In the Torah, God commands the Jewish People to wear fringes at the corners of their clothes as a reminder of His commandments (mitzvot).
- Numbers 15:38:
"Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner."[/lu]
- Deuteronomy 22:12:
"You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."
The mitzvah to wear Tzitzit ONLY applies to four-cornered garments. In biblical times, most clothing consisted of a four-cornered rectangle of cloth, direct from the loom, which was draped and fastened around the body. In modern times, people tend to wear more tailored clothing, which often does not consist of four corners. So a special four-cornered garment called a Tallit, which is somewhat like a shawl, is worn by those who want to fulfill the commandment to wear Tzitzit. The only religious significance of the Tallit is that it holds the Tzitzit on its corners.
According to Jewish Law, a Tallit must be long enough to be worn over the shoulders (so it qualifies as a garment). It may be made of any material, except wool and linen together (this is not a kosher combination for any clothes).
Tallit Katan (Tzitzit)
In more observant Jewish communities, boys and men often wear a Tallit Katan (little tallis). The Tallit Katan consists of a simple rectangle of cloth with a hole for the neck and fringes on the four corners. Sometimes the Tallit Katan is simply called Tzitzit.
They wear the Tallit Katan every day, all day long, under their shirts, with the Tzitzit hanging out. They do this because they want to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing Tzitzit more often than just during prayers and because it is written "and you shall see them."
Tallit Gadol (Tallis)
During prayer services, Jews often wear a Tallit Gadol (big tallis). In Orthodox synagogues, generally only men wear a Tallit. In Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, some women also wear a Tallit.
The most common type of Tallit Gadol is white with black or blue stripes. On the part of the Tallit that goes around ones neck (called the Atara), some Tallitot have designs and some have the words to the blessing recited when putting on a Tallit.
This blessing is recited when putting on a Tallit:
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam A-sher Ki-de-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-tav Ve-tzi-va-nu Al Mitz-vat Tzi-tzit.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the commandment of Tzitzit.