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Tallit (Tallis): A Prayer Shawl
An Orthodox Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

Brides often present Tallitot, prayer shawls, to their grooms prior to the ceremony. In some communities, a man who wears a tallit shows he is “spoken for” as obviously as a wedding band. (In German-Jewish and some Sephardic communities, boys receive tallitot on their bar mitzvah.)

A tallit is associated with marriage based on the proximity of two verses in Deuteronomy (22:12-13). The command to wear tassels on four-cornered garment is followed by a verse that begins “When a man takes a wife…”

On a spiritual plane, a groom surrounds his bride with a spiritual aura symbolized by the wedding ring, which encircles a finger. The bride extends a similar aura to her groom, which is represented by the tallit that envelopes a body. Part of the spiritual aura shields a man from extramarital sexual temptation. This is represented by the tallit. “These shall be your tzitzit, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments so as to keep them. You will then not stray after your heart and eyes after which have lead you astray.” (Numbers 15:39)

The tallit’s sheet-like form makes it an actual physical barrier between the groom and the world around him. More symbolism is evoked by the number of strings on each tallit. There are eight strings per tassel and four tassels per tallit, totaling 32 the numerical value of lev, heart. A husband who wears a tallit is enveloped in his wife’s love.

What Type of Tallit
Choose a tallit that can be worn as a cape rather than a scarf. Wool tallitot have been worn since the biblical era. In certain communities silk has been adopted as the material of choice. Some explain the black stripes along the outer edges of the tallit as bands of mourning for the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 C.E.


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