The tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl

A tallit (Hebrew: טַלִּית‎‎) (talet[1] in Sephardic Hebrew and Ladino) (tallis,[2] in Ashkenazic Hebrew and Yiddish) pl. tallitot (talleisim,[3] tallism,[4] in Ashkenazic Hebrew and Yiddish) is a Jewish prayer shawl. The tallit is worn over the outer clothes during the morning prayers (Shacharit) on weekdays, Shabbat and holidays. The tallit has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. The tallit can be made of any materials except a mixture of wool and linen. Usually, the mixture of wool and linen - a combination known as shatnez - is specifically forbidden by the Torah. In the case of Talit however, this is a Rabbinic prohibition, because biblically, the mixture might be allowed for a Talit during the daytime (however at nighttime there would be a transgression on behalf of the wearer).[5] Most traditional tallitot are made of wool. Tallitot are often given as gifts to children on their Bar Mitzvahs. In many orthodox circles, a Tallit is customarily presented to a groom before marriage as part of the dowry.


Biblical commandment

The Bible 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 (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). 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.

Encyclopaedia Judaica, describes the prayer shawl as "a rectangular mantle that looked like a blanket and was worn by men in ancient times". Also, it "is usually white and made either of wool, cotton, or silk".[6]

According to the biblical commandment, a blue (Hebrew תכלת, tekhelet, tək·ā'·leth) thread (Hebrew פתיל "pəthiyl") known as "tekhelet" itself, is included in the tzitzit.[7][8]


In Modern Hebrew the word is pronounced [taˈlit], with the stress on the final syllable. In Yiddish it is [ˈtaləs], with the stress on the first syllable. The plural of tallit in Hebrew is tallitot, pronounced [taliˈtot]. The Yiddish plural is taleisim, pronounced [taˈlejsɪm].

Etymology and origin

Tallit is an Aramaic word from the root tll טלל meaning cover.[9] Tallit literally means cloak or sheet but in Talmudic times already referred to the Jewish prayer shawl. The tallit is similar to the Roman pallium worn today by senior Roman Catholic priests, the Roman toga and the Arab keffiyeh. The tallit or other similar garment is suitable for the climate in West Asia: typically the days are hot and the talit can be draped around the body and head to provide cover from the sun or just bunched up on the shoulders for later evening use; the evenings can be dramatically cool and the talit could be draped around the neck and shoulders like a scarf to provide warmth.


Priestly blessing at the Western Wall

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 children at the age of 13, together with tefillin. In the egalitarian, Reform and Conservative movements, it is common for both men and women to wear a tallit. While many worshipers bring their own tallit to synagogue, there is usually a rack of shawls for the use of visitors and guests. At Jewish wedding ceremonies, a tallit is often used as a chuppah or wedding canopy. The tallit is traditionally draped over the shoulders, but during prayer, some cover their head with it.

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, the opposite order is considered more "correct". Based on the Talmudic principle of tadir v'she'ayno tadir, tadir kodem (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 Shabbat 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.[10] The tallit is worn by worshipers at the morning prayer on weekdays, 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.


The use of the tallit begins in the Biblical period around 1800 BCE. The ancient Jewish tallit design was different than that known today. Originally it was a large white rectangular garment with tzitzyot in each corner and was used as a garment, bed sheet, and burial shroud.

In the book The Ancient Jewish Shroud At Turin by John N. Lupia (Regina Caeli Press, 2010; ISBN 978-0-9826739-0-4) Lupia shows the historical development of the tallit when its design began to change during the second half of the first century CE and began to take on the forms known today beginning around 1000 CE. The long tradition of a single orthodox form of the tallit became modified in a more culturally diverse atmosphere and continued to change throughout time until it became permuted and shortened in length as the kitel, tallit katan, tallit gadol, and the more common tallit prayer shawl form know today.


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.


In the Diaspora, Jews are buried in 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 of men is dressed in a kittel 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 tallit are the only coverings for the corpse. Women are buried in white shrouds only.

