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The prayer beads (rosaries and mala beads) are common accessories among spiritual traditions of many religions except in Judaism.

The orthodox Jews frown upon such devices. They consider it a mortal sin tantamount to idol worship. Many Judaic sources frown, prohibit or discourage the use of prayer beads and such, since these practices could lead the observant to take the name of God in vain. However, there are other sources that verify such use as a common kabbalistic practice kept secret for over hundreds of years.

However, there is something comparable to the use of prayer beads in traditional Jewish practice, though there is no direct reference to any kind of rosary practice.

The tallit 

The tallit is a prayer shawl, used for centuries by Jewish people. It is a rectangular garment with parallel stripes across the shorter ends. Most tallitot (plural) are white with navy or black stripes. Originally it was woven without seams.

Tallit

Tallit – a Jewish prayer shawl

The Jews place the tallit over their head and shoulders while praying in private and in the synagogue, and during other significant times of prayer.

Tallitot are first worn by children on their Bar Mitzvahs. Among orthodox Jews in the Ashkenazi circles, a tallit is customarily presented to a groom before marriage as part of the dowry.

In the Torah, in the book of Numbers, chapter 15:37-40, we read that the LORD designed the tallit and gave the directions to Moses:

37 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:

38 ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.

39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;

40 that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God.

Again in Deuteronomy 22:12 we read:

“Thou shalt make thee twisted cords upon the four corners of thy covering, wherewith thou coverest thyself.”

The tzitzit

In Hebrew, tzitzit is the name for specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews. Tzitzit are attached to the four corners of the tallit and tallit katan.

A tzitzit

A tzitzit

There are specifications for constructing the tassel, winding the thread separating the knots, and making the knots themselves.

God, in his concern for his people to obey his commandments and avoid punishment of death, told Moses to have his people include a specified number of fringes or knotted tassels on its four corners, and on the hems or borders of all their garments, in a very specific fashion, called tzitzit.

Each of these tzitziyot should include a cord of blue to remind that the origin of the Law is heavenly and not sin against the Holy One of Israel, Yahweh, God the Father.

Also, these verses from the Torah might lead some to subtly infer that numbers are as spiritually significant to the tallit in Judaism as they are to prayer beads in other traditions. However, there are no reference to using these knots in any kind of rosary practice.

The tallit katan

The tallit katan meaning ‘small tallit‘ is a fringed garment traditionally worn either under or over their clothing by Jewish men. It is a poncho-like garment with a hole for the head and special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners.

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Wool Tallit Katan under his vest

An Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Wool Tallit Katan under his vest.

The four corners are generally regarded as the four corners of the earth’s cardinal directions; and the tassels to remind them of the commandments. By the way, the Jews have a total of 613 do and don’t commandments to follow and not just the 10 that are generally known.

Generally, a tallit katan is made of wool or cotton. The requirements about the fabric and fringes of a tallit katan are the same as that of a tallit gadol, the prayer shawl worn during the morning services in synagogues by all male participants, and in many communities by the leader of the afternoon and evening prayers as well.

“Who touched me?”

Most of us forget that Jesus was a Jew. Here is an interesting episode in the life of Jesus narrated by Luke in Chapter 8:42-48.

Woman grabbing yeshua's tzitzit

Woman grabbing yeshua’s tzitzit

… As he went, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, who [had spent her whole livelihood on doctors and] was unable to be cured by anyone, came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped.

Jesus then asked, “Who touched me?”

While all were denying it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.”

When the woman realized that she had not escaped notice, she came forward trembling. Falling down before him, she explained in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been healed immediately.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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