The whole Torah can be represented by tzitzit because the Torah is about learning to make distinctions. Holiness is found in separation. So when we look at our tzitzit, and we see the difference between blue and white, purple and orange, or whatever contrast of colors exist there, we can be reminded of the Heavens, of holy existence, and of the boundaries of human life. We can choose to infuse holiness into every aspect of our lives recognizing that distinctions are what make and honor creation.
In my own prayer life, I find that the embodiment of the tallit is a nurturing symbol of God’s embracing love. Being a tallit artist entails having a concern for aesthetic and symbolism. The first tallit I ever made was for my mother, upon the celebration of her being called to the Torah as a Bat-Mitzvah at the age of sixty-two. While living in Israel from October 2009 – May 2010, I became more focused and serious in my relationship with tallitot and tzitzit. My work on tallitot in Israel culminated in a sixteen piece tallit fashion show in Jerusalem at the end of May 2010. Below are some examples of tallitot that I have made.
When my work on tallitot began I had three objectives: learn the halacha(traditional Jewish law) on tallitot andtzitzit, use second-hand or recycled clothing, and reintroduce the commandment for techelet (the blue-ish string in the tzitzit fringe) as well as other colors. Informed by the halacha, I make educated choices on the construction of the tallit. The idea of using second hand or recycled clothing is environmentally friendly and ultimately honors the materials that we already have in our world. The Jewish principle of hiddur hamitzvah (beautifying the commandment) also asks us to transform the ordinary into something suitable for holy ritual use.
Tying in a blue-ish string as part of the tzitzit is a biblical commandment. In dialogue with rabbinic sources, I concluded that the blue-ish string is essential for the symbolism of tzitzit. While keeping in mind Maimonides’s prescription that tzitzit are as an extension of the garment itself, I include other colors in the tzitzit that aesthetically enhance the total garment.
“The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the
field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers
it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is
with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s
children with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey
his precepts.” Psalms 103:15-18
This garment has arm holes and may be reversed as to which is the top and which is the bottom. The bright but serene colors evoke the feeling of an English Garden.
Women Too Tallit
Man-made material tallit with sequins and a hand painted cotton atarah with hand-dyed wool tzitzit
“Even women are in the meaning [of the commandment to wear tzitzit]” ~ says one of the opinions in the Midrash Halacha. This feminist tallit makes it clear that she knows what she’s talking about by quoting a traditional Jewish text. The elements of black, white and blue also nod to traditional tallitot, while going in a completely different direction. The sequins recall stars in a sky, or God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Wool garment with hand embroidered designs and hand-dyed blue and yellow wool tzitzit.
“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”
The dove and olive branch symbol of peace is embroidered by hand over the heart. The neck embroidery spells out the word “Shalom” in Hebrew testifying to this symbol of peace. This garment is a hybrid tallit katan (the garment which holds tzitzit that is worn under the clothes) and the tallit gadol (the garment that one wraps oneself in for prayer from which one can gather the four corners).
Sheer man-made material tallit with cotton modified batik atarah, glass beads, and hand-dyed purple and orange wool tzitzit
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Who Crowns Israel with Glory.” ~ From the morning liturgy
The Hebrew word for glory, tifarah or tiferet and the word for the piece of the tallit which goes along the neck, the atarah, are related. This piece of the tallit is the crown, to be drawn over the head during private moments of prayer, and to bring the individual into a close relationship with God and connected to the community of Israel. The color of glory is also purple, which is a main color in this tallit and its tzitzit. Theatrarah also uses gold to bring shimmer to the meaning of these words. SOLD.
The pants tallit is the deepest expression of the obsession with tallitot. Even in the form of pants, the holy object can be recognized as the four-corners which require tzitzit. The wooden “Shefa Brachot,” means a flow of blessings. How much more blessed can you get than that?!
This is a cotton tallit with hand-dyed elements, wooden beads, and the words, “Shefa Brachot.” Extra strings dangle off the edges. The tzitzit are hand-dyed wool.
This silk tallit was made from two shirts of the now owner’s beloved late friend. The atarah was made by the owner under my direction, and a piece of one shirt was made into the tallit bag. The tzitzit are a hand-dyed wine color to match the tallit.
Aristotle gave the butterfly the name psyche, which in Greek means soul.
The transformative power of the butterfly reminds us that the preciousness of life does not die, but is simply reborn in another form. Elevating these shirts to the holy purpose of tallit, is another repurposing for the sake of beauty and meaning.
A cotton hand-painted tallit, with a cotton hand-painted atarah, which says the words “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” The tzitzit are also cotton.
In the story of the Burning Bush, Moses asks God who he should tell the Israelites has called him to be their leader. God responds with the words, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” - “I will be what I will be”, or “I am what I am.” God is the past, present, and future. We can all learn from those words, that we are who we are. We need to accept ourselves and by extension, accept others for who they are.
Cotton tallit made from a skirt, the zipper is incorporated into the design. The cotton atarah was hand -embroidered and has silver colored hamsa elements attached throughout. The purple tassels and brown ribbon are man-made materials and the tzitzit are cotton.
“The whole world is filled with God’s glory.” Psalms 72:19
This patchwork tallit combines several elements and yet is completely harmonious, like a microcosm of the world God has created for us. Earthy and bountiful, this tallit delivers being surrounded by God’s love and commandments.
Hand embroidered in Morocco, this fabric was brought back from there—intended to be a bedspread, but crafted into a tallit cloak, that spreads out wide and invites its wearer to see the Sapphire Bricks in Ezekiel’s vision of God. The tzitzit are hand-dyed wool.