Thursday, July 05, 2007

Techailet Tzitzit's and Tallitot!

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, (, 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.


Horseman said...

That was truly a wonderful piece. I take such delight in little details like that – it is like… brain candy, or something. I am a fan of Jesus movies; I think that I have seen most of them. I liked the Gospel of John, and the movie’s attention to details, especially the clothing. They even used woven fabrics, as they did in the time. I do think that they should have picked more ethnically appropriate caste though – like Mel did in Passion of the Christ. Anyway, with all the research they did on the clothing, it seems they missed something. I do not think that the prayer shawl of Jesus had the stripes, but I am certain that black stripes were on the prayer shawls belonging to the Scribes and Pharisees – its seems that this was an anachronism.

Man, you are good at doing this type of research. If you keep going, your web site could become an authoritative source for moviemakers, book writers, and artists. It is a good thing that you do here brother.

Horseman said...

I read my post here... and it seems that I used poor wording, making my post unclear.

What I was attempting to explain was that in the movie, The Gospel of John, they did not place stripes on the prayer shawl of Jesus, BUT THE MOVIE DID HAVE STRIPES on the prayer shawls of the Scribes and Pharisees (black ones) - and it seems that those stripes should NOT have been there because they did not have them during the time of Jesus.


Bible artist said...

Thanks for the kind comments horseman.
I thought your first post was clear.

I didn't want to say for certain that the prayers shawls didn't have stripes at the time of Jesus, but if they did, it was more likely that they were techailet in color, (not black), as the stripes were added to remind the Jews that techailet had once been used to dye the tzitzit's.
At least, that's how I understood it!

Speaking of woven fabrics, I really like the 'woven fabric' look that you get on your Bible pictures. Is that a photoshop filter or just lots of work with a pencil?

Horseman said...

If you are talking about the two blogspots, Jesus wept art & On the Mount - I use pencil as the foundation. Then, I use textured nibs from Corel. I know that the programs have filters, or effects, that can create woven fabrics and such, but I do not know how to make those work. When you use the filters, the cloths look... flat. I think there are ways to mold/distort it in such a way that it looks natural, but this is beyond me. Maybe it's because my Corel program is over 15 years old!

Anyway, ITS MORE FUN TO JUST DRAW IT! And I find that you can obtain great textures with pencil.

I am working on another piece. I call it "Who do you say I am?" Almost done. And after this one, I find myself wanting to grow sidelocks - the wife and two daughters would never go for that though.

I typically take my stuff to the art forums. That way, I get some folks to go to Church with me, in a manner of speaking - perhaps people that would otherwise never go to a service. But that is not the primary reason for what I do - to me, it's worship.

Once before you asked where I was located - North Georgia, USA (near Atlanta). But my bloodlines come from your corner of the globe - Welsh and Scottish blood, I guess.

Bible artist said...

You could always buy some 'Clip on' side-locks to secretly wear while Bible illustrating, and then hide them in a draw from your wife & kids! lol

I like to listen sometimes to 'Gregorian chants' by Benedictine monks while I'm inking. It makes you feel like one of the ancient scribes. I suppose in a way we are illuminating the Word of God!

The next step is to get the walls of my studio 'stone clad' and work by candlelight! lol

Yes, Owen is definitely a Welsh surname.

Paul Green said...

I've just taken a look at your work horseman now that I know your real surname. I'm impressed. Your mixture of art and a photo background reminds me of Richard Corben's work.
One question - why did you choose a woman in black to represent Satan?

Horseman said...

Why did I portray the devil as a woman in a black dress?

I lack certain expertise that comic book artists need – intimate knowledge of human anatomy, the skill to appropriately apply foreshortening, use of vanishing points for backgrounds, etc. These things are taught in art school, of course. But I opted for Business school over art school – as evidenced by me failed attempt to use one of those art words at the post before this one, “THE BIBLE STORY” (I said “reflective shadow”; I meant to say reflective lighting…lol). And these shortcomings are magnified when I try to create sequential art. So, I have tried to overcome these shortcomings with determination and innovation.

