Learn from Congregation B’nai Chaim: The fringes of the garment

Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen

Special to Valley News

“You shall make tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself,” in Deuteronomy 22:12.

The Bible tells us to make “tassels” on the four corners of the garment. Maybe you have seen a picture or someone praying with a “prayer shawl” or wearing a tallit? What are the tassels, or “tzitzit” as they are called in Judaism?

The tassels are the four knotted strands on the corners of a “tallit” in modern times, or a garment, in biblical days. They are put on shawls today, tied directly to clothes on belt loops or were, like old days, sewn as the hem of the garment. They represent a covenant between God and his people. The tassels are not the object of focus, but they are to be reminders of the main focus – God and God’s law. All observant Israelite men wore them through history, and even today, as a sign of this covenant.

Wearing the tassels was very significant and was found in other Bible stories. Think of this significance when we read about the “hems” or “corners” of garments in the Bible. All observant male Jews and some women wore tzitzit on their garments, no exception.

One example was King Saul in 1 Samuel 24:3 when Saul went into a cave to use the toilet. David crept up behind and cut off a piece of his hem. By the actions and dialogue following this action, we can see that it was no ordinary hem. By this action, Saul realized that he was “cut off” from the covenant. He knew he lost the throne. There was obviously more to the hem being cut that just damaging a royal robe that he was already traipsing around the desert in.

Another example is Boaz, and Ruth found in the book of Ruth. In Chapter 3, Ruth went to Boaz to receive his blessing that would help her out of her difficult situation. She went to the threshing floor and slept at his feet.

In Ruth 3:8-9, it said, “In the middle of the night, something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant, Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner (notice ‘corner’) of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’”

He immediately understood and said to her, “Don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character,” in Ruth 3:11. He proceeded to make every arrangement to help her, and eventually, he married her. What Ruth did in asking Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her was a symbolic way of saying she was placing herself under Boaz’s authority.

For Christians, there are notable examples of Jesus also wearing the tzitzit. One such example is Matthew 9:20-21 which said, “And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I shall get well.’”

The apparent use of imagery shows the importance of the tassels on the garment.

During these turbulent times, it is important to connect with God. Find a way to pray, meditate and study the Bible. The people of the old used the tallit to remain connected with God in a literal sense. Today, find your connection with God and fully engage in that relationship.

Roger Cohen is a military veteran and a university lecturer in Southern California, specializing in ethics, religious studies and political science. Follow him at http://www.facebook.com/ProfessorRoger.

Congregation B’nai Chaim offers services to Jewish and interfaith families and is located at 29500 Via Princesa in Murrieta. For more information, visit http://www.bnaichaim.com.