As a Christian with a deep passion for spiritual practices and rituals, I have always been
fascinated by the concept of the prayer shawl or Tallit. This cloak has a rich history in the Jewish
religion and has been used for centuries in prayer and worship. As a student of the Bible, I have
often wondered, given that he was a Jew, did Jesus wear a prayer shawl?
In this article, I aim to uncover the truth and significance behind the use of the prayer shawl, its
mention in the Bible, and if Jesus actually wore it. Join me on this exploration as we delve into
the history and symbolism behind the mysterious prayer shawl.
What is a prayer shawl?
As mentioned earlier, a prayer shawl is a piece of clothing used mainly by the Jews during prayer and worship. Any piece of sheet or clothing cannot be considered a prayer shawl. A lot of work and detailing goes into making a traditional prayer shawl. Before, the shawl was long enough to cover nearly the entire body. However, new-age Jews prefer a shorter shawl reaching just below the neck. The original design of the Tallit included long fringes at the bottom. The fringes symbolized power and the ability to follow the law.
Both the old and new versions of the prayer shawl have four corners. Each corner is modified with intricate knots on the fringes. This garment is typically made of silk or wool. What is more interesting is that the prayer shawl was made for Jewish men and boys (over the age of 13) to wear on top of their regular clothes. This will later start to change, as will be revealed in this article later.
Is a prayer shawl mentioned in the Bible?
There are multiple mentions and elaborate examples of prayer shawls in the Old Testament. In the book of Numbers 15:38, God sent the Israelites a message about a prayer shawl. He told them to “make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a cord of blue on the tassel for each corner.” The book of Deuteronomy 22:12 shows another instance where God specifically tells the Israelites how to make prayer shawls and how to use them. Some theologians also believe that Elijah’s famous miracle cloak was really a prayer shawl. This is illustrated in the book of 2nd Kings 2:8, where the Bible says that Elijah took off his cloak and struck the water with it, which immediately divided the water so he and Elisha can walk through. After Elijah is taken up by the chariots, Elisha inherits the cloak and its power.
In the New Testament, the prayer shawl makes an appearance. During his time, Jesus made a point of calling out hypocrisy in the then-religious leaders. In Matthew 23: 5 Jesus says, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t mandatory to wear prayer shawls, especially for gentiles.
What was the meaning and significance of wearing a prayer shawl?
It is an opportunity to speak to God and connect with Him on an individual level. Essentially, prayer should be conducted discreetly. Firstly, prayer shawls help to reduce distractions, which helps Christians to focus on prayer. It also creates a peaceful and quiet ambience appropriate for those quiet times with God. For the Jews, a Tallit is the physical embodiment of one’s prayers. Wearing a prayer shawl is a sign of God’s presence among Christians. Some religious leaders have been known to pray over a shawl and give it to a sick person. This is not to say that it is a magical garment. Prayer shawls are handed out to ailing and suffering persons to remind them that God is near and other people are praying for their well-being.
Why did Jesus wear a prayer shawl?
Jesus was Jewish, and He understood that some Jews were set in their ways. Hence, he wore a prayer shawl on occasion to appeal to them. A good example can be found in Matthew 14:36, where the Bible says, “They implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. Although Christ was a Rabii or teacher, he did not always wear a prayer shawl, as instructed by Jewish law.
Jesus only chose to wear a prayer cloth on several occasions because he wanted to reconcile the old and the New Testament. Through his actions, Jesus taught that the law does not make people right with God. Instead, Jesus encouraged people to live by faith and rely on God’s grace which was delivered to mankind through His death and resurrection. That includes Gentiles who are not obligated to abide by Jewish practices such as wearing a prayer shawl.
What did the prayer shawl symbolize in the Jewish community?
The prayer shawl began in the Jewish religion. The term tallit means to cover in Hebrew. Jews were encouraged to use the prayer shawl or Tallit over their heads to create a personal sanctuary when reciting essential prayers. Orthodox Jews consider the prayer shawl as a tent of sorts. Here, one can have a meeting with God with no distractions. The tassels were meant to remind the Israelites to obey the Ten Commandments. The blue color was meant to symbolize royalty.
Could women and gentiles also wear a prayer shawl?
Traditional Jewish laws forbade women to wear a Tallit. Today the Jewish groups cannot seem to agree on this issue. Many 21st-century orthodox Jews believe that women should not wear prayer shawls under any circumstances. However, influential voices such as Joseph Soloveitchik suggest that it is okay for women to wear a Tallit in private. On the other hand, non-orthodox Jews do not prohibit women from wearing a prayer shawl. They prefer women to wear the Tallit.
In the New Testament, God introduces a new covenant made through Jesus Christ. Under this new arrangement, Gentiles didn’t need to wear prayer shawls. Still, it was not forbidden for them to wear it.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.