Following the comments by 'Horseman' on the 'Zacchaeus' post I decided to do a brief study on the 'Jewish prayer shawl' to try and find out if there were stripes on prayer shawls in New Testament times. The information below is from various sources including a few 'online chats' with Rabbis!
It will be helpful if I explain first of all that the word "Techailet" is Hebrew for blue, "Tzitzits" are the tassels that hang from the four corners of the Tallit, (Numbers 15:38), and the "Tallit" is the Jewish prayer shawl itself.
Rabbi Schochet, (AskMoses.com), told me that stripes had always been on the Tallit, and that he was not aware of any significance attached to the number, or width of the stripes, (which surprised me). Rabbi Simmons however, said that "there is no halachic legal requirement to have any stripes on the tallit" So lets look first of all at the origins of this custom.
The 'techailet' dye, (which was a dark greenish-blue in color, not unlike the background color of this blog page), was obtained from the fluid of a sea creature called the 'Chilazon' which was found on the coast of Northern Israel.
There is disagreement among scholars regarding what the 'chilazon' actually was. Some say that it was a snail, while others say it was a mollusk or squid. Whatever it was, the dye was incredibly expensive to produce! So much so, that when the Romans conquered Israel in 63 BC, they seized control of this lucrative industry, which forced the remaining Jewish dyers to go underground!
According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, by the time of the Arab conquest in 639 AD the secret of 'Techailet' was lost altogether! Apparently, dark blue stripes were added to the tallit to commemorate the use of 'Techailet'. Nowadays, because most Jewish authorities are unsure of the chilazon's identity, they would rather not dye any of the strings of the tzitzit.
Some Jewish scholars believe that the true identity of the chilazon will not be rediscovered until the coming of the Messiah.
The use of techailet dye was very important to Judaism, as not only was it used to dye one of the four strings on each of the tzitzits of the tallit, (Numbers 15:38), but it was also used on the priestly garments, (Exodus 25:4).
There are two points I'd like to make with regard to the stripes on the tallit, firstly;
Although there is archeological evidence that Indigo dye, (which was cheaper), was being used as early as 131-135 AD, (40 years or so after the New Testament was completed), It would be unreasonable to suggest that techailet ceased to be used until much later, as only three generations of Jewish dyers could pass on it's secrets until 305AD!
Secondly, would you commemorate something that you still had, or something that you had lost? If the stripes were added to the tallit to commemorate the use of 'Techailet', presumably the secret of techailet had been lost. This would mean that the stripes wouldn't have appeared on the tallit until much later than the 'New Testament' period, (possibly as late as 639AD!).
Personally, I would leave the decision up to each individual Bible artist as to whether or not they use stripes on the tallit. The arguments above are far from conclusive.
If you do use stripes however, they would almost certainly have been dark blue, as they were there to remember the Techialet!
These dark blue stripes later morphed into the black stripes that we see today. Those who use black stripes would rather not imply that they are using techailet on their tallit.
As Rabbi Schochet said "if we had techailet, we would use it to dye the tzitzit strings with, not the tallit garment".
Rabbi Schochet explains below a little more about the significance of the tallit stripes today:
"The Zohar explains that white represents chesed (Divine Benevolence) and the dark blue (or black), stripe represents gevurah (G-d’s severity)". Accordingly, the Tallit is mainly white, with a few stripes of black, showing that G-d is primarily kind. "Furthermore, the mitzvah of reciting the morning Shema begins when it is light enough for one to distinguish between white and techailet. Since we no longer have the techailet, the black stripe in the cloth of the tallit can be used to ascertain whether the time for reading the Shema has yet arrived".
Some scholars don't agree with the last comment as the say that it's still possible to distinguish between techailet & white, even in pitch blackness! but it would be far too dark to read the morning Shema!
Feel free to comment on the above.