Tallits [tallitot] [Jewish prayer shawls] are promoted quite heavily in the Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Roots venue, as well as inflitrating the Christian community. Most have been taught that the tallit is a first century garment to fulfill the commandment in the Mosaic Law [Torah] to wear tzitzit or fringes on ones garments as a reminder to keep the Law. The tallit is also esteemed as a garment that Jesus wore, and therefore should be worn by believers if they are going to observe Torah in accordance with the Laws that God commanded. As is noted in the article below, the tallit is a late Rabbinical addition which Messianic camps have embraced, but cannot be proven as historically accurate to confirm first century usage.
Permission to post this article is given by its researcher and writer.
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The word tallith (Biblical Hebrew) does not appear anywhere in the Hebrew scriptures. The Greek equivalent of tallith does not appear in the New Testament writings, nor does a transliterated version of Hebrew word tallith appear there. Words like Mashiyach are transliterated as Messias in the Greek, but no transliterated equivalent for tallith can be found in the New Testament.
The Jewish prayer shawl used today, came about by a rabbinical decision at some point in the latter Middle Ages. The construction of this garment was related to a misinterpretation of the Biblical command found in the book of Numbers, and even more likely from the man made teachings/traditions found in the Talmud (Mishnah 3rd Century CE). The color, and the two blue lines, representing a modern prayer shawl that is found on the flag of the state of Israel, and most modern four cornered tallits, is very likely the wrong color according to historical sources.
Today there are Messianics, many of whom are former Christians that have come to the movement from the church, who are now unknowingly following the traditions established by Talmudic Judaism as they use the prayer shawls during services and to cover their heads while praying. They are not aware that the fringes are tied numerically by using gematria in order to form the knots. There are four threads which go through the corner and are doubled back. 4 x 2 = 8. There are five knots on each tassel. 8+5=13. When you add in the numerical equivalent of the word (tsitsit) which is 600: 600+13 = 613. The 613 is a rabbinic interpretation of the ten commandments. (603 interpretations +10 commandments = 613)
Here is what is stated by one of the sages of Judaism:
“[The word] tsitsit is numerically equivalent to 600, 8 strings and 5 knots add up to 613. (Tanchuma, Korach 12)”
A Jewish person cannot be buried with a tallit, unless the fringes are first cut off, which symbolizes that the deceased is no longer under the rabbinic interpretation of the Law. Conversely it stands to reason then, that by wearing one, it symbolizes that one is under the rabbinic interpretation of the law (613). Since the 613 is a late rabbinic interpretation, it would also stand to reason that the fringes that were originally commanded by God to be worn in Numbers, would be the Ten Commandments, and not the 613. If one studies what is written in the Torah, you will find the the tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them were to be kept inside of the Ark of the Covenant, while the five books of Moses, or the Torah were commanded to be kept outside. Since the man was stoned for breaking the fourth of the Ten Commandments in the passage found in the book of Numbers, it would be logical that this is what they were to admonished by God to remember.
4 For they bind heavy and hard to bear burdens, and lay them on the shoulders of men, but they do not desire to move them with their finger.
5 And they do all their works to be seen by men. And they make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders <G2899> of their robes <G2440>.
Let us first note that Jesus addressed the borders of their robes. Not of their tallit, because that word does not appear in any Biblical text.
The Greek word used for borders in this passage is kraspedon <G2899>. The equivalent Hebrew word(s) according to a comparison of the Hebrew that was translated
into the Greek in the Septuagint (LXX) is kanaph and tsitsit.
kraspedon H3671 kanaph
kraspedon H6734 tsitsit
Why would Jesus call out the Pharisees publicly for doing this, and then wear a tallit Himself which is 70 inches long, and between 28 to 50 inches wide? I think that would appear as slightly hypocritical. Some Hebrew roots teachers have made the statement that no one can prove that Jesus did *not* wear a tallit. To that I say that you can not prove that He didn’t wear a Roman soldier’s helmet either, although it is highly unlikely. The difference being, that the Roman soldiers helmet existed in first century Judea because it has been proven historically. There is no historical or Biblical evidence of a tallit, especially one that has white tsitsit that is tied to represent the 613, which is a rabbinic interpretation of the Law that came about centuries later. The word tallit is not found anywhere in the Bible, nor in the Jewish writings known as the Talmud which was written from 200-500 CE. All that can be found in the Talmud is a reference to the tsitsit where it says “All must observe the law of tzitzit, Cohanim, Levites and Israelites, converts, women and slaves.” The term tallit, can be found in the middle ages writings which comprises the foundational works of Kabbalah called the Zohar. It appears the allegation that Jesus wore a tallit, is just more Hebrew roots conjectural “scholarship”.
