I am currently discussing the issue on whether the current culture of Israel/Judaism is the same as or even rooted in first century Israel. The object of this quest is to ultimately judge just how much relevance current Jewish practices should have for the Gentile believer in Jesus. The question is not inconsequential since per my examination of the book of Romans, it was Paul’s belief that the Gentile believers have been engrafted into the baptized remnant of Israel. To some extent, therefore, that culture is now our culture.
Saying that, however, does not follow that what we see in modern Jewish culture is the same as the culture that was experienced by Paul or Jesus in the first century. It is fairly apparent that this is not the case in the use of the Yarmulke or kippah. Instead of covering the head during prayer Paul almost commands the opposite of believers. Therefore, in this instance at least, the Christian practice appears to be more ancient and centered in the scriptures than is that of the Jews or even the Messianic Jews.
Next I shall consider the use of the tallit, tallis, or prayer shawl. The Shawl is worn by Jewish men, Messianic or otherwise, during certain services and prayer times. It is normally white in color, with stripes, and has a specific pattern of smaller fringes at the bottom, with four larger tassels, one at each corner. Per this source on the internet:
The tallit (also pronounced tallis) is a prayer shawl, the most authentic Jewish garment. It is a rectangular-shaped piece of linen or wool (and sometimes, now, polyester or silk) with special fringes called Tzitzit on each of the four corners. The purpose of the garment is to hold the Tzitzit.
The Tzitzit are the four larger fringes at the corners of the garnment. These are about the only part of the garment with any support in either the Torah or the entire Tanahk (Old Testament).
And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they make themselves fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put on the fringe of each border a cord of blue: and it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look at it, and remember all the commandments of YHWH, and do them; and that you don’t follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you act like a harlot after; that you may remember and do all my commandments, and be special to your God.(Num 15:37-40; CGV)
So the most important part of the prayer shawl are the fringes at the corners. In fact, God did not specify exactly what type of garment that had to have the special fringes attached. It just had to be on the borders of whatever was worn. So the Tallit is an extra appendage right at the start.
Nor does God specify that this fringes garment was to be worn only at prayer times. From the context, the fringes were to be reminders to the Israelites to obey God’s commands; therefore, they were to be worn at all times. This is not a special “prayer” garment but a special, all purpose, always worn feature of all garments.
Now there are some Jewish people who at least obey this part of the command, in that they have a special “under garment” called the tallit katan or tallet ketannah, meaning “small tallit.” It is worn as an undergarment beneath the shirt preferably not touching the body, but worn between an undershirt and the outer shirt. This is worn at all times by Orthodox men. However, even in this case, the full Biblical commandment is not followed.
When I was checking out a tallit prayer shawl at a vendor’s booth, I noticed that the fringe was fully white and tied in a complex series of knots. This situation confused me as I was aware that the fringes were supposed to have at least a threat of blue in them. When I questioned the seller, he told me that all of the fringes were white. In checking ebay, I found that although the upper part of the garment came in a variety of colors, the fringes were always white. Not a blue thread among them.
In checking the internet, I found the following explanation for this odd circumstance.
A blue thread is no longer added because the blue dye specifically referenced in Numbers is no longer known; instead blue is incorporated into the stripes. However, some talitot have black stripes instead of blue because some rabbis have taught it would be improper to try to duplicate the unknown blue.
So the modern Jews no longer wear the blue thread because they can’t know the type of die, nor the exact shade of blue God specified. This sounds almost of the same nature as some of the pharisaic twists of logic Jesus encountered in his day. The Torah does not specify a die or even a shade of blue; it only specifies that a thread be blue in each tassel.
Yet even though the tassel does not have the blue thread that God commanded, instead it contains a specific pattern of knots and twists that must be present for the tallit to be considered valid. I repeat the specifications from the same website noted previously:
Tying Tzitzit is a Jewish art, a form of macrame. A hole is carefully made and reinforced in each corner of the tallit. Through each hole, four strands are inserted: three short strands and one long strand. The longer stranded is called the shammash and this is the one which is used for winding around the others. To tie the Tzitzit, line up the four stands so that the three of equal length are doubled evenly, and the four strand is lined up at one end with the other seven ends. With four strands in one hand, and the other four in the other, make a double knot at the edge of the fabric. Then take the shammash and wind it around the other seven strands seven times in a spiral motion. Make a second double knot, with four strands in one hand and four strands in the other. Then wind the shammash around the seven strands eight times and make another double knot. Wind the shammash around eleven times and make a double knot. Finally, wind the shammash thirteen times around the remaining seven strands and make one final double knot. When done correctly, the Tzitzit will have 7-8-11-13 winds between the double knots.
So the modern day fringe does not contain the blue thread that God commanded, but it must be wound in the specific and complex pattern described above; a pattern that God has not commanded. This appears to me to be another example of the Pharisees “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.” (Matt 23:23). If the Messianic Jew wants to claim that the Gentile church has not followed God in wearing the fringes, he had better look to his own ethnic brothers as well. Strictly speaking, they have not worn the fringes in accordance with God’s commands either. Both practices represent a break with first century Israelite practice.
Now the Jews of Jesus day did wear the fringes (though probably not the full shawl as it exists today). Jesus notes the fact that the Pharisees used the fringes as a sign of pride rather than as a reminder for obedience (Matt 23:5). For this to be true, then the Pharisees of Jesus day wore them. There is even some indication that Jesus wore them, being the only Jewish man to fulfill all of the commandments. The women with the issue of blood may have touched the tassels of his robe (Mat 9:20; 14:36; Mk 6:56; Lk 8:44).
Yet there appears to be little indication that this Torah requirement was passed on to at least Jesus’ Gentile followers. In the Expanded Covenant (New Testament) our clothing no longer consists of four fringes on the corners of our clothing. The secret may be in the smaller fringes on the modern tallit. These represent the 613 commandments of the Law. For the modern Jew, these laws are interpreted through the lenses of the Pharisees and their writings in the Talmud and Mishnah. These are the Yoke of the modern Jew. This yoke is not ours. Our Yoke is now Christ, and it is easy and light (Mat 11:28-29).
Saying all that, I still have some respect for the Tallit. There is a leveling that is effected between the leader and the congregation when both don “liturgical vestments.” It also marks the service as a “special time” that is being lost in our more casual protestant services.