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Any garment with four or more corners needs Tzitzit. That being said, we don’t walk around with a Tallis, a prayer shawl, anymore.
I thus present to you the history of Tzitzit. A history which I re-edited multiple times to make sure the second ‘t’ was present in all spellings of Tzizit.
Please note, we are not going to go into the history of the cloak Tzitzit. Us Jews consider Robin Hood a thief, and Friar Tuck was a bandit. And we thus do not identify with cloaks. We will leave it there.
Now let us focus on the beginning of the evolution to today’s undershirt Tzitzit.
Who Wears Four Cornered Garments
Back in ancient times, people loved four cornered garments. Under Roman rule everybody loved the four cornered look. It was the style. Egyptians were also big on the four-corner look. Known as the quadrigape, t was very hip in the years 1,400 to 3,485 from creation.
It Used to be a Tallis
The Tallis was very popular in the BCEs. It was the look. Everybody was wearing long Tallises, kind of like a poncho. After years of drought, many Jews felt the poncho wasn’t necessary. So, the wrap around Tallis as we know today became popular, as well as hitting people with tassels. Many people started showing to shul with their blankets. It was comfortable, easy, and with the quick bed to dress turnover people were showing up to shul on time. However, once the rabbis started making them put Tzitzit (the tassels) on the corners of the blankets, it became too much of a chore. Blankets were thus designated for sleep. And spouses started getting along again. To quote a couple overheard in therapy, 'Every night, right when I was falling asleep, I was getting smacked by tassels.'
At this time, the Tallis of today, the white 2,000 thread count sheet was introduced. People wore them over their clothes. Yet, with all the Roman tassel hatred, people were looking for something to wear under the shirt. They tried the Tallis. Yet, the Tallis under the shirt was not practical.
Adjusting the Tallis
Have you ever tried wearing a Tallis under your shirt? You can’t adjust it. The average Tallis wearer has to adjust his Tallis at least eighteen times during Shacharit. That’s where the meaning of Chai comes from. It’s the number of times your Tallis slips off your shoulders during morning prayers. The ancient Chai necklace used to be in the shape of a Tallis. I couldn’t find proof of this, so the source for future generations will have to be the Kibbitzer Magazine and myself, Rabbi David. Sometimes history is better given over in the form of conjecture.
People also end up hitting me with the tassels each time the re-fix their Tallis. For my safety and for the times I forget to bring eye protection to shul, the Tallis has not remained in regular daytime use.
Not needing explanation, in the times of the Second Temple many fights broke out in the Shuk, due to Tallis adjustment. Due to baseless hatred caused by Jewish lack of Tallis control, we developed what is known as Tzitzit (not just tassels, but what we put the tassels on- to complicate things we use the same word for both). It was too late. Too many people had been injured by the membership at my shul, hatred was rampant. The Second Temple was going to be destroyed due to hatred amongst our people. It’s hard to make peace with somebody who swings a dangerous tassel at you on a daily basis.
Tzitzit Are First Developed
Tzitzit, The Tallit Katan, The small Tallis which adopted its name from the commandment to have Tzitzit (tassels), was developed. Less violence, less need for ophthalmologists, future generations could have peace, and no more garment slipping off the shoulders. Redemption was now a hope again.
Regular clothes were able to be worn. You put the Tzitzit under them, and you didn’t have to constantly take off your shirt in public, to adjust a Tallis. A horrendous sight. It was a practical move. A move that stopped much baseless hatred due to out of shape Jewish men adjusting their Tallis.
The constant need for Tallis adjustment is also why they stopped making Tallises out of silk in 2001. Why it took so long to figure out that silk Tallises were impossible?!
Epilogue to Our History
Now people only wear Tallises in shul. It helps keep warm when the Gabai insists on turning up the air-conditioning.
Fights still happen in shul, but they are blatant. If you get hit by Tzitzit tassels, somebody definitely doesn’t like you.
Will the Biblical cloak Tzitzit dress come back? We are not sure. History will tell. As long as undershirt Tzitzit are around and not too many Jews get hooked on Dungeons and Dragons, the cloak Tzitzit will remain obsolete.
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My kids take after me. Due to Kibud Av vEim, they always let me take first.
You get it? ‘Take after me' means to be like their dad. Instead, they let their dad fill his plate first, as per the Mitzvah to honor parents. Very good kids. If we can have a positive influence on the next generation with our puns, that is the blessing.
Giving Tzedakah, I like to know where the charity is going. That charity box in the front is for kids who need help with their artwork.