The Blessings of the Tallit or Prayer Shawl – Understanding the Prayer Shawl

By Lemuel Baker, Ph.D

The historical basis for wearing a Tallit is recorded in Numbers 15:37-40 which says the following

37 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, 40 and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.

Even though the common name for a Tallit is “prayer shawl” because worshipers would wrap themselves in it during prayer, the garment was not originally associated with prayer but was instituted to remind Israel of God’s laws represented by the “tzitzit” or tassles on the fringe of the garment.

The Rabbinic tradition is to wear a Tallit only during the day in services except for Yom Kippur at the night service called Kol Nidre which in Hebrew means “all vows” Opening words of the formula for the cancellation of vows; it is recited on Yom Kippur eve. The custom of annulling personal vows and oaths made unwittingly or rashly during the year.

A smaller garment called a Tallit Katan adopted by Orthodox Jews is worn all day under the outer garments as a type of vest with the Tzitzit tassels hanging out of the outer garment. There is also a large tallit called a Tallit gadolah.

The Protocol of Wearing a Tallit

According to Halakhah or Jewish Law women are exempt from the obligation of wearing a Tallit. Until recent years it was extremely unusual to see a woman wearing a Tallit. In recent years women have had a desire to wear a Tallit during prayer sometimes using a special colored decorated prayer shawl. Orthodox Rabbis disapprove of women wearing a tallith but other progressive sects of Judaism such as Reform sects and Reconstructionist sects are more lenient in general.

Also women in Christian denominations have had a desire to wear a Tallith during worship but this may be offensive to an Orthodox Jew or even some Conservative Jews if they are present in the congregation. Many synagogues require that a man be Bar Mitvahed to qualify to wear a Tallith in the congregation however a husband may wear one at home. The protocol for wearing a tallit is important so that we do not cause our brethren to stumble.

A further protocol for men especially in Ashkenazic communities, meaning Jews of European descent which includes those from Israel as opposed to Jews who are Sephardic from Spain and Latin America only married men are authorized to wear a tallit.

The reason given by these communities comes from the Torah section of the Tanak Devarim or Deuteronomy 22:13 which records “If a man marries a women,” thus we should attempt to understand what the protocol is for each situation as best we can. See article entitled “The Many Faces of Judaism” for more insight about Judaism and its intricacies.

The following is important even in many Messianic Congregations there are exceptions so ask the Rabbi or Cantor what the protocol is for that synagogue. In general it is best to follow protocol especially this one even when wearing a tallit at home.

A Tallit should be treated with respect and worn with respect, not only for those around you but especially because of who it represents. Before putting on a Tallit a required benediction must be said at a volume where only your ears may hear the words you speak. Ultimately we should attempt to memorize the prayer but at minimum have it written somewhere so that you have access to it. Learn it in English first then if interested learn it in Hebrew as well.

The protocol is to hold the tallit in front of you with the neckpiece which has the benediction inscribed on it in Hebrew facing you and recite the blessing. If heartfelt kiss the corners of the neckpiece, then place the Tallit over your head for a while to have a few seconds of intimacy with God than place the tallit over your shoulders. Some rabbis are warmed by this reverence especially from gentile worshipers in their congregation.

The Berachah prayer is as follows:

Barukh ata Adonai
Blessed are You O Lord

Eloheinu Melek Ha’ Olam
Our God, King of the universe

Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav,
Who has sanctified us with God’s commandments

V’tzivanu L’hit’ateif batzitzit
And has commanded us to wrap ourselves in fringes

This prayer is not a formula or a ritual; it is a real time of experience with God for your own personal intimacy. The presence of God that you carry away from these seemingly insignificant acts is invaluable to you, your family and to your ministry.

Apostolic Authority because of the Intimacy provided by the tallit

The Apostle Paul and all of the original Apostles lived their lives according to Jewish Laws, regulated their lives around the set festivals and consequently displayed God’s power in an unprecedented manner, such as Peter’s shadow healing the sick.

Understanding Judaism’s relevance to Christianity is a key to being “a carrier” of the glory of God. As we use the Tallit worshipfully, use the Kippa or small head covering and honor God not out of duty but because He is the source of life and without Him we merely exist, we inevitably walk in personal and corporate power. Judaism is an opportunity to be intimate with God all day long.

Messianic Judaism as a sect believes Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and accepts Him as such. Rav Shaul (Paul), Rav Shimon(Peter),Rav Yohanan (John), Rav Yacov (James) all were Messianic Jews, Jews who were Orthodox and then converted to and accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior but kept Him within the context of Judaism.

