Q. Why do some in other groups wear prayer shawls and have tassles hanging from their clothing?
A. Apparently this practice is based upon Numbers 15:38-41, which reads:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the Commandments of Yahweh, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: That you may remember, and do all My Commandments, and be holy unto your Elohim. I, Yahweh, am your Elohim, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your Elohim: I, Yahweh, am your Elohim.”
This command was given to individuals in ancient Israel to remind the wearer that not only was he redeemed by Yahweh, but was also expected to remember all the commandments of Yahweh. The tassels were not for others to see, but as the individual sees the tassel he would be reminded to keep all of Yahweh’s Commandments.
Notice that the purpose for the fringes or tassels was to remind the WEARER of the obligation to keep all of Yahweh’s Commandments. It was not intended for the benefit of others. The tassel was not given to decorate one’s clothing or to call attention to one’s self. It was not to be a badge of righteousness, but a reminder for the individual. In fact, the tassel may well have been applied so that the casual observer would hardly note someone was wearing them. Only the wearer would be aware of them and their significance.
As civilization developed, styles of clothing changed, and instead of a robe, the prayer shawl (tallith) developed. It was smaller, draped around the neck with tassels. Some Jews even today wear a much smaller tallith under their clothing so only they are aware of it.
The Pharisee in Yahshua’s time were noted for their flamboyant exhibitions of self-righteousness, and the Messiah admonished them:
“But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matt. 23:5). Instead of being a reminder for themselves, the Pharisees enlarged their “badges of righteousness,” such as the fringes on their garments, to gain attention and recognition of men. Our Savior did not dress to be noticed, but was attired no differently from His contemporaries. Recall that Judas identified Yahshua by kissing His so He would be recognized by the authorities, Matthew 26:49-50.
The Old Covenant had many physical helps to aid Israel – who lacked the Holy Spirit—in maintaining their righteousness. This included the priesthood, the tabernacle, the sacrificial offerings, the incense, ashes of the red heifer, the laver, altars, and many such things to remind and help guide them in their worship. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. came the ultimate disbanding of the priesthood and banishment of Jews from Jerusalem. Sacrificial worship has been put in abeyance. Today if you ask Jews why they no longer sacrifice, the response will likely be, “Because there is no Temple and no Levitical Priesthood.”
Under the New Covenant now in affect, the emphasis is upon the deeper, spiritual aspect. We are told in Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Yahshua.” Paul is encouraging us to seek a spiritual approach to our religious life; to see things through the Messiah’s eyes; not to view circumstances or events through the eyes of the world.
We understand and comprehend deeper truths of Yahweh because of His indwelling Spirit: “But Yahweh has revealed [them] unto us by his spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of Yahweh,” (1Cor. 2:10).
The New Covenant that is being made with people today is on the spiritual plane. We are to change our heart and mind to accept Yahweh’s teaching and faithfully live by every word. The more we obey Him, the stronger is our faith. We don’t need talliths or phylacteries or clothing with fringes. Paul wrote in Romans 2:28: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jews which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not of the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of Elohim."
Instead of adorning ourselves with physical reminders of Yahweh’s law, let us allow Yahweh’s Word to permeate our hearts and minds so that we willingly obey from the heart and have the mind of Messiah, keeping our garments of salvation clean and white:
“And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” (Rev. 19:8)