Laws and Customs Concerning Tallit and Tzitzit

A brief guide to the laws and customs concerning tallit and tzitzit who is obligated to wear the tallit and when it is worn (The laws regards men and women wearing a tallit).

"All males regardless of age" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 17:3)
"All males from the age of 13" (ibid, Ba'er Hetev 4)
"After marriage" (ibid)

Different communities have adopted one of the above and it is customary for all in the community to follow the same rule of wearing the talit.

Morning Service and Tallit

The tallit is worn by congregants during the Shabbat and Festival morning service and daily morning services.

Aliyah and Tallit

A person called up for an aliyah should wear a tallit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 14:3, Magen Avraham 6). There is a strict obligation of wearing the talit for women and men during the aliyah.

When called up for an aliyah, it is customary to take the fringes of the Tallit and touch the section of the scroll about to be read, kiss the fringes and then recite the blessing before reading the Torah.

Yom Kippur and Tallit

Because of the solemnity of the day, the tallit is worn for the Kol Nidrei service and for all the services on Yom Kippur. Technically, the tallit should be put on while it is still daytime; otherwise the tallit is put on but the blessing is not said (Mishnah Beruriah 619:1).

Shaliach Tzibbur and Tallit

It is customary for the chazan or shaliach tzibbur to wear a tallit for the minchah (afternoon) and ma'ariv (evening) services. The Tallit is put on without a blessing.

Shema and Tallit

During the prayer before the shema, the blessing beginning ahavah rabbah, the four fringes of the Tallit are wound around one finger to heighten one's awareness of these prayers - the coming together of the four corners of the earth into a unity - the unity of God.

During the recitation of the third paragraph - which mentions the tzitzit - it is customary to look at and kiss the fringes of the Tallit every time the word "tzitzit" is said.

Torah Service and Tallit

When the Torah is elevated during hagbahah, it is a Sephardi custom to take a fringe of a Tallit and raise it towards the Torah, kissing it afterwards. As the Torah passes in procession, it is customary to touch the Torah with one of the fringes of the Tallit and kiss it.

Chuppah and Tallit

The chuppah can be a simple cloth, a richly embroidered canopy, a bower of leaves and flowers, or a tallit (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha Ezer 55:1, the Rama). Amongst Sephardi communities it is the custom to put a tallit over the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony (Avraham ben Natan, Sefer haMinhag, p.12; Gelis, Minhagei Eretz Yisrael, p.329).

Simchat Torah and Tallit

A tallit is worn by those carrying the scrolls. For the last aliyah during the morning service all children are called up and a tallit is spread over them like a chuppah whilst they recite the blessings (Mishnah Beruriah 699:1). After the blessing after the Torah reading, the congregation recites Jacob's blessing to his grandchildren over the children present. In many places it is customary to spread a tallit as a chuppah over the Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit.

Burial and Tallit

Tradition frowns on dressing the deceased in fine clothing (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, 352:1) and prescribes the use of plain linen shrouds. In addition to the shroud, a man is buried in his tallit, especially if he wore the tallit regularly whilst he was alive (ibid 351:2). The body, if not buried the same day, may be covered with the deceased's tallit overnight. Just before the coffin is sealed, a fringe of the tallit is removed to render it pasul (ritually unfit for use).