The Torah commands the Jews to place “fringes in the borders of their garments” (Num. 15:38). The Jewish tallit, or prayer shawl, is a white rectangular mantle-type garment worn by devout Jews during weekday morning services, on the Sabbath and during festivals. The standard Jewish tallit is made of lamb’s wool, cotton or silk, although no tallit will ever have wool and linen mixed, as this combination is forbidden in the Torah (see Lev. 19:19). Each tallit has special knotted fringes on the four corners called arba kanof. The four corner fringes are called the tzitzit and are knots tied a certain way, each knot holding a certain meaning.
For many years the stripes on the tallit were black in color, since for many years the dye used for the blue thread was unknown. However, Jewish research has uncovered that the blue dye was obtained from the shell of a Mediterranean mussel, the Helix ianthina, which provided a hue called cerulean purple. It is also defined as a violet color, a shade between blue and purple. Traditionally, a tzitzit has 613 knots as a reminder of the 613 command- ments comprising the entire code of law. The fringes themselves—knotted or not—were commanded as a reminder not to wander from God’s commandments (see Num. 15:39). A tallit can vary in size, from thirty-six by fifty-four inches to seventy-two by ninety-six inches.
A band is sown on the top called the atarah, or the crown, and often is embroidered in silver Hebrew letters with a special prayer: “Blessed are You, our God, Creator of time and space, who enriches our lives with holiness, commanding us to wrap ourselves in the tallit.”
Among more Orthodox communities, men wear the tallit but women do not. This is because the tallit is consid- ered a man’s garment and the Torah forbids women from wearing men’s apparel (see Deut. 22:5). Observant Jews are often buried in their tallit, with two exceptions: the neckband is removed, and one corner fringe is cut off, indi- cating that the deceased person is no longer required to follow the Torah obligations.