During our July 22, 2010, live webcast, Pamela emailed the following question: “I recently started attending a Messianic Jewish congregation. I’ve noticed that my pastor and teachers wear a tallit [Jewish prayer shawl] during their service. Does this mean they believe in Rabbinic Judaism, and is that the version of Judaism that Jesus Himself followed?” Our panel of rabbis answer her question.
CRYSTAL LUTTON: Messianic does not necessarily equal rabbinic. The tallit itself is a culmination of Scriptural principles, including the tzitzit and focusing on them to remember the commands God has given us. There are references in the Greek to Yeshua wearing a covering or a robe that was probably a tallit. Some pastors or teachers wear the tallit out of a commitment to rabbinic teachings, some wear it out of a personal conviction, and some wear it to be culturally sensitive to the Jewish people there who may feel obligated to be taught by someone wearing a covering. (Go to the end of this post to watch the YouTube video)
ERIC RAIDER: I wear a tallit during our congregational services because it is a reminder of what Yeshua has asked us to do, and that is that if we love Him, we will follow His commandments. The tallit and the tzitzits that hang from the tallit remind me that I am to follow His commandments. I wear it for that purpose because I want to honor our Messiah.
JACK ZIMMERMAN: You asked if it is rabbinic or biblical – the answer is yes. Numbers 15:37-41 talks about wearing the prayer shawl. Also we know that in the New Testament, Yeshua wore a garment resembling the archetype of the prayer shawl that we wear today. If you know the story of the woman who had the issue of blood, it says that she reached for the hem of His garment. That was actually the predecessor of the tallit. Perhaps your congregational leader is wearing the tallit to identify with Yeshua. We know that this type of garment was worn back then because when the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947 in the caves in Qumran, they discovered a fragment of a tallit.
Jack Zimmerman is Staff Evangelist at Jewish Voice and Sr. Rabbi at Congregation Beth Simcha in Phoenix, Ariz. You can book him to speak at your church or congregation by going to our Church Relations page. Crystal Lutton is Rabbi/Pastor at Shema Congregation in Buckeye, Ariz. Eric Raider is Assistant Rabbi for Congregation Beth Simcha in Phoenix, Ariz.