Ten women were held in Jerusalem yesterday for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall, Israel’s most holy site. According to Orthodox tradition, only men are allowed to wear prayer shawls. Susan Silverman, sister of U.S. comedian Sarah Silverman was one of those detained. Two other American citizens were detained as well as Israeli members of “Women of the Wall,” a group that campaigns for gender equality in religious practice. The Hebrew word for prayer shawl is a “tallit.” To learn more about the tallit, one can look at Numbers 15:37-40: “And the Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so a to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your Lord.’”
Originally, the word tallit meant “cloak,” or “mantle”—sort of like a blanket that men wore as they went about their daily lives. At the four corners, fringes were attached according to Numbers 15. After the Israelites were exiled from the land of Israel, they began to dress like those in the new land and the tallit was only worn as a religious garment—as a prayer shawl.
I recently watched the Barbra Streisand movie, “YENTL.” There is a scene where she dares to touch her father’s tallit, prayer shawl, and then gives in to her desire to wear it. She sings the most amazing song as a prayer to God while wearing her father’s tallit.
You may recall in Matthew 9 where a woman who had been physically suffering for twelve years, came up behind Jesus and “touched the fringe of His cloak…” Her faith in Jesus healed her. The fringe of the tallit are the tassels on the four corners.
Religious issues in Israel are battled daily. And why not? It is the religious hot spot in the world and anything spiritual can and will become an issue. Many times the religious traditions get in the way of the real issues and distract men and women--the real issue is having a personal relationship with Christ. Both the Old Testament (known to the Jewish people as Tanakh) and the New Testament can be boiled down to God desiring a relationship with man. Many are more concerned about religious practices and have not focused on seeking God’s face.
“I love those who love Me; and those who diligently seek Me will find Me.” Proverbs 8:17