Scarf Tradition Bar Mitzvah

prayer shawls

The scarf tradition Bar Mitzvah has great significance in Jewish religious tradition.

About the Scarf Tradition Bar Mitzvah

In Judaism, when a young man or woman turns 13 he or she is honored with a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration. Traditionally, a Bar Mitzvah is for boys and a Bat Mitzvah is for girls. During the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the boy who is the guest of honor is called up in front of the synagogue to read from the Torah. At this time, he wears a scarf called a Tallit.

History of the Tallit

The Tallit is a Jewish prayer garment made of cotton, wool or silk. When the ancient Jews were forced into Exile, they adopted the dress of the desert Bedouins and covered their bodies in a sheet-like material as a means of protection from the scorching sun, the roots of the prayer shawls of today.

The Tallit must have at least four corners and have fringes on each of the corners. The fringes are referred to as tzitzit. The fringes on the Tallit are there to represent the commandments that God spoke to Moses. Some Tallits have fringes all the way around the garment, while others only have fringes on each of the four corners. There are two main types of Tallits:

  • Tallit Katan - This garment is the smaller of the two Tallits and is worn under the clothing. Orthodox Jewish men place the Tallit over their t-shirts or undershirts as it is not supposed to touch the skin directly.
  • Tallit Gadol - This is the larger of the two Tallits and is worn over the clothing, on the shoulders and is often referred to as a prayer shawl. The Tallit Gadol is traditionally made of wool.

Varying Traditions

The scarf tradition Bar Mitzvah varies among the different sects of Judaism:

  • Ashkenazi Jews - These descendants of German Jews traditionally have the boy who is being Bar Mitzvahed wear the Tallit as he is reciting from the Torah in front of the synagogue.
  • Sephardi Jews - These descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews state that only married men can wear the Tallit.

Other sects of Judaism state that a Tallit should be worn by all Jewish men or after marriage. Finally, in some sects, women wear a Tallit, while in other sects women do not.

Tallit Customs

When the boy is called to read in front of the synagogue during his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, he observes certain traditions:

  • The fringes - The boy takes the fringes, or tzizit, and touches them to the section or scroll of the Torah he is about to read.
  • Reciting the blessing - Before the reading begins, the boy must kiss the fringes and recite a blessing.

The Significance of the Tzitzit

For traditional Tallits, the fringes, or tzitzit, are wound in a specific way in which there are 7, 11, 8 and 13 wound strings between each knot. These numbers have different interpretations, but two are most common:

  • The commandments - According to the Torah, there are 613 commandments given by God. In Gematria, a system in which each letter of the alphabet is given a numerical value, tzitzit translates to the number 600. Then the number of strands and knots (eight and five respectively) of the fringes are added to this number to arrive at 613.
  • God's name - Another interpretation of the meaning of the tzitzit is that they represent the four letters in God's name, again, using the Jewish numerology system of Gematria.


Many families have their own prayer scarf tradition is which the scarf is made by family members to be given to the boy on the day of his Bar Mitzvah or the father hands his Tallit down to his son on the day he reaches the age of majority. Whichever tradition you follow, remember to celebrate the rich history and religious significance of this garment.

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Scarf Tradition Bar Mitzvah