The Tallit Project
What are the elements of a tallit?
A tallit can be made of any fabric, in any color or pattern (traditionally, linen and wool are not mixed in the same garment following the biblical prohibition in Leviticus 19:19 against sha’atnez, mixing materials). Today, we use a wide variety of materials or fabrics to make tallitot and tzitzit.
The atarah (neckband on the tallit) often has the tallit blessing on it. We recite this blessing before putting on a tallit:
Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hit’ateif batzitzit.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with mitzvot, and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the fringes (tallit).
Through the tzitzit, the tallit encourages us to remember and observe the commandments (mitzvot) in the Torah. In ancient times, these tzitzit were attached to one’s cloak. Nowadays, traditional Jews wear a tallit katan (a tallit-like undergarment) daily under their clothing to fulfill this mitzvah. As Jews adopted the dress of the people around them, they adapted the tzitzit to be attached to the four corners of the tallit.
The tzitzit remind us of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. According to gematria (Jewish numerology), the Hebrew letters that make up the word tzitzit have a value of 600. Adding the eight strands and five knots found in each fringe totals 613. In Ashkenazic tradition, tzitzit are tied this way: Wind the threads around seven times, tie a double knot. Twist it around eight times, tie a double knot. Wind it around eleven times, tie a double knot, and twist it again thirteen times, finishing with a double knot. The number of wrappings (or windings) add up to 39, the value of the words Adonai Echad, God is One—the central Jewish belief.
Some people also use the tzitzit during prayer when reciting the Shema. When they say the word “tzitzit” they bring the fringes to their lips.