Christianity holds reach roots in Judaism. There are many Jewish customs that are grounded in the “Torah” (Law of God, as revealed to Moses), yet others have risen as traditions of mankind; many have been instituted by religious leaders. The use of Tzitzit and Tallit is one of them.
After having liberated the Children of Israel from the bondage of Egyptian rule, God wanted to do something to keep them from falling back into sin and to maintain a firmness in Him. So God gave the Children of Israel commandments, ten of them. However, that was not enough for them. Hence, God devised a manner to visually remind them of the commandments and to do them, as well as being Holy for Him.
In the Book of Numbers (15:37-41), God spoke to Moses and gave him instructions as to wearing “tzitzit” (tassels), on the corners of the garments. Additionally, the tassels were to hold blue thread within them. However, the garments and tassels were not to be made of mixed materials such as wool and linen woven together as one (Book of Deuteronomy 22:11-12). The reason for the use of the color blue can be traced to The Book of Exodus. The color blue was supposed to be used as one of three colors of fabric for the tabernacle curtain (26: 4, 31, 36); the tabernacle held the stone tablets on which the commandments were written by God (Book of Exodus 24:4; 40:21).
According to “God’s Appointed Customs” by B. Kasdan, “Instead of the tassels on the corners of the tunic or outer garment, Jewish tradition developed the custom of the “tallit” [prayer shawl]. Orthodox Jews ... wear “an undergarment that carries the [tassels] (“tallit katan”); it is “worn during waking hours”. B. Kasdan also presents several factors that led to the disappearing of the blue thread which was noted in the Torah. Some of the factors are: “custom changed after the destruction of Israel”; “blue dye and thread fell into disuse and were eventually forgotten”; “expense and rarity of blue dye”; “the Mishnah allows them to be white” (Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Updated Edition, by A. Edersheim).
For those who choose to use the “tallit”, especially with Jewish roots, there is a special blessing that is often recited. According to B. Kasdan, a special blessing is recited before putting on a “tallit” or “tallit katan” over one’s shoulders:
For the “tallit” ... “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe Who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the [tassels].”
For the “tallit katan” ... “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe Who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us concerning the command of the [tassels].”
In closing, it is my opinion that the “tallit” is a beautiful object of Jewish tradition. It has evolved out of people striving to obey God’s ordinance for remembering His commandments and obeying them, as well as being Holy for Him. Although this object has changed in usage through time and culture, it still remains as an object of reverence for the People of Israel, as well as Christians alike. It is my hope to someday own one with a beautiful shade of blue through its tassels.
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R. A. Gómez