Tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl or a cloak. It is rectangular and usually white with blue or black stripes, and it has tassels at the four corners called tzitzit. There are two types of Tallit: Large like a cloak (tallit gadol) or small like a cape sometimes worn as underwear (tallit katan). Tallit katan is only worn by religious Jews and their male family members. Talit gadol should be long enough to cover his shoulders like a shawl, and not just cover his neck like a scarf. Jews usually use tallit in all major life events – from circumcision to bar/bat mitzvah, weddings, and even death. But most often it is used during prayer, predominantly the morning prayer. The exception is Kol Nidray, evening service at Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), during which Jews also wear tallit. A person wearing a tallit gadol should dress him so that it hangs from his shoulders, covering them, and during prayer also covers his head.
Usually, the tallit is worn by men, the Jewish law does not oblige women to wear it, and the Torah prevents women from wearing men’s clothing. But now there are many shapes and colors available that are very feminine, therefore both men and women wear tallits. Stripes on the tallit are usually blue, black or purple, but they can be any color of the rainbow. The classic tallit is usually made of wool, sometimes cotton or silk, but it can also be made of any other material, provided that the commandment prohibiting mixing wool and linen is not violated.
Tallit wearing is prescribed in the Torah. We read in chapter 15 of the book Bamidbar (Numbers):
“And the Lord said unto Moses, saying: declare unto the sons of Israel, and tell them that they should make tassels for themselves (tzitzit) on the four edges of their garments, and inside the tassels which are on the edges insert threads made from blue wool; and they will be in your hands so that, when you look at them, you remember all the commandments of the Lord and fulfill them, and do not go after your heart and your eyes, which attract you to fornication, so that you remember and fulfill all my commandments and were holy before your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. ”(Numbers 15: 37-41)
In ancient times, in most cultures, people wore clothes like bedspreads to protect from the sun during the day and cool at night. Therefore, the commandment to the Jewish people in the 15th chapter of the Numbers is not to start wearing such clothes but to add tassels to its four corners that will distinguish them from the other nations. Even today, the Bedouins wear abayas, similar to tallit, but without brushes.
The purpose of the Talit was actually to wear tzitzit (tassels). A tzitzit should have been tied on each of the four corners so that when we look at tallit, especially at tzitzit, we recall God’s commandments. Today there are T-shirts that have tzitzit at each of the four corners, once again illustrating that tzitzit is the most important.