Mormons wear sacred undergarments as part of our religious worship. I thought it might be good today to take a look at a well-known religious tradition, Judaism, and the very similar practice that they have, like us, of wearing certain sacred clothing. I, for one, highly respect the Jews’ practice of this in their worship.
The tallit katan (literally the “little tallit”) is a white undergarment worn by the Jews, usually Orthodox or Hasidic, in order to fulfill the commandment given in Numbers 15:38-40 to make such a holy garment,
that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. (Num. 15:39-40; also found in Deut. 22:12)
In other words, the Jews wear this garment in remembrance of the covenants they have made with God. Other illuminating points to consider are:
- It is a rectangular piece of cloth with a large hole cut in the center for the head to pass through, and tzitzit (fringes or hanging threads) attached to the four corners of the garment. ((http://www.hebrew4christians.com/~hebrewfo/Blessings/Daily_Blessings/Tallit_Katan/tallit_katan.html))
- The tzitzit are specifically the symbols upon which the observant Jew looks to remember his or her covenants. The number, type, and form of the knots and ties in the tzitzit literally remind one of God and the commandments. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzitzit))
- Traditionally made of wool, but cotton and linen are also widely used. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallit))
- Worn daily, at all times, customarily by Orthodox men, but also by women. The wearing of it is deemed so important that one site states: “Highly observant Jews will not take four steps without wearing the tzitzit because it is a mitzvah [commandment] to wear it all the time.” ((http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Blessings/Daily_Blessings/Tallit_Katan/tallit_katan.html))
- Traditionally worn under a shirt, but over an undershirt, so as not to directly touch the skin (to conform to societal dress codes).
- Often received on a special occasion in life, such as marriage or bar mitzvah (when adolescents come to the age of accountability).
- Despite the tradition of this commandment being first given in Numbers and Deuteronomy, some Biblical scholars have noted the practice has precedence before those codes were written, and was not limited to Israel – “images of the custom have been found on several ancient Near East inscriptions in contexts suggesting that it was practiced across the Near East. Some scholars believe that the practice among ancients originated due to the wearing of animal skins, which have legs at each corner, and that later fabrics symbolized the presence of such legs, first by the use of amulets, and later by tzitzit.” ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzitzit))
- “Prof. Milgrom writes that tassels were used in the ancient world as an insignia signifying the status of its wearer, often his rank within the court of the ruler. The tzitzit thus indicated that its bearer was a Jew.” ((ibid.))
- One site mentions how such a garment was worn by ancient egyptian priests to “indicate their chosen status,” and when the Lord gave the commandment to the Jews it was likewise “to indicate their priestly status before Him as ‘a kingdom of priests’.” ((http://www.hebrew4christians.com/~hebrewfo/Blessings/Daily_Blessings/Tallit_Katan/tallit_katan.html))
- Burial takes place after a ritual washing of the body and by dressing the body with a tallit and other sacred clothing. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallit))
- We are told that Jesus Christ wore such a garment, and he took note that it had special sacred significance and was not to be flaunted before men as the scribes and Pharisees were wont to do – “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments” (Matthew 23:5). (See Matthew 9:22-23, 14:34-36) ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_fringed_garments))
Such practice even crosses over into Eastern Orthodoxy where upon doning the stole the bishop or priest reads a prayer from Psalms 133:
Blessed is God Who poureth out His grace upon His priests, like unto the precious ointment on the head, which runneth down upon the beard, even the beard of Aaron, which runneth down upon the fringe of his raiment [garment]. ((ibid.))
Certainly one who respects the Jews for their religious tradition, and Christ for his, of wearing such sacred clothing might also afford the Latter-day Saints’ the same opportunity. ((See the story in the Orlando Sentinel.))