One of the most well known Judaica items that can be found in a synagogue other than Torahs and prayer books is the Tallit, also known as the prayer shawl.
What is a Tallit?
A Tallit is large four cornered garment that is worn by Jewish men during prayers during the week, Shabbat and Jewish Holidays. The Tallit is typically made from wool and is dyed white. It can actually be made of other material as well, although it may never be made from a combination of wool and linen due to a Biblical prohibition wearing such cloth. Depending on the community, the Tallit may be worn from the age of 7, Bar Mitzvah or after marriage. In some communities, the Tallit is also used in a wedding ceremony, being worn by the groom or used as the canopy used in the Chuppah service.
Sizes & Decorations
Tallits vary in size as they are designed to fit each person. The size also depends on the sect of Judaism as there are two different ways to wear a Tallit. The first style is to wear the Tallit as if it were a scarf. This style is popular in Reform, Reconstructionist and some Conservative groups of Jews. The other style is the traditional one in which the wearer folds the sides over the shoulders. This style is used by Orthodox, Traditiona/Masorati and Conservative Jews. The traditional Tallit tends to be larger than its modern counterpart. The sizes are as follows:
1’6” x 5’ (46 x 153 cm) – Bar Mitzvah
1’6” x 6’ (46 x 183 cm) – Tall Bar Mitzvah
1’10” x 6” (56 x 183 cm) – Around 6’
2’2” x 6’ (66 x 183 cm) – Slightly larger adult around 6’
3’ x 6’ (92 x 183 cm) – Extra large frame adult
2’ x 6’6” (61 x 199 cm) – Tall slim adult around 6’6”
2’3” x 6’6” (69 x 199cm) – Tall larger adult around 6’6”
3’ x 6’ (92 x 183 cm) – Bar Mitzvah
3’8” x 6’ (111 x 183 cm) – Tall Bar Mitzvah
4’6” x 6’ (138 x 183 cm) – Average Size Adult
5’ x 6’6” (153 x 199 cm) – Large Adult
6’ x 7’ (183 x 214 cm) – Extra Large Adult
The Tallit can be decorated with a wide range of scenes and Judaica objects. However, there are few decorations that all Tallitot share. The first decoration is the center of the top edge, which features a second piece of cloth that is typically embroidered with a floral pattern and sometimes has the blessing that is made before wearying the Tallit embroidered in a color such as black and or blue.
The second decoration found in all Tallitot is stripes that run along the sides. The stripes can be nearly any color, but are usually blue, black or white. However, they may be other colors such as green and red. Some Tallitot are multicolored, having stripes in numerous colors and is meant to echo Joseph’s coat. Other common decorations on the Tallit’s top edge and sides are views of Jerusalem, the Seven Species.
In addition to having stripes and a decorated top edge, some Tallits have a specially made Atara, or “tiara” in English. The Atara is a long piece of cloth that usually features sterling silver decorations, typically plates in triangles, squares or stitched sterling silver thread that creates a floral pattern. The Atara, while not a required part of the Tallit, is very popular amongst many groups of Jews.
The Tallit typically comes with strings tied to each of its corners. The strings tied to the corners follow the same rules as those on Tzitzit and may be tied in several different ways, keeping in line with the valid rulings issued by past Jewish leaders such as Rashi, Rambam (Maimonides), Arizal and others. In addition, one may tie strings with Techelet to its corners just like by Tzitzit.