I had the idea to do a photo shoot of people acting out the story and then use the photos as reference for the art. I was originally going to use some guys from my church. But then I realized that the person playing the devil must be able to demonstrate a range of emotions, or expressions. My wife was very good at drama in high school. She is very animated. So, I had my wife do the part of the devil. She is a Vietnamese-American. So, I am not trying to make some statement about women or foreigners. But I find the blurring of the gender… appropriate for the part, allegorically speaking. And that is the long answer for why you see an Asian lady in a black dress as Satan. I could have just answered, "my wife was the reference". But sometimes the long answers are more fun - like the long answer Graham offered about the stripes.

Incidentally, I am planning to do another chapter for the comic – about John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus. I did the photo shoot on the Baptism a long time ago, and have much of the pencil work done on that. But I am taking a break from that. My website counters tell me that a lot of people do not make it to part 3 of the comic. I don’t know if it is because they dislike the art, or the story, or the subject matter. But these people are not getting the full message. So, I am doing shorter pieces right now.

Rather than illustrating a story in the Bible, I am doing a single piece that goes along with a verse or passage, as well as some discourse. My challenge is finding good reference from which to do my drawings.

And Graham, great idea with the clip on sidelocks. When I picture that - FUNNY!

Paul Green said...

Thanks for the explanation horseman. The great Alex Ross uses your technique of photographing family members and models (he has the luxury of being able to budget for them) in his comic book work. It certainly adds to a certain realism.

The Bearded Belgian said...

Isn't the Zohar a Kabbalistic book?
It would then not be orthodox to start from there I think.

Still, impressive study!

Bible artist said...

Thanks for that Nikolaj.

I didn't know that the Zohar was a Kabbalistic book. I think that Rabbi Schochet, who quoted from it, was the Rabbi I spoke to at 'Ask', which I thought were connected in some way with 'Chabad'. Isn't Chabad Ultra Orthodox? I might be wrong!

I would value your input on this as I use 'Ask Moses' from time to time.

The Bearded Belgian said...

In as far as I can trust wikipedia it is the most important kabbalistic work.

I think some or most orthodox jews use it, but it is occult and not from God.

It divides God in a male and female half, uses numerics in such a way that it contradicts scripture, etc, etc.

But, it is ingrained in the jewish or rather the Hebrew culture.

They use the 'Star of David' as a way to represent the female side and masculin side of God in unity, as well as to depict the message, 'as above, also below'. Or something like that. The hexagram is also the most powerful symbol in witchcraft I've read. Let's see if I can find me some reference.

Ah, I found it, but I'm Dutch so you won't have much use to it. But it seems to be in the Zohar itself, under the title of 'Fallen angels' I think, by Bernard J Bamburger.

But anyway, I'm digressing, and that's exactly what the Zohar also does. It doesn't focus on what's true, but trails off into "fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith" (1 Tim 1: 4)

It is Hebrew culture, appearantly even in the time of Jesus and before, as I've been told. So the influences should be depicted, but only to the Farisees and scribes, and to the ignorants that are decieved by them, but not on Christ. It goes against Him.

That being said, we cannot expect from you to know all the ins and outs of the culture and the myths and fables. But I can only warn, and depend on the warnings of others myself. In that we are one body.

Be blessed my brother.

Bible artist said...

Thanks again, Nikolaj and Paul for that information.

I may just add a footnote to this post.

Samual said...

The silk tallit are become famous these days. I recommend silk tallit for your first tallit, until you make up your mind about the one you want to own permanently.

Bible artist said...

Many thanks for the link Samual. You have some great products! We do already own a Tallit but many thanks anyway.

Patrick said...

Thanks for this! Very informative. :)

I did a bit of research on the tallit, and what I've found is: what we know of as tallit today did not look like it back then - i.e. it was not really a 'shawl' in Jesus' time.

