Talit, tzitzit, and talit prayer for Christians
Though this is the first post under the new, “Christian Cabbala” category, it is written in a way which can be used by any Christian, including those with zero interest in the Cabbala/Kabbalah. It is placed in this category primarily because those who study the Cabbala usually follow customs such as praying with the talit, which other Jewish believers do as well; not just kabbalists.
First, since this is the first post in this category, I want to get the issue of spelling out of the way. There are 3 main accepted spellings for the subject matter; kabbalah, cabbala, and qabbalah. The first usually refers to Jewish practice of kabbalah. The second is usually used for Christian Cabbala, and the third is most often used for Golden Dawn and Hermetic studies, which this blog does not cover. In a sense, except for the Hermeticism, they are all the same thing, just different spellings. They all use the same core texts (Sepher Yetzirah, Zohar), again with the exception of the Hermetic versions, which have nothing to do with Judaism or Christianity other than a loose resemblance.
If you already know about tzitzit, and just want to read a Christian method for praying with the talit, scroll past the next two sections.
What are tzitzit and why should I wear them?
Tzitzit are tassels which are tied to the corners of garments, such as a talit katan or talit gadol, which represent a dedication to God. The command to wear them is given in Numbers 15:38. In addition the tassels (also called fringes) are supposed to be woven with white threads, and a single blue thread running throughout.
Christians are not required to follow the Law of Moses, and thus we are not required to wear tzitzit. However, Yeshua and the Apostles all wore them and prayed with them. It is the tzitzit of Yeshua which the woman with “emissions” touched and was healed by her faith, according to some scholars. If God asked His people to do something for almost 2,000 years, even if we’re not required to, perhaps it’s a good idea.
It’s not only Christian Cabbalists who wear the tzitzit, but many Christians do, including, of course, Messianic Jewish believers. Orthodox Jews no longer wear the blue thread in their tzitzit, and that’s a protracted discussion in and of itself, but Christians who wear the tzitzit usually have the blue thread.
How Do I wear tzitzit?
The most basic use of tzitzit is what is called a “talit gadol,” or “great talit.” The talit gadol (also often just called “talit”) is the prayer shawl, It is the garment we will discuss using under the next category. It is only worn for prayers, and in a church or synagogue (though, many Christian churches may frown upon lay persons wearing one during service if they think it might be confused for a priestly garment.) Traditionally, only men wore talit (of either kind) but these days women often wear them too, especially among Christians.
Other than the talit gadol, there is the talit katan and there are tzitzit shirts, or tzitzit you can buy separately to tie onto your own garments. The talit katan and tzitzit shirts are designed so that you can wear the tzitzit at all times, not just when praying. It is to remind you of HaShem, and to be prayerful in heart at all times. In Judaism, only the most devout wear them at all times, but it is becoming more common in Christianity, especially among followers of Cabbala (just as Jewish followers of Kabbalah are more likely to wear them.)
How to Pray with the Talit (for Christians)
As mentioned earlier, it is the talit gadol, “great talit,” which is used for prayer. It is often just called the, “talit,” or “prayer shawl.” It comes in different sizes, and fabrics. My only recommendations for picking one out are: 1. One made with natural material is MUCH better (wool preferred, cotton, hemp, linen, or silk are acceptable) and all of one fabric. 2. If you can, the atarah prayer you want on it is the Messianic version; unfortunately, I’ve only seen these available in polyester at this time. 3. Choose the size which is right for your body, and it is entirely up to you if you want it to cover just your back or your legs as well.
Keep in mind, this is my way of doing it, and I am not saying it is the only right way. It is not identical to the traditional Jewish way of praying with the talit, as it is heavily adapted for Christian practice. Also, I am Catholic, but if you are not you simply remove the part where I make the sign of the cross if it’s not part of your practice. That said, you may wish to replace it with the Kabbalists cross, which is based on the Tree of Life. For me, it is both.
The best time to pray is all times, but the minimal time to pray is at least once at sunrise if at all possible (or at least once during the day if sunrise prayer isn’t possible.)