Some more definitive proof from the Scriptures:
Psalms 22:18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture <H3830>. Hלקו2505 They part בגדי899 my garments Hהם1992 ו Hל5921 upon לבושׁי H3830 my vesture. Hפילו5307 among them, and cast Hורל׃1486 lots
Here is the BDB meaning of the Hebrew word <H3830> used above for the outer garment (vesture):
לבשׁ / לבוּשׁ
1) clothing, garment, apparel, raiment
Part of Speech: noun masculine
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H3847
Same Word by TWOT Number: 1075a
You will also notice that neither the Hebrew words tsitsit nor kanaph are used in the above passage in Psalms, that is quoted in John19:24, and as stated earlier, tallith does not appear anywhere in the Old Testament, or the New Testament writings.
Let’s also take a look at verse 23:
23 Then when they crucified Jesus, the soldiers took His garments and made four parts, a part to each soldier, also the tunic <G5509>. And the tunic <G5509> was seamless, woven from the top throughout.
In verse 23, the Greek word chosen explains exactly what the article of clothing is that they are casting lots for. That article of clothing is chiton <G5509>.
1) a tunic, an undergarment, usually worn next to the skin, a garment, a vestment
Part of Speech: noun masculine
The Greek word chiton <G5509> is also used in these passages:
10 nor provision bag for the road, nor two tunics <G5509>, nor sandals, nor staves. For the worker is worthy of his food.
9 but having tied on sandals, and not putting on two tunics. <G5509>
3 And He said to them, Take nothing for the way, neither staffs, nor moneybags, nor bread, nor silver, nor each to have two tunics <G5509>.
In the above passages, if the word chiton was the equivalent of the Hebrew tallith as some Hebrew roots teachers have taught, then these passages would clearly not make any sense, because no one would wear two tallitot.(plural of tallit)
65 Then the high priest tore his garments <G5509>, saying, He blasphemed! Why do we have any more need of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard His blasphemy.
Would the High Priest tear his tallit (a Holy garment) if that was what he was wearing?
In verse 24, we find that it points to the fulfillment of scripture, and that Jesus would have lots cast for His garment/ tunic/ vesture as defined above.
24 Then they said to one another, Let us not tear it, but let us cast lots about it, whose it will be (that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided My garments among them,” and “they threw a lot for My garment/vesture <G2441>.” Then indeed the soldiers did these things. (Psa. 22:18)
1) clothing, apparel
Part of Speech: noun masculine
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G2439
In no way are the words in verse 23 or 24 related to the Hebrew words kanaph, tsitsit, or tallith in any way.
It should be noted that John 23:24 directly quotes Psalms 22:18. The Hebrew word in that passage representing His outer garment is a masculine noun lebush לבוּשׁ. It should also be noted that Hebrew words which end in “it” are usually feminine gender. This is the case with tallit, as it is a feminine noun. I personally believe that all scripture is God breathed. If this is correct, then God chose the word that best expressed the thought that He wanted to convey, and that word was not tallit. As a matter of fact, He didn’t use that word anywhere in any book of Scripture, so I am not sure why the Hebrew roots teachers would want to try and force a feminine noun into a slot occupied in Scripture by a masculine noun that was spoken by God.
Still there has been much speculation by some that Jesus and the first century Jews wore a modern style tallit, but in the Scriptures God only commanded that the people wear tsitsit or fringes on the four corners of an existing garment, and not a tallit which is rabbinical in design. Some have said that it would have to be a retangular garment such as a tallit, in order to have four corners, Let’s compare two passages to gain some understanding of what this expression means:
12 You shall make for yourself tassels on the four corners (על־ארבע כנפות al ‘arba`kanpowt) of your cloak with which you cover.
12 And He shall lift up a banner for the nations, and shall gather the outcasts of Israel, and gather those dispersed from Judah, from the four corners ( מארבע כנפות me arba` kanpowt) of the earth.
It is obvious that the world is not square or rectangular in shape, so then four corners is an expression that is used to define four points of an area. Just like four points on the semi circular bottom of a garment or robe.
Below are some Scriptures that clearly illustrate that it could not be a modern tallit, that are found in the New Testament, in reference to Jesus:
56 And wherever He went into villages or cities or fields, they laid the ailing ones in the markets and begged Him if only they may touch the fringe of His garment <G2440>. And as many as touched Him were healed.
The above passage says that they laid them. In this position they could easily touch the tsitsit at the bottom of the robe as Jesus walked by, but in order for them to touch a tallit, it would have to be 12 ft long, or else He would have to bend over. Here is where the Scriptures get even more definitive:
20 And behold, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came near behind Him, and touched the fringe of His robe <G2440>.
21 For she said within herself, If only I shall touch His robe, I will be cured.
22 But turning and seeing her, Jesus said, Be comforted, daughter; your faith has healed you. And the woman was healed from that hour.
43 And a woman being in a flow of blood from twelve years, who had spent her whole living on physicians, and could not be cured by anyone,
44 coming up behind she touched the fringe of His garment <G2440>. And instantly the flow of her blood stopped.
45 And Jesus said, Who was touching Me? And all denying it, Peter and those with Him said, Master, the crowds press on You and jostle. And do You say, Who was touching Me?
If she came up behind Him, Jesus would have to be wearing a modern tallit backwards In order for her to be able to access the tsitsit. It is evident that she was behind Him, as He did not know who had touched Him, and He had to turn and see her. I think that it is clearly evident from Scriptural sources that it was not a tallit like those worn today that Jesus was wearing, but tsitsit on the bottom of His robe as commanded in Scripture.
