Prayer shawls, called tallits, have been used in Jewish worship for centuries. According to Jewish custom, the garments are worn to fulfill a command given by God when He brought the Jews out of Egypt. The purpose of the prayer shawl is to remind the wearer that he is to follow God's commands. In recent years, Messianic Jews and some Christians have adopted the use of the prayer shawl, adapting some of its symbolism.
A Messianic prayer shawl is a rectangular garment made of a single, seamless piece of material. A tassel of eight threads (seven linen and one wool) is attached to each corner. In biblical times, the colors of the garment signified which tribe of Israel its wearer was from. Messianic Jews and Christians wear prayer shawls in a variety of colors, but at least one of the threads of the tassels must be blue.
Whether a prayer shawl is worn by Jews, Messianic Jews or Christians, the garment must be seamless. The reason a single, seamless garment must be used is to remind God's people that they are to remain pure and separate, unattached to those who do not obey God. Some believe that the seamless nature of the garment also illustrates that there is only one God. Some Messianic Jews and Christians extend this concept to represent the idea that there is only one savior, Jesus Christ, or Yeshua Hamashiach in Hebrew.
Four Corners and Tassels
The tassels at the four corners of a tallit are called tzitzits. They remind the wearer to obey the commands of God. At least one of the strands of the tassels is to be blue, representing the idea that the Jewish people were called out to be a kingdom of priests. Many who wear Messianic prayer shawls further use the blue chord as a reminder that only one -- Jesus Christ -- perfectly followed the Old Testament law.
A Covering Tent
For many, the Messianic prayer shawl represents a tent. The shawl is drawn up over the head of the one who is praying as a reminder of God's protection. Some believe Jesus' command to enter our prayer closets when we pray referred to this kind of covering.
According to the Reverend Margie Simmons, a Pentecostal Church of God minister whose family uses a prayer shawl, the wearer sometimes draws his family under the shawl to represent the idea that the husband is the priest of the home and his prayers cover his household. Traditionally, only men wore prayer shawls, but some Messianic groups now allow women to wear them as well.
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