The Importance of Fringes (Tzitzit)

Tzitzit, used by Creative Commons permission.  Photo by 'AngerBoy'
Tzitzit, used by Creative Commons permission. Photo by ‘AngerBoy’

In the traditional morning prayer service, it is a common practice to gather the fringes (tzitzit) of the prayer shawl into your left hand while saying the Shema — the central statement of faith.  This practice came to mind after I read what I felt to be a poorly informed, fear-based blog post about Kohenet on Jewschool.  If you read this site, you know that Kohenet is my one of my spiritual homes and I spent 3.5 years in that program earning the right to call myself a Kohenet.  Actually, if you read this site you probably know a lot more about the program than the author of that blog post.  But, I honestly don’ t wish to put any more energy there.

What I want to do is remind everyone that fringes are sacred in Judaism.

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them that they should make fringes on the wings of their garments throughout their generations, and they should put upon the fringe of the wing a thread of blue.  They will be fringes for you, and you will look at them and remember the desires of the Eternal your God, and you will not turn aside after your hearts or your eyes that you seek to feed.  Thus shall your remember my desires and be holy to the Infinite.  I, Adonai, am the Infinite who led you out of Egypt to be infinite to you. I, the Infinite, am your God.” (Num 15:38-41, as found in the Kohenet Siddur)

Fringes remind us of what is important in life.  What is the fringe also depends on your perspective.  To me, someone who is Orthodox is on the fringe.  The majority of Jews are not Orthodox.  When I see someone who is Orthodox, I feel as though they are my tzitzit.  I felt the same when I once attended Yom Kippur services at a Secular Humanist synagogue.  They are fringes on the other side.  There, I just wanted to feel a little more G!d(dess) in the experience and I was reminded of how much I treasure my own sense of spiritual connection.

Every religion has its fringes.  Every movement has its fringes. Every art form has its fringes. Jews don’t, or shouldn’t, cut of their fringes while they live.  They are sacred.  We gather them in with our left hand (the receptive hand) while we recite our most sacred statement of faith.  We gather them in with love because they are us, and they are there to teach us something.  They are there to offer us an opportunity. They are there to remind us what is sacred in life.

As we enter the Days of Awe, I invite you to look more kindly on the fringes you encounter.  See them as the “thread of blue.”  Bless them for being the tzitzit of life and helping you connect more fully to the Infinite — however you experience it.

3 Replies to “The Importance of Fringes (Tzitzit)”

  1. I love what you say here. I just found the Jewschool article to which you refer and the discussion that followed in the comment section to that article. The article itself was very much as you describe it. However, I found the discussion in the comment section to be very interesting. And it was your post there that led me to your site and the wonderful article you have here.

    I have followed your blog on and off for years so this is by no means my first time here. I just have to say how much I appreciate your ability to elevate the whole argument to a spiritual level. And embodied spirituality at that–the wearing tallit and tying fringes seem to me to be a very embodied spiritual practice.

    It is through your blog that I became aware of the Rabbi Jill and the Kohenet program. I admire Rabbi Jill very much. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

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