A Ruling from My Rabbi

Christian tallit (2)
Today I got a thoughtful reply from My Rabbi.

Sorry that it has taken me a little time to think this through.
I agree with you that this really is most ugly, and enraging. I mean, the Jews for Jesus who make this for themselves ... what can you do? This is the least of the things we would argue with them about. But to give this to practicing Jews is surely meant to deceive and to weasel their ways into the normative Jewish community.
Halakhically, we tend mostly to focus on the tzitzit themselves, and less the garment to which they are attached. So it is the tzitzit strings -- not the garment that bears them -- that must be from wool spun specifically for the purpose of tzitzit, and tied by someone themselves commanded to follow this mitzvah (male or female, even according  to  the Shulhan Arukh).
Arguably, if you removed all the decorative pinot and the atara, and removed the tzitzit that are there now, and threw all those things away or burned them, I think you could then say this cloth was now fit for attaching new tzitzit and making it kosher. If you did all that, then yes, I would have to say that a person who put on that garment would fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit.
But I must say, on a combination of halakhic abstractions and ritual instinct, I don't really like it and would prefer not to do that. So maybe the tallit itself is just a piece of cloth. Lord knows I've seen Yankees flags and the like turned into Tallitot. So yes, you could argue that once its Xian accoutrements have been removed, it's now ready for its next life as a mitzvah garment.
Logical, but still ugly. So I would respect the kavvanah of the mumar who made this item, and say that they made it as an act of worship to a false messiah, and say that this left its spiritual impression on the garment. So I would have to pass it up.

So my rabbi’s ruling is basically that intentionality does matter.  This garment was meant to subvert Judaism so it is not permissible to use it as a Jewish kli mitzvah /vessel for fulfilling a commandment.

I realize that for some Christian readers my Rabbi's note may seem a bit harsh