Additional occasions

Bar mitzvah boy wearing tallit and tefillin

In addition to the morning prayers of weekdays, Shabbat and holidays, a tallit is also worn for Selichos in Ashkenazic communities by the prayer leader, even though it is still night.[11] A tallit is also worn at night on Yom Kippur, from Kol Nidre, which begins during the daylight hours until after the evening (Ma'ariv) service.[12]

Types of tallitot

Tallit katan

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Wool Tallit Katan.

The Tallit katan ("small tallit") is a fringed garment worn either under or over one’s clothing by Orthodox Jewish males and by some Conservative Jewish males. It is a poncho-like garment with a hole for the head and special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners. The requirements regarding the materials and tzitzit of a tallit katan are the same as that of a tallit gadol. Generally a tallit katan is made of wool or cotton.

Although Sephardi halacha generally maintains a distinct preferance for a woolen garment as per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, among Ashkenazim customs are split, with the Rema ruling that all garment types are acceptable[13]. Whilst the Mishnah Berurah and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein recommend wearing a woolen garment in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch's ruling, the Chazon Ish was known to wear cotton, in accordance with the ruling of the Vilna Gaon[14]. This was also the practice of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, and that of German Jewry historically[15].

The custom of wearing a tallit katan is based on a verse in Numbers 15:38-39 which exhorts Jews to "remember[ance of] all the commandments of the Lord." [16] Rishonim, including Maimonides and Yoel Sirkis, note that wearing a tallit is not mandatory, but the practice is strongly encouraged. [17]

The tallit katan is also known as arba kanfot (Yiddish/Ashkenazic Hebrew: arba kanfos), literally "four corners," or tzitzit.

Tallit gadol

A typical tallit bag. The Hebrew embroidery says tallit.

The tallit gadol (traditionally known as tallét gedolah amongst Sephardim), or "large" tallit, is worn over one's clothing resting on the shoulders. This is the prayer shawl that is worn during the morning services in synagogue by all male participants, and in many communities by the leader of the afternoon and evening prayers as well. The tallit gadol is usually woven of wool — especially amongst Ashkenazim. Some Spanish and Portuguese Jews use silk tallitot. Today some tallitot are made of polyester and cotton. Tallitot may be of any colour but are usually white with black, blue or white stripes along the edge. Sizes of tallitot vary, and are a matter of custom and preference. Some are large enough to cover the whole body while others hang around the shoulders, the former being more common amongst Orthodox Jews, the latter among Conservative, Reform and other denominations. The neckband of the tallit, sometimes woven of silver or gold thread, is called the atarah. The tallit gadol is often kept in a dedicated pouch or cloth bag, which can be quite simple or ornately decorated.

Tallit - use by men and women


In many Jewish communities, the tallit is worn in the synagogue by all men and boys over bar mitzvah age (and in some communities even younger). Aside from German Jews and Oberlander Jews, men in most Ashkenazi communities (which comprise the majority of Jews today) start wearing the tallit after their wedding.


Historically, women have not been obligated to wear a tallit, since they are not bound to perform positive mitzvot which are time-specific,[18] and the obligation to wear a tallit only applies by day. Many early authorities did permit women to wear a tallit, such as Isaac ibn Ghiyyat (b. 1038), Rashi (1040–1105), Rabbeinu Tam (ca 1100–1171), Zerachya ben Yitzhak Halevi of Lunel (ca. 1125–1186), Rambam (1135–1204), Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi (ca 1140–ca 1225), Rashba (1235–1310), Aharon Halevi of Barcelona (b. ca 1235?), Rabbi Yisrael Yaaqob Alghazi (1680–1761), Rabbi Yomtob ben Yisrael Alghazi (1726–1802)). 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[19]). The Maharil[20] and the Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel[21] both view a talit as a “male garment” and thus find that a woman wearing a talit to be in violation of the precept prohibiting a woman from wearing a man’s garment.

In 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 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.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that permission is granted to every woman who wishes to fulfil even those mitzvot which the Torah did not obligate; and they indeed fulfil a mitzvah and receive the reward for the fulfilment of ït including saying the appropriate associated blessing (as with shofar, lulav etc. And also tzitzit are applicable for a woman who desires to wear a four cornered garment - it should be different than a man’s garment - and by attaching tzitzit, she fulfils this mitzvah.[22]

Rabbi Yisrael Yaaqob Alghazi and Rabbi Yomtob ben Yisrael Alghazi 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[citation needed].


