The tallit, also known as a prayer shawl, is the garment in which a worshipper is wrapped when in prayer.
The tallit is one of the most widely recognizable Jewish garments. It is a rectangular-shaped piece of fabic with special fringes call Tzitzit on each of the corners. In actuality, the purpose of the tallit is to hold the tzitzit. Wearing the tzittzit fulfils a commandment from G-d. G-d said to Moses:
“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.”
There is no specific material or design for a tallit. The only element the tallit must have is the fringes to fulfill the commandment. The most traditional design is blue or black stripes on a white background. However, the tallit designs range from simple, elegant stripes to lovely illustrations of Jerusalem or the Seven Species. Additionally, tallits may be made from a variety of fabics. Again, the most traditional fabric is wool. However, tallits made from acrylic or silk are also common.
The tallit is worn at all morning prayers during the week as well as on Shabbat and holidays. It is also worn during life-cycle events such as a groom at his wedding or by a father on the bris of his son. Men from the Bar Mitzvah age of 13 and older are to wear a tallit during these occasions. Women are not obligated to wear a tallit although they are not prohibited to do so by Jewish law. Therefore, there are women who choose to wear the tallit.
Most tallitot have a neckband, called an Atarah or crown. Most of the time the atarah has a blessing embroidered across it. This is the blessing one says when donning the tallit.
ברוך אתה ה' אלוהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצוונו להתעטף בציצית.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam asher kidshanu bmitzvotav vtzivanu ltatef bzizit.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the Tzitzit.
Even though the tallit is a distinctly Jewish garment, Believers can wear a tallit during personal prayer time or for congregational prayer. Using the prayer shawl can remind Believers of who they are in Christ by encircling themselves in the love of G-d.