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.))
I really enjoy reading your blog, and finding new insight into the Temple and its significance.
I wonder if it is appropriate to display a picture of the Jewish sacred garment… I know I would not be comfortable with a picture of Mormon garments on display.
Thanks Ginger. I love learning and writing about the temple.
About the picture, I wondered the same thing myself, but then I found many Jewish and other scholarly websites that also publish pictures of various tallit including the tallit katan (here is an example). If my understanding is correct, the tallit is sacred to the Jews, but it is not withheld from public view like the Mormon garment, particularly when it is not being worn. The fringes, or tzitzit, of the tallit will often hang down outside of the trousers in full view (as described in the classic book The Chosen by Chaïm Potok). The tallit gadol, another form of tallit, is much like a large scarf and is worn over the clothes resting on the shoulders (such as here, and here). Some observant Jews even sell the tallit katan on the internet (like here, and the Google ad that just showed up here from http://www.talit.com). If I am mistaken, may someone correct me. I do want to make sure we are always respectful of other faiths. And of course, here we are describing and giving appreciation and respect for the Jewish practice of wearing that sacred clothing.
Thanks for your concern.
I was raised Greek Orthodox (maiden name was Kostakos), and during one of the infrequent Sunday School classes that I attended as a child, I vividly remember the specific lessons where we learned about the vestments that the priest wears. I recall being bored to tears and totally annoyed that we were wasting time learning about clothing, when I wanted to learn about doctrine. Only now do I understand the significance of garments and robes. And yes, I do recall the emphasis made by the teacher that every piece of clothing worn by the priest had a special meaning, but I don’t remember the details. Your recent entries referencing some Orthodox practices have me thinking that it might be interesting to do a “compare and contrast” between Orthodox and LDS rituals. Thank you for a thought-provoking blog.
I had a similar thought about the picture but thought instead that perhaps as Mormons we should not be surprised or react so harshly if others post a picture of Mormon garments, if done in good taste, as I believe your intentions are here with the tallit katan. More often than not it is not done in good taste and society at large has not come to the defense of the Mormons as they would if people paraded in front of a synagogue in New York making a complete mockery of the tallit or yarmulka. Perhaps that will come with time.
I think Mormon garments are viewed with greater suspicion than the tallit katan or other religious clothing because we do have a stronger element of ‘secrecy’ in the way we interpret the charge to keep them sacred. We do not have fringe sticking out or do not outwardly have other signs of orthodoxy to act as visual cues; we do not talk about it them in our meetings and people are not exposed to them visually in society. I could have described a tallit and yarmulka when I was 6 having watched Fiddler on the Roof.
I think part of the issue is also in the design, just the fact that Mormon garments take an ancient tradition and put them on clothing that has a modern look and feel, i.e. boxers and a t-shirt and not of a pattern or design that has a stronger, shall we say, artistic or ethnic touch. The tallit katan in design and fabric still has an ‘ancient’ look to it. We can see Jesus wearing this same style of dress and it does not seem unnatural to us but perhaps the same could not be said about a shirt that is modeled after a modern t-shirt. It is that blurring of ancient ritual and orthodoxy and the modern look of business suits that throws people for a loop with the Mormons.
The Mormons view their garment as sacred and as such a civilized society should respect that view and consider it when they talk about the garment. But perhaps we as Mormons could speak more frankly about the garment and the deep meaning it has for us in appropriate settings and audiences.
Interesting comments. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Mormon garment posted on a website in good taste, and doubt that the Church would find it acceptable even if it was done in good taste. I believe that part of our covenant is to keep them private and not accessible visually to society at large. For this reason, only members of the Church can buy garments, whereas it appears anyone could purchase a tallit katan. Admittedly, these practices do contribute to the apprehension that people have of the garment that is not found as much with Judaism. The garment is more private.
As far as the form of the garment, that may have some effect of others understanding of them. For Mormons, of course, I think it matters little the form they take. The form of the garment, as with the form of the temple ordinances, has changed slightly over time to adapt to the needs and circumstances of the people by revelation through God’s chosen prophets and apostles. I believe the vestments of the Lord’s covenant people have always followed closely the most respectable and proper forms of the day.
As with all subjects temple-related, I agree that we should speak more about them with others, but always in an appropriate way according to what we’ve learned from the General Authorities and trusted scholars, or through the comparative study of other traditions as we’ve done here.
This was a very nice Article- I am not Mormon- I’m a Torah-Brit’ Chadacha Observant believer – the picture posted was in good taste – and Yeshua would have worn something like the garment worn here:
My Beloved Brothers and Sisters – We should not feel scared or timid in learning our Hebraic Roots… and I pray Yahweh Blesses you all in feeling more open and comfortable in seeing how the feasts He has ordained – eventually would give you pictures and types of Yeshua’s pupose and his Kingship…
I am a yeshiva-educated Orthodox Jew. We are not embarrassed by pictures of the tallit katan – not a problem. The tallit katan is not truly thought of as ‘underwear’, and so we are not embarrassed. Although most Jews were them under their shirts, some Chassidic Jews even wear them over their shirts for the whole world to see. Point being: your picture is in good taste; in fact, I was honored to see your picture and description. Thank you, everyone, for your sensitivity and caring.