  1. ^ Jacob Rader Marcus. This I Believe: Documents of American Jewish Life. p. 269. ISBN 0876687826. http://books.google.ca/books?id=OgDXAAAAMAAJ. 
  2. ^ Jennifer Heath (2008). The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore, and Politics. University of California Press. p. 211. ISBN 0520250400. http://books.google.ca/books?id=kqDk3IRK-4gC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  3. ^ Ilana M. Blumberg (2009). Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman Among Books. University of Nebraska Press. p. 64. ISBN 0803224494. http://books.google.ca/books?id=8VOZ_1q6TEwC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  4. ^ Joseph Leftwich (1974). An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Literature. Walter de Gruyter. p. 338. ISBN 9027930015. http://books.google.ca/books?id=dkVDPlhjcn8C&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  5. ^ Rambam: Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tzizit, 3rd Chapter, #6/7 - http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/2403.htm
  6. ^ Second Ed., Vol. 19, Som-Tn, 2007
  7. ^ Numbers 15:38
  8. ^ The Ptil Tekhelet Organization
  9. ^ Jastrow, Marcus (1926). Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud etc.. E. Shapiro Valentine & Co.. ISBN 978-1565638600. , page 537
  10. ^ Zohar, Exodus Toledot, p. 141a)
  11. ^ Books.google.ca
  12. ^ Books.google.ca
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ [3]
  16. ^ Tzitzit. Chabad.org
  17. ^ Is Wearing a Tallit Katan Mandatory?.
  18. ^ Babylonian Talmud, tractate Kiddushin 29a
  19. ^ Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 17:2 in Mappah
  20. ^ Sefer Maharil 7
  21. ^ Devarim 22:5
  22. ^ Igrot Moshe, Orah Hayyim 4:49, s.v. ibra d’ika

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • TALLIT — (Heb. טַלִּית, pl. tallitot; Yid. tales, pl. talesim), prayer shawl. Originally the word meant gown or cloak. This was a rectangular mantle that looked like a blanket and was worn by men in ancient times. At the four corners of the tallit tassels …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Tallit — beim Gebet über den Kopf gelegt. Die Fransen stehen für die 613 Gebote und Verbote, an die sich ein Jude zu halten hat. Der Tallit (auch als Tallith, selten als Taled, gelistet; in der aschkenasischen Aussprache Talliss), auf Deutsch als… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • tallit — or tallith [tä lēt′, täl′is] n. 〚TalmudHeb talit, lit., cloak < ? root tll, to cover〛 Judaism the prayer shawl with fringes ( zizit) on each of its four corners, worn over the shoulders or head by men during morning prayer: cf. Deut. 22:12 * * * …   Universalium

  • tallit — or tallith [tä lēt′, täl′is] n. [TalmudHeb talit, lit., cloak < ? root tll, to cover] Judaism the prayer shawl with fringes ( zizit) on each of its four corners, worn over the shoulders or head by men during morning prayer: cf. Deut. 22:12 …   English World dictionary

  • Tallit — Tal|lit, Tal|lith, auch Tallis der; , <aus gleichbed. hebr. ṭallît> jüd. Gebetsmantel; großer Tallit: viereckiges Tuch mit Troddeln an den vier Enden, das bes. beim Morgengebet umgelegt wird; kleiner Tallit: mit einer Öffnung für den Kopf… …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • Tallit — Tallịt   [neuhebräisch »Hülle«, »Mantel«] der, / , hebräisch. ..ot, Talịt, Tallịs, Tallịth, der jüdische Gebetsmantel, heute vielfach zusammengelegt als Gebetsschal, an den vier Enden sind gemäß 4. Mose 15, 38 41 die Schaufäden (Zizit)… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • tällit — tapaaminen / treffit Mul oli tällit sen sussun kans Steissillä …   Suomen slangisanakirjaa

  • Tallit — Talit juif vêtu de son Talit Religion Religions abrahamiques  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • tallit — noun A traditional Jewish prayer shawl …   Wiktionary

  • tallit — n. Jewish prayer shawl that has fringe on each of the four corners and is worn during certain prayers …   English contemporary dictionary

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