political statement as to the ritual status of the genders, particularly in the Modern Orthodox community, are generally more inclined to regard contemporary women's intentions as religiously appropriate.
Amongst those commentators above who held that women could perform the mitzvah of tzitzit, R. Yisrael Yaaqob Alghazi (16801761) and R. Yomtob ben Yisrael Alghazi (17261802) held that the observance of this mitzvah by women was not only permitted but actually commendable, since such diligence amongst the non-obligated would inspire these women's male relatives to be even more diligent in their own observance.
Among Karaim, the mitzvah of tzitzit is viewed as equally binding for men and women, and both sexes therefore generally wear tallitot.
Since the 1970s, non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism permit women to wear a tallit.

Order of putting on tallit and tefillin

In the Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods the tefillin were worn by rabbis and scholars all day, and a special tallit was worn at prayer; hence they put on the tefillin before the tallit, as appears in the order given in "Seder Rabbi Amram Gaon" (p. 2a) and in the Zohar. In modern practice, however, the opposite order is considered more "correct". Based on the Talmudic principle of tadir v'she'ayno tadir, tadir qodem, (תדיר ושאינו תדיר, תדיר קודם: lit., frequent and infrequent, frequent first), when one performs more than one mitzva at a time, those that are performed more frequently should be performed first. While the tallit is worn daily, tefillin are not worn on the Sabbath and holidays.
The Kabbalists considered the tallit as a special garment for the service of God, intended, in connection with the tefillin, to inspire awe and reverence for God at prayer (Zohar, Exodus Toledot, p. 141a). The tallit is worn by all male worshipers at the morning prayer on week-days, Shabbat, and holy days; by the hazzan (cantor) at every prayer while before the ark; and by the reader of Torah, as well as by all other functionaries during the Torah service.


In many Sephardic communities, the groom traditionally wears a tallit under the chuppah (wedding canopy). In Ashkenazi communities, a more widespread custom is that the groom wears a kittel, although some Ashkenazim have in recent years started to wear a tallit according to the mentioned Sephardic custom.
A tallit is sometimes spread out as a canopy at the wedding ceremony. This may be done either instead of or in addition to the regular chuppah.


After death, Jews are buried with varying customs, depending on where they are to be buried. In the Diaspora, burial takes place within a plain, wooden casket. The corpse is collected from the place of death (home, hospital, etc.) by the chevra kadisha (burial committee). After a ritual washing of the body , the body is dressed in a kittel (shroud) and then a tallit. One of the tzitzit is then cut off. In the Land of Israel, burial is without a casket, and the kittel and tallith are the only coverings for the corpse.


External links

tallith in Czech: Talit
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tallith in Italian: Talled
tallith in Hebrew: טלית
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tallith in Dutch: Talliet
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tallith in Japanese: タッリート
tallith in Norwegian Nynorsk: Tallét
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tallith in Yiddish: טלית
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