The Healing Significance of the Tallit

Numbers (B’midbar) 15:38 records the following:
“Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue.

The Hebrew word for “corners or corner” in the Tanak is Kanaph pronounced Kawnauf. This same Hebrew word is used in many scriptures to mean the following: bird, corner, corners, covering, each other, edge, edges, ends, fold, garment, kind, skirt, skirts, sorts, wing, winged, wings, wings were each other, wingspan.

Kanaph means tassels but it also means wings. In Malachi 4:2 the Old Testament records “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. The same Hebrew word Kanaph is used for wings and tassels. Thus the author is saying Jesus has healing in His tassels, the tzitzit on the ends of every tallit.

Recorded in Luke 8:43-44 we find “the woman with the issue of blood” who came behind Jesus and touched the border of His garment. Here is what is recorded.

43 Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, 44 came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.

This border was the Kanaph, the tassel, the tzitzit on the end of Jesus’ tallit. This woman apparently knew the record of Malachi 4:2 and believed the covenant and acted on the covenant. This woman activated her healing covenant by putting faith action in motion. She really believed and then acted.

The Tzitzit are representative of the 613 mitzvahs or commandments in the Torah thus faith in every covenant commandment in the Christian Bible produces the manifested blessing after it’s kind. Covenant promises regarding healing produce healing after its kind. Covenant promises regarding peace produce peace after its kind and so on.

Other articles worn with the tallit

Yarmulke or otherwise known as a “kippa” the small cap that is worn at the top of the head. This practice to use a kippa came later in modern Jewish history and although representative of the glory of God was not always a part of the official dress code.

Tefillin or Phylacteries also known as frontlets, which are cube shaped black kosher leather boxes with kosher paint, containing four scriptural passages attached to the head and arm used during morning prayers. It is coincidental that the word tefillin for frontlets is so similar to the word tefillah for prayer. The four scriptures are: (a) Exodus 13:1-10; (b) Exodus 13:11-16; (c) Deuteronomy 6:4-9; (d) Deuteronomy 11:12-21.

The tallit Representative of the glory Adam had before he Fell From Grace

The tallit provides a point of contact for us today to understand further the glory (Hebrew word, Kavod) or in the Koine Greek (Doxa) that man was created into or the glory that covered Adam’s body so that he needed no natural clothing. Our glorified bodies will be as such again after the rapture. See article entitled “The covenant of the Rapture.”

The benediction prayer used by some within Judaism before donning the Tallit gives insight to the glory of God that we can enjoy and also carry in our daily lives as the Apostles did. The prayer goes as follows:

“I am here enwrapping myself in this fringed robe, in fulfillment of the command of my Creator, as written in the Torah; they shall make them a fringe upon the corners of their garments throughout their generations. And even as I cover myself with the tallit in this world, so may my soul deserve to be clothed with a beauteous spiritual robe in the world to come in the garden of Eden.”

The glory of God is also referred to as the Zoe life of God, Zoe being a Koine Greek word used in the New Testament. The Tallit is an opportunity to get silent and to go into your “closet” privately and to fellowship with God. Mathew 6:6 records “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

The concept closet (Greek word Tameion) came from placing the tallit over your head to shut out all distractions and to create intimacy. In Orthodox synagogues shokeling rocking back and forth while praying is very common. God promises to reward us publicly with a certain quality of life for all who seek Him in private.

Closing Remarks

The Tallit with all its blessings is a point of contact to the real and living God and a means to an end. The end result of using a tallit is to receive the tangible resident abiding person of the Holy Spirit, Ruach Ha Kodesh and His presence stationed on your body at all times from head to toe.

The beauty of the tallit is not the tallit itself although the tallit represents the glory of God on one’s body and life as well as being reminded constantly of God’s commandments from the tzitzit on the ends of the tallit, but the constant experience of having God in you and on you in such a real tangible way even after the tallit is removed.
This is the goal we strive for by wearing the tallit and that is to have God tangibly present on you and in you without having to wear a tallit.

The effects of worshiping God with a tallit as a lifestyle over a long period of time causes an individual to be charged with the presence of God in full awareness inside and out even without having access to a tallit. God did promise to reward you openly for your time spent with Him in private. This is the secret of a tallit. It is a mechanism to go into your closet with God one on one privately and after your time with Him He rewards you openly.

Friend, I Love you.

Shalom Aleichem – Peace to you.

Baruch Ha Shem – Bless the Name of the Lord – Praise the Lord

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