A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halakhah)
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
"Rabbi Ariel, can a woman wear a tallit?" Let us first
define what a tallit is, and its function. A tallit (say "tall-eat"),
also known as a "prayer shawl", is a four-cornered, rectangular-shaped garment,
containing ritual fringes on each of its four corners, worn for the express
purpose of fulfilling the following mitzvah (command). These tassels
are called tzitzit (say "seat-seat"). The prayer shawl is usually adorned
with colorful stripes and a special Hebrew-lettered neckband to identify
the top edge.
37. The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 38. "Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39. "And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40. in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God (emphasis mine).
A lengthier quote from Tractate Menachot will reveal more on this controversial topic. *FYI: a “Baraitha” refers to an additional Talmudic comment not found in the Mishna, usually added by the Torah scholars called Tannaim:
Menachot 42b And for what purpose do the Rabbis use the expression ‘That ye may look upon it’? — They require it for the following teaching: ‘ That ye may look upon it, and remember’, that is, look upon this precept and remember another precept that is dependent upon it, namely, the reading of the Shema’. As we have learnt: From what time in the morning may the Shema’ be read? From the time that one can distinguish between blue and white. Another [Baraitha] taught: ‘That ye may look upon it, and remember’, that is, look upon this precept, and remember another precept that is next to it, namely, ‘the law concerning mingled stuffs, for it is written, Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together’. Thou shalt make thee twisted cords. And another [Baraitha] taught: That ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord: as soon as a person is bound to observe this precept he must observe all the precepts. This is in accordance with R. Simeon's view that [the tzitzith] is a precept dependent on time. And another [Baraitha] taught: ‘That ye may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord’: this precept is equal to all the precepts together. And another [Baraitha] taught: ‘That ye may look upon it and remember . . . and do them’: looking [upon it] leads to remembering [the commandments], and remembering leads to doing them. R. Simeon b. Yohai says, Whosoever is scrupulous in the observance of this precept is worthy to receive the Divine presence, for it is written here, ‘That ye may look upon it’, and there it is written, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and Him shalt thou serve.
The Midrash echoes this connection of the tzitzit and the commandments:
Midrash Rabbah - Numbers XVII:6 THAT YE GO NOT ABOUT AFTER YOUR OWNHEART AND YOUR OWN EYES (XV, 39). The heart and the eyes are the touts of the body, for they lead the body astray. THAT YE MAY REMEMBER, AND DO ALL MY COMMANDMENTS (ib. 40). This may be illustrated by the case of one who has been thrown into the water. The captain stretches out a rope and says to him: ‘Take hold of this rope with your hand and do not let-go, for if you do you will lose your life! ' In the same way the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘As long as you adhere to the commandments, then, Ye that did cleave unto the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day’ (Deut. IV, 4). In the same strain it says, Take fast hold of instruction, let her not go; keep her, for she is thy life (Prov. IV, 13). AND BE HOLY UNTO YOUR GOD (XV, 40). When you perform the commandments you are sanctified and the fear of you lies upon the idolaters. But if you part from the commandments you become profaned. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘In this world, owing to the influence of the Evil Inclination, you keep away from the commandments, but in the time to come I shall eradicate it from you’; as it says, I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh... and I will put My spirit within you, etc. (Ezek. XXXVI, 26 f.).
According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) - first Chief Rabbi of the modern State of Isra'el, the accompanying tassels do not even need to be white! Observe his comments preserved for us primarily from his commentaries on Talmudic Midrashim (Ein Aya) and the prayer book (Olat Riyyah):
We are accustomed to the tassels being white, but the actual legal requirement is that they be the same color as the garment. This common color indicates that actions derive their power and direction from the 'garment', i.e., the character traits.
However, we add an additional thread, of sky-blue ("techelet"). This color reminds us of hidden, sublime matters: the sea, the sky, the sapphire stone, and the Holy Throne. Sky-blue is the background color of the universe. The techelet thread connects us to the very Source of life, from Whom all forces flow. Together with the other threads, which match the color of the garment and represent the diverse range of activity, the sky-blue thread complements and completes the function of the tassels.
The Sages taught that the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit corresponds to all of the other 612 mitzvot. "When you see (the tassels), you will remember all of God's commandments". [15:39] Wearing this special garment and its tassels reflects the splendor of attributes and deeds by which the Torah envelops and clothes the Jewish soul.
So we seem to have plenty of justification, both from Torah
and Talmud for wearing the tallit and the fringes, but can a woman wear one?
A recent invention called a Gitah Zahav Tallit was created to allow the women
to fulfill the mitzvah of wrapping herself in tzitzit. Again, it is recognized
that traditionally women were not obligated to fulfill this mitzvah. This
was due to the fact that tzitzit are worn during daylight hours (with the
exception of the High Holidays) when women were occupied with many other
duties. Throughout time women have taken on this mitzvah and it is interesting
to note that Rabbi Judah the Prince, who was the editor of the Mishna tied
tzitzit onto his wife’s apron!
It is a natural action of ours, urged on and empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) within us! It is the result from having the Torah placed on our inward parts, as new creations in Messiah Yeshua! It is not something we do to BECOME saved; it is something we do BECAUSE we are saved!
If you are still not sure you understand the true intent behind Torah observance (which includes the command to wear fringes), I suggest reading my introductory teachings in this series. They are available at this web site, or you may write to me personally. As you seek to become more obedient to HaShem's Torah, by adding the mitzvah of the tzitzit, here is the traditional blessing by which Jews adorn themselves with the tallit:
“Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,
asher kid-shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu
(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
for you have sanctified us through thy commandments, and has commanded us
to sew (wear) the fringes"
It is also customary to recite Psalms 36:5-9. The reason for this choice of passages is that verse seven contains the Hebrew word "kanaf", usually translated "wing", or "extremity". A tallit contains four "wings" or "extremities", upon which the tzitzit are attached. To strengthen the connection between this use of the word kanaf, the prophet Malachi 4:2 predicted that when the Sun of Righteousness (another name for the expected Messiah) would arise, he would have "healing in his wings"! When the woman with the issue of blood reached out to touch Yeshua (Matt. 9:20-21), she was placing her trust in the miraculous healing contained within the extremity of his garment! She reached for the tassels of the long-awaited Savior! I encourage you to continue to study the Torah to discover the rich traditions that HaShem has lovingly placed there. To be sure, HaShem had us in mind when he created them.