The first step is to wash your hands, all the way up the wrists, and rinse them thoroughly. If you are anointing your head with oils, do so before washing your hands. Then, take your talit out of the bag (if you have it in a carrying bag) and grab your siddur, or other prayer book, if you are using one. Your siddur may have a prayer for washing of hands, and if so I recommend reciting it before beginning your talit prayer time.
Stand, facing East towards Jerusalem (for the United States. For other countries face whichever way is considered “towards Jerusalem” wherever you are.) Kiss the atarah (prayer band on the collar of the talit, not all talit gadol have an atarah) and the tzitzit (the tassels/fringes in the corners of the garment.) Take three steps backwards. Ring a bell three times and use your talit to make the sign of the cross (or Kabbalah cross.)
Chant, “Baruch atah HaShem*, eloheynu melech ha olam, asher mila et kol, hatorah b’yeshu HaMashiach, Ikissa ku lanu vet sed kahtoh.” (Blessed are you HaShem, king of everything, who fulfills the law through Yeshua the Messiah and covers us with his righteousness.”) This prayer is the Christian version of the atarah (talit) prayer. Put the talit on your shoulders. Stop, and take a moment to reflect on being wrapped in the Holy Spirit. Take three steps forward. Pull the talit over your head, creating what Jewish believers call the “prayer closet.” It is your private place with God.
The three steps backwards represent approaching God with humility, and recognizing that we are removed from God while on Earth. The three steps forward represent drawing as near to God as we can, through the process of prayer and davvening (see the post on this blog about davvening and ecstatic prayer.)
Begin with perhaps the most Christian prayer, the Our Father, in whatever version you learned it and are comfortable saying it. God understands you no matter what language or vernacular you use. As Christians, we should always start with the Our Father, as it is the prayer Yeshua taught us.
Note for Catholics: I do not find talit prayer time as an appropriate time for prayer to Mary or the Saints, though one may invoke the angels. Usually, talit prayer time is dedicated to the Trinity alone.
Following the Our Father, I highly recommend learning some Hebrew prayers and power statements which will help you draw closer to the Spirit of God. I pray to be wrapped in the wings of Shekhinah (v’anu ma-tzanu m’nucha mitachat kanfay ha-Sh’cinah)1 for example. I pray for God to guide me in His paths of righteousness (many good prayers for that.) I thank God for beauty. I will usually sing at least one hymn. This is basically your time to pray and draw closer to God.
At some point in the middle I say the atarah prayer again, because 3 is a Holy number and represents the Trinity. Usually, following the second chanting/singing of the atarah prayer, I have my open prayer time where just whatever is in my heart comes out. It is during this time when I will sometimes be moved to pray in tongues (yes, some Catholics do that too) or otherwise be moved strongly by the Holy Spirit.
The Our Father begins your prayer session powerfully. Your time praying formulaic prayers, especially in Hebrew, builds up the Presence. The final free prayer time is where that spirit has built up, and now flows strongly through you, moving you. Often, people are rocking, swaying, and/or even dancing by this point in prayer. You may fall to your knees and cry. It really depends on what experience you need at that moment. The point is to let the Power of God wash over you and flow through you.
When you are finished praying, pull the talit down to your shoulders, bow your head, and take three steps backwards. Remove the talit from your shoulders, and carefully fold it (it should be folded so that all 4 tzitzit hang freely, and the atarah, if present, is on the outside of the fold.) Use the talit to make the sign of the cross (or Kabbalah cross) and chant the atarah prayer once more. Ring your bell three times, and put your talit and siddur away, your prayer session is done. Go forth throughout your day prayerfully, remembering that Spirit of God always and allowing God to guide you.
*where I say “HaShem” it means “The Name” and refers to the Tetragrammaton Name of God, often rendered, “Yahweh.” If you are comfortable saying the Name of God in the context of prayer, pray the name. Otherwise, say “HaShem,” but do not substitute it with Adonai in most cases, despite what your siddur or other prayer book might say. See the post on this blog regarding the Name of God for more information.
1 Hebrew prayer taken from: “Serve the Holy One with Joy” by Ivdu Et Hashem B’Simcha Copyright 2010 Rabbi David Zaslow