Thursday, October 2, 2008

FAQ: What are "Tzitzit"?

Question: Last week I heard a reference to a shawl that is sometimes worn by practitioners called a "sit sits"? I'm writing to ask you if you can describe this shawl and its tradition, and of course the correct spelling. Regards, Bill

Dear Bill,
Thank you so much for your question!
Answer: According to the very useful site Judaism 101 //, tzitzit commonly refers to the white fringed undergarment worn daily by male orthodox Jews. The undergarment's intricately knotted fringes, which hang down below the wearer's shirt, are to be a reminder to follow the approximately 613 commandments. (I like the way the site refers to the fringes as "The forget-me-knot-knots.")
Another use of the word is to refer to the fringes worn on the corners of the tallit (also spelled tallis), or prayer shawl. The prayer shawl, used in daily prayers as well as in synagogue worship, is worn by Conservative and Orthodox men. It is optional in many Reform congregations.
I just read a fine anecdote about the prayer shawl in Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish. (To appreciate it you need to know that a traditional, or observant, Jew is buried with his tallit.)

It seems that a rabbi was passing a house from which he heard a faint sobbing. Pushing open the door, he found no one at home. Finally he traced the sound as coming from a bureau drawer, which he then opened.
"Little tallis, little tallis, why are you crying?" asked the rabbi.
The prayer shawl replied that his master had gone off on a trip, taking his wife and children, and leaving the poor little tallis to cry alone.
"Ah, little tallis," sgned the rabbi, "do not cry. One day soon your master will take you on a trip, only you, and leave all of them behind."

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