With this project, I explore the embodied religious practices and cultural values of Judaism, as facilitated by personal systems of belief. These personal belief systems can be built by one’s own relationship with God, with religion, with their family, with the way their family made them be religious as a kid, or any other plethora of influences that we encounter in our lives.

Particularly, I wanted to take a peek into various people’s relationship with owning, wearing, keeping, and sanctifying their tallit, a Jewish religious garment typically worn around the shoulders of a b’nei mitzvah (One who has had a b’nei mitzvah ceremony, which is a coming-of-age ritual where the Jewish newly-13 year old is called to read the Torah as an adult.). I believe wearing a tallit is a choice one makes, a ritual one chooses to take part in, and a conscious act of embodied belief.

However, the tallit is not, in religious tradition, presented as a choice. Instead, this practice originates in the Torah as a mitzvah, a commandment to wear fringes and thus remember the commandments given by God.

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם
לְדֹרֹתָ֑ם וְנָ֥תְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת׃
וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֮ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם
אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים
לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺתָ֑י וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדֹשִׁ֖ים לֵאלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם׃

Numbers 15:38-40

“Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner.
That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of יהוה and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.
Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.”

Thus, the biblical religious practice is pretty simple, and explicit: wear fringes to remind oneself of the commandments of God.
However, many people that I have encountered in my life practice different iterations of tallit-wearing. Tallitot are gifted to the b’nei mitzvah and in Reform Judaism, often carry unique designs– each tallit is a work of art made with different colors, symbols, and textiles. A person’s tallit is, in a way, at once an expression of the self, and an opportunity of physically signifying a place of belonging within a larger culture.

And so, in considering the sanctity of this religious object, I ask, “Is it the fringes?” Or is there something more: a personal, individual connection between a person and their tallit?

An exploration into tallitot and the people who wear them

I was lucky enough to talk to people from different backgrounds, each holding a unique relationship with Judaism and the way that religious practices fit into their lives. I invite you into these conversations: Click each picture to read the stories that people have so generously shared with me and admire the beauty of the tallitot.






Rabbi Minster

Talia Eligator

Cantor Brian

Rabbi David

The tallitot of the Ackiron family