Thursday, September 30, 2010

More About Fringe

The many peoples and the multitude of nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold — they will take hold of every Jew by a corner (Kanapf) of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Zechariah 8:22-23

What is taken hold of is the kanapf–corner or edge of the garment–thought to refer to the fringes of the cloak. This passage illustrates several ideas:

The confirmation of the custom that, having taken hold of the fringes of someone's garment, one could compel the wearer to obey one's request.

That the Jews of Zechariah's times–5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.–were commonly wearing and being identified by fringes.

That Jews, in Zechariah's vision, were sought after and followed as moral guides, so the identification has a positive outcome.

Originally, fringes were commonly worn on everyday outer garments, but eventually Jews wished to dress more like those around them. This was in part a desire to assimilate and also to avoid identification that could lead to cruelty and persecution.

In Greek and Roman times a special purpose rectangular prayer shawl, the Tallit, was adopted and mostly used when reciting prayers in public or private. It seemed to satisfy the need to have four corners as stated in Deuteronomy 22:12. Some individuals wore the tallit when studying Torah or beneath their outer garments.

Eventually a special garment came to be worn beneath other clothes. The arba kanfot (or tallit katan today) was a rectangle of cloth with an opening for the head and with fringes at the four corners.

"Fringes," in: Hastings, J. DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902, pp. 68-70.

Milgrom, THE JPS TORAH COMMENTARY, Volume 4 - NUMBERS, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1989 - 1996, p. 410-412

Plaut, W. Gunther and others. THE TORAH, A MODERN COMMENTARY. N.Y., Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, p. 1123 ---------------------- 11/29/97 © Rosemarie E. Falanga, Cy H. Silver


  1. Thank you for this (and many other) explanations. In 2005 I joined the missionaries in teaching the gospel to one of my customers - a Jewish man. During those few, brief weeks we fell in love. He was baptized, confirmed, ordained and proposed. We were quickly married.

    One of the first things I found when we joined households was his tallit, in a purple velvet envelope. It was aged, well worn and deteriorating. Unsalvageable. I placed in a prominent place so we would never forget his special heritage.

    But I never knew when it was used in Jewish custom or why.

  2. Makes sense with the woman with the issue of blood and why she touched his fringe. Very insightful!

  3. Its really nice Blog.The silk tallit (also spelled tallis or talith) is a garment one can wear to create a sense of personal space during prayer - the name comes from two Hebrew words: TAL meaning tent and ITH meaning little.