Have you thought about today?
The stark white fabric, the simple colored stripes, the falling tassels – the tallit (or Jewish prayer shawl) is a classic and instantly recognizable image of Judaism and prayer. This iconic item is symbolically used in daily prayer, over the Jewish wedding canopy, and to cover the Ark in the synagogue.
Did you know this? There’s a whole school of historians that believe the "'abayah" or blanket, worn by the Bedouins in biblical times and which has black stripes at the ends, was the origin of the tallit.
Biblically, we can see the instructions on the wearing of the tallit in Numbers 15 where G-d instructs Moses to make their prayer shawls to His directions:
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
The LORD said to Moses as follows:
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹרֹתָ֑ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת
Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner.
But what about today?
Look around and you’ll see that we are fiercely evolving into a post-modern religious revolution, opening up a world of personal interpretation desperate to modernize yet remain respectful of deep-rooted beliefs. The tallit serves as a powerful metaphor for the tenuous relationship between old and new.
Old is the new fashion?
Designers are drawing upon current clothing and fashion trends in their quest to create a more modern take on the conventional tallit. So you’ll find glorious metallic threads, luxurious natural fibers of silk and wool, and colorful and intricate embroidery.
Back like the beard, traditional-style tallits make the tallit seem like a hipster-inspired scarf. And indeed, fashion firms sell scarves suspiciously similar to tallits.
Is it OK to have a variety of colors in your tallit?
That’s between you and your rabbi. Men and woman alike are in love with the explosion of color on tallit, particularly from artist Yair Emanuel, who hand paints onto the finest silk to create visually stunning works of art to be worn in his .
But Yair Emanuel isn’t the only one taking tallit design to a new place.
And let’s not forget the tallit clips, themselves a stand-alone piece of art to compliment the tallit.
The highly fashionable introduction of metal features are apparent in these luxurious Hoshen sterling silver tallit clips embracing both the trend of modern, clean lines along with a subtle pop of color.
Tallits are so visually recognizable and symbolically significant within the setting of the synagogue or other religious place that it is so important and necessary to have eye-catching and beautiful designs. Worn over clothing, covering heads, protecting the eyes during fervent prayer – why not make them rich with meaning, while moving with the times to represent the new generation of tallit wearers? Thankfully, Judaica designers and artists recognize this need for keeping up with the contemporary form and this is reflected in a splendid wave of new ideas for religious symbolic clothing.