What Is a Prayer Shawl?

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A prayer shawl, also known as a tallit in Hebrew, is a rectangular garment with fringes, called tzitzit, on the corners. Jewish men and some women wear prayer shawls during services when the torah is read.


The importance of the prayer shawl lies in the fringes. In Numbers 15:37-41, God told Moses that the Jewish people must wear fringes on their four-cornered garments to be reminded of God's commandments.


Traditionally, a tallit reaches to the back of the knees when the wearer is standing. Medium-sized prayer shawls are common, covering just the back and shoulders. The smallest size, about a foot wide, drapes around the neck and hangs down the front of the body, but that style does not cover enough of the body to be acceptable according to Orthodox Jewish law.

Other Uses for Prayer Shawls

A tallit can also be used as a wedding canopy, and a man is buried in his tallit, which is wrapped over the shroud. A tallit is also used to cover a Torah if it cannot be replaced in the ark.

Prayer Shawl Ministry

Other religious groups have adopted the idea of prayer shawls, including the Prayer Shawl Ministry, which is a network of women who knit shawls to provide comfort to those going through difficult times. They infuse the shawl with blessings during the knitting process.

Christian Usage

Some Christians pray with a tallit -- available through Christian online shops and embroidered with Christian symbols rather than Jewish ones -- to follow in Jesus' footsteps.