I am also an Orthodox Jew. I don’t know the first thing about Mormon sacred garments, but the truth is the tallit katan itself is not sacred. According to halacha, any four-cornered garment must have tzitzits (ritual tassels). Today it’s very unusual to find a four-cornered garment that fits the requirement, because basically it would have to have slits along the sides that go more than halfway up, but in theory, even a work shirt, etc. would need tzitzits attached.
For more background see http://www.tallit-shop.com/tallit-tefillin-blog/tzitzit-2/wear-tallit-katan/
Learned something new today. All comments were in good taste & respectful of individuals beliefs.
The Tzitzit are meant to be seen, because the commandment is to look at them, and thus to be reminded of God, the commandments, and the fact that one should remain humble. There is a specific statement that if one’s practice of mitzvot is “perfect” in the outer sense, one should still look upon the tzitzit and be humbled, reminded that arrogance is a sin. The tallit katan is worn under the outermost clothes so that Jews can wear modern styles, and blend in at work and on the street. In some jobs there are expectations for professional dress that don’t fit with the tallit katan, but the tzitzit are small enough to be acceptable. Also, it keeps a tallit from getting stained.
It is itself a mitzvah to do good publically and appear righteous and a greater sin to sin publically than to sin privately….for appearing lax in observance or sinning publically might cause others to think your behaviour is acceptable or common and emulate it. You add the sins of leading others astray and “putting a stumbling block before the blind” onto the initial sin.
For this reason Jews often don’t understand the vehemence shown to the Pharisees and the avoidance of appearing good in public that Jesus appears to be commanding. One’s inner state (of humility or arrogance) is known only to God and attempts to discover someone’s inner state without any evidence and punish them in this world shows a lack of faith in God. Only arrogant statements and behaviour or hypocritical behaviour that is obvious is the province of other humans to condemn. Condemning people whose inner state can’t be known is “lashon hara”, the evil tongue/gossip.
A Catholic Explains the Mormon Garment – Temple Study - LDS Temples, Mormon Temples, Study Blog
[…] Jains, and tribal religions. I too once wrote about the sacred undergarment of the Jews, the tallit katan (and its […]
I enjoyed your article.
I happen to be wearing my tallit katan and I never take it off. I own two of them so one can be washed while the other is being used.
I am Sephardic Jew, and many of us tend to wear the fringes tucked into our clothing to don normal accepted styles while at work or even about around town.
The commandment states that the fringes must be seen to remind us, therefore in my case I leave them visible.
The accepted length of each fringe is 24 cm. from the top knot to the bottom of each fringe. These can be pulled out to hang freely from the waistband if you are hanging out at home or shopping, however like Sarah mentioned one should be aware that by having the fringes visible he is representing Judaism as a whole and should be very careful not to do anything that others might take wrongly.
For instance: If you have to use the facilities and the only place available is McDonalds, In this case you would not want to mislead people into thinking that McDonalds is Kosher and acceptable so you should tuck the fringes out of sight and wear a hat over your Kippah while entering the facilities.
Personally if I need to adjust my fringes for work use will pull them further into the waist band leaving them visible however not obvious.
The fringes are not used in arrogance, rather as simple reminders to follow G-d’s commandments. It is a Mitzvah to don them.
The assumed Jesus’s mockery of the use of the fringes and Tefillin as far as I’m concerned is unfounded. Could anyone ever be condemed for following the word of G-d. If there weren’t restrictions at work I would hang my fringes out to full length, not for the showing of them to anyone that might take notice, but rather to remind ME beyond a shadow of doubt of our covenant with G-d.
Even your Jesus stated in Matthew 5:17 “Do not for a moment suppose that I have come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abrogate them but to give them their completion.
I take this to say that even Jesus supported the use of Tallit katan and Tefillin, however this statement appears to be refering to the use of the fringes in misleading ways or circumstances (like using the facilities at McDonalds with them on).
I don’t know much about your Jesus, however I do know that the Tallit katan is a great Mitzvah for me that I can perform every day of my life. I don’t do it for you or anyone else, I don them because G-d told me too. I’m not embarrased by them nor do I flaunt them. I just perform my Mitzvah.
Thank you and G-d bless
Just a follow up statement. A photograph of the Tallit katan or any tallit is more than acceptable. even the descriptions of them is allowed. There is no problem with interest in our religious objects. I would however advise that the donning (wearing) of these item by a non-jew is not acceptable. Even the ‘Messianic-Jews’ should not don any one of these objects as they are not true Jews. There is no Mitzvah for a non-Jew to don any of these items. A person qualified to don these items must be of a Jewish Mother, or an orthodox convert only.
There are no exceptions.
As a traditional Jew, I can testify that there is no problem whatsoever with displaying an image of a טלית קטן. Another name for it is “arba kanfos” (“four corners”), because it is only on a garment that has 4 corners that the commandment to attach tzitzith applies. Also, I guess it might happen among Conservative and other “streams” of Jewish practice, that women would also wear a talleth qatan, but I would say it is “unusual” at best, among Orthodox, Chassidic, or other types of traditional Jewish practice, since the positive commandment of tzitzith requires that they be /seen/. Since they can only reliably be seen during the daytime, the commandment of tzitzith is considered time-bound, and therefore not obligatory for women.
Is there a special observance or ritual for washing them?
The church has recently posted pictures of the garments so I think as long as others do it out of respect and use what the church has published about the garment it would be fine.