First of all, we read in Numbers 15:38-39 and Deuteronomy 22:12 that the Israelites are commanded to add the tzitzit, or the tassels, to the "four corners of [their] garments" as a remembrance of the commandments of the Lord. It seems to me, that the only piece of clothing that had four corners in those days was the cloak, that large piece of cloth draped over the tunic as part of everyday wear. In fact, it is often said that one way to recognize a Jew in public at the time is to check whether his cloak has the tzitzit in its corners!

Apparently, it was only much later after the time of Jesus that the cloak transformed into the tallit-shawl we know today: shrinking in size and becoming a purely ceremonial garment - because fashions changed and most people were no longer wearing cloaks. (BTW, I saw some old pictures of people wearing very large tallitot; I think those're pretty much closer to their origins as cloaks or mantles)

So, for short, showing tallit-shawls is actually an anachronism: I think a more correct depiction would be to have Biblical Jews wear (normal) cloaks with tassels on the edges!

Patrick said...

By the way, an anecdote about the use of indigo as a substitute:

I just read about a bunch of wool yarn found in the Cave of Letters in the Dead Sea, dating from around the period of Bar Kochba (ca. 132-135) dyed a shade of purple/blue, found next to a bundle of tzitzot. The dyeing agent was actually found to be made out of indigo and carminic acid; some scholars think that the yarns were intended to be used as a (sort of counterfeit) techelet thread, because authentic dye was very expensive and difficult to obtain.

Bible artist said...

Thanks for that Patrick. Yes I think that you're probably right about the mantle/cloak morphing into the ceremonial tallit that we know today. The original mantles were probably both plain and striped although I'm not sure when the laws concerning the black and white stripes came in - probably later when it became more of a purely ceremonial garment.

Patrick said...

You're welcome Mr. Graham!

Even in modern 'prayer shawls', the only important component are the tzitzot. The main tallit (meaning simply 'robe' or 'cloak', of uncertain etymology, though some connect it with the Latin stola) itself does not have much religious significance save as the four-cornered piece of garment which holds the fringes.

As for Roman-period cloaks, AFAIK they were usually white or off-white (dyed in light colors, usually from saffron) for men, while women often had theirs in deep colors. The connection between women and colored clothing were such that the Sifre on Deuteronomy (115b) actually actually forbade women from wearing "a man's white garments" and men from wearing "colored garments" (a rule that wasn't always strictly followed). The Dura Europos frescoes even show men invariably wearing 'plain' mantles, while the women don colored clothing.

As for stripes, the closest thing I can find were notched bands or gamma/L-shaped patterns in a contrasting color to the mantle near the corners - which in itself was not a uniquely Jewish thing (the designs can also be found in cloaks from the period).

BTW, to what extent men wore tzitzot on their mantles is still an ambiguous issue. The Dura Europos frescoes and the discoveries in the Cave of Letters are not much a help here: some of the personages depicted in Dura Europos do not have fringes on their mantles, while the frescos that do show men wearing fringes could also be easily a representation of show tassels. The fragments of cloaks discovered in the Judean desert do not have any attached to them. And finally, non-Jewish writers also do not mention it.

As of now, we can assume that pious, observant Jews (say, rabbis, the Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) would not have foregone them, but it seems that the feeling of obligation was not as strong among 'common' people or from Hellenized Jews (we do know that Jesus did wear them though! ;)).

Later, when the sages discussed the question of who is an am ha'aretz ("people of the land"; i.e. uneducated Jews who were likely to be negligent in their observance of the commandments due to ignorance), they mention that he has no fringes on his clothing.

Patrick said...

Something just hit me with the last comment: because Jesus probably had the tassels on His cloak (cf. Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43-44), we can thus say that Jesus was a good Jewish boy who kept the commandments! ;)

Bible artist said...

Yes indeed! As always Patrick a very informative comment - thanks for that. Bible clothing is one of the subjects that I receive the most questions about and I keep saying that I'll write a more detailed post on this subject.

Talitot said...

Nice post..Having a very complicated research is not easy at this point of time,but you spend time doing it.Thanks for the information.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.