Ask The Rabbi

Stripes Forever

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Stripes on a Tallis

Aaron Goldman wrote:

I enjoy your postings immensely. Could you please tell me the reason for stripes on a tallit ? I Imagine that not having them would not disqualify the tallit but how did the black stripes come about? I know that the Sefardim have white stripes on their Tallit - and modern ones have different colors. But I am interested in the traditional ones. Thank you very much.


Saul wrote:

Here's a poser: Why do taleisim have stripes? Regards


Ruth Marcus from Hyde Park wrote:

Why don't cotton tzitzit have stripes?


Dear Aaron Goldman, Saul, and Ruth,

The stripes on the tallit remind us of the 'strand of techelet' once worn as part of the tzitzit.

Techelet is sky-blue wool. It is dyed with a special dye made from the blood of a fish/snail called the chilazon. The Torah says that if we wear a four-cornered garment, we should put strings on the corners, and one of these strings should be a 'strand of techelet.'

Over the centuries, the exact identity of the chilazon became forgotten. Hence, the 'strand of techelet' became a mitzva we are unable to fulfill (according to most authorities).

The idea behind tzitzit is that they serve as a reminder. Like royal subjects who wear special insignias to symbolize their loyalty to the king, we wear tzitzit to remind us of our duty to Hashem and His commandments. The beautiful blue reminds us of the sky, which in turn inspires us to ponder Hashem's greatness. Now that we no longer have techelet, we have the stripe on the tallit to remind us of the techelet.

Some people used to have a blue stripe. I don't know why ours is black.

It makes sense that only a woolen tallit has stripes, since techelet is made from wool.

According to some authorities, the tallit should be the same color as the tzitzit - white. That would explain the Sefardic custom to have white stripes.

Sources:

  • Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 9:4
  • Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 9:6
  • Ta'amei Haminhagim 15

 
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