Making Your Own Ritual Objects

Creating a tallit (prayer shawl) or designing a bar/bat mitzvah invitation can add a meaningful personal dimension to the celebration.

Print this page Print this page

A girl ties tzitzit strings. Photo: Shir Hadash

    5. Even up the four strands at one end and push the group through one of the corner holes in the tallit.

    6. Even up seven of the eight strands (the four being doubled) and leave the extra length of the shamash hanging to one side.

    7. With four strands in one hand and the other four in the other hand, make a double knot near the edge of the material. Take the shamash and wind it around the other seven strands in a spiral--seven turns. Be sure you end the winding where you began--otherwise you may end up with 7 1/2 or 6 1/2 winds. Make another double knot at this point (four over four).

    8. Spiral the shamash eight times around. Double knot. Spiral the shamash 11 times around. Double knot. Spiral the shamash 13 times around. Final double knot.

This is the common, and halakhically [according to Jewish law] precise type of tying. There are, however, two variations on this:

    1.  A Sephardic tying adds another dimension to the pattern: each time the shamash is brought around, take it under the previous wind before winding it further. This will produce a curving ridge around the tzitzit. This, too, should be practiced before trying it on the tallit.

    2. Although not in strict accordance with the halakhah, some tie the tzitzit with the shamash spiraling 10-5-6-5 times respectively.

Numerical Symbolism Adds a Spiritual Touch

The symbolism for the numbers is central to the overall symbolism of the tallit. Seven and eight equals 15, which in gematria (numerology) is equal to the two letters yod and heh--the first two letters of the Name of God. Eleven is the equivalent of vav and heh--the last two letters of the Name of God. The total--26--is thus equivalent and representative of YHVH--the four-letter Name of God. Thirteen is equivalent to the Hebrew word ehad--alef, chet, dalet--which means One. So to look at the tzitzit is to remember and know that "God is One."

According to the second way of winding, each section is a different letter of God's four-letter name.

The central commandment surrounding tzitzit is "And you should see them and remember all of God's commandments and do them."

How do the tzitzit do this?

In gematria, tzitzit = 600. In addition, there are eight strands plus five knots. The total is 613--which, according to tradition, is the exact number of commandments--mitzvot--in the Torah. Just to look at them, therefore, is to remember all the mitzvot.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.