The Greek word used in the passages above (himation) <G2440> occurs 61 times in the NT text. Let’s take a look at a few of the other ways it is used:
36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise his bag: and he that has no sword, let him sell his garment <G2440>, and buy one.
Was Jesus instructing him to sell his holy garment (tallit) and buy a sword?
49 And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they called the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calls you.
50 And he, casting away his garment <G2440>, rose, and came to Jesus.
If this was in fact a talit as some have claimed, I am wondering why Jesus did not scold the blind man for throwing his holy garment on the ground. It also begs the question of how the man saw the fringes to remind him to keep the commandments as stated in scripture.
7 And brought the donkey, and the colt, and put on them their clothes<G2440>, and they sat him thereon.
8 And a very great multitude spread their garments<G2440> in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and spread them in the way.
Would they throw their tallit over a donkey, and also throw them on the ground, and would Jesus be approving of that?
Some Hebrew roots teachers have tried to point out that the Scriptures speak of burial garments, priestly robes, and mantles that point to the fact that many first century Jews, as well as others in the region, wore shawls which could have possibly been a tallit. One article by a Hebrew roots teacher stated that Jesus had a tallit wrapped around His head when He was prepared for burial, and that was why it was neatly folded when it was found in the tomb by His followers after He had risen. Let’s review these claims:
John 20:7 And the napkin<4676>, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
1) a handkerchief
2) a cloth for wiping perspiration from the face and for cleaning the nose and also used in swathing the head of a corpse
Part of Speech: noun neuter
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: of Latin origin
As we can see, the word used is of Latin origin. There is no possibility that a Jewish person would use a tallit to clean the nose and wipe the face of the deceased.
Here is the Greek word for robe:
1) an equipment
2) an equipment in clothes, clothing
2a) spec. a loose outer garment for men extending to the feet, worn by kings, priests, and persons of rank
Part of Speech: noun feminine
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G4724
Citing in TDNT: 7:687, 1088
Here are some of the definitions of mantle:
In reference to Elijah:
1) glory, cloak
1a) glory, splendour, magnificence (of a vine, shepherds)
1b) mantle, cloak made of fur or fine material
1b1) prophet’s garment
Other references to mantle:
1) rug, coverlet, thick coverlet
Part of Speech: noun feminine
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H5564
Same Word by TWOT Number: 2269a
1a) a garment worn over a tunic by men of rank
1b) a long garment worn by David’s daughters
1c) a garment of the high priest
There is a specific Hebrew word for shawl, but unfortunately for those who are trying to force the definition of a tallit into every Hebrew word that describes any type of clothing; this word is only used to describe a shawl worn by women. It is not used in any of the passages that they reference as being a tallit.
1) wrapper, shawl, veil
Part of Speech: noun masculine
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from an unused root meaning to wrap over
Same Word by TWOT Number: 1946a
Total Occurrences: 3
Gen_24:65, Gen_38:14, Gen_38:19
If we use their eisegetical method of finding a text and then forcing a meaning, then according to their logic, the “rag” described in the passage below could then also be a tallit, as well as any carpet or piece of cloth spoken of in the Scriptures:
6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags<H899>; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
1) treachery, deceit
2) (CLBL) garment, clothing (used indiscriminately)
Part of Speech: noun masculine
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: from H898
Same Word by TWOT Number: 198a
In the days before the time of Christ, the Holy Spirit fell on some people for a time, but was not indwelling. At that time the tsitsit were an important reminder of the Declarations or Commandments of God, to keep the children of Israel from going astray. After Christ ascended He sent the Holy Spirit, so now a Spirit filled believer has the Declarations or Commandments written on their heart.
10 Because this is the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, giving My Laws into their mind, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
The Book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish people who had accepted Christ. Through the Book of Hebrews, they had now been given the understanding that the need to look upon an external device to remind them of their transgressions had been shifted to the heart/mind (conscience), because that is what now convicted them of their sin and transgression. A believer that is filled with the Holy Spirit does not need to wear a modern tallit tied with the gematria of the rabbinic 613 with white fringes, or tsitsit that are white, or white with a blue or purple cord, because the Law is now written in their hearts/minds.
I will end this with a quote from an article by a popular Hebrew roots author:
“This garment the Tallit of the Talmud and modern Judaism, was spread as a sign of reverence over the head of a Jewish man when he prayed over a body in the grave. The purpose was that the person might “appear white before God” as similar understanding of purity, white garments, and reverence may be seen throughout both Testaments.”
The Scriptures tell us that only the shed blood of Jesus Christ is what makes us appear sinless and white before God, and not any “Holy garment” as designated by men. To state differently is a false teaching that not only goes against Scripture, but mocks the finished work of Christ.
13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, These, the ones having been clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where did they come?
14 And I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are those coming out of the great tribulation; and they washed their robes and whitened them in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Because of this they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. And He sitting on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.