A reader recently asked about stripes on a tallit, so I thought the topic would make a good blog post.
A tallit, Jewish prayer shawl, does not have to have stripes. You’ll often see tallits with stripes in Ashkenazi communities. In Sephardic Jewish communities, however, the tradition is for the tallit to be plain white.
One of my go-to sources for tallit design details is Adin Steinsaltz’s book A Guide to Jewish Prayer. Rabbi Steinsaltz is the author of the Steinsaltz Talmud –or more formally, The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition— and the foremost Jewish scholar of our times. The following quote from A Guide to Jewish Prayer touches on the topic of tallit stripes as part of a discussion about the color of a tallit. The quote begins with a reference to halakah, or Jewish law:
Halakhically, there is no particular requirement of color for the Tallit, and one may use a Tallit of any shade he wishes (if he makes a point of observing the commandments in as ideal a manner as possible, he should make the fringes of the same color as the Tallit). In most communities, however, the Tallit is white: either entirely so, as in the Sephardic custom, or decorated with black or blue stripes, as in the Ashkenazic custom (page 346).
And here he writes more about stripes:
There is certainly no obligatory form to the decorative stripes on the Tallit; nevertheless, in various communities and congregations there developed fixed patterns. These patterns are essentially a remembrance (albeit not always conscious) of the way in which the Tallit was made in the Second Temple period, with a variety of decorative stripes (page 347).
The stripes in commercially manufactured tallits are generally woven into the tallit as part of the manufacturing process. If you’d like to add stripes to a handmade tallit, you can use striped fabric or add stripes by another technique, such as embroidery or applique. You’ll find more on adding stripes to handmade tallits in another blog post here.
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Maria Bywater is the author of Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She teaches hands-on Judaica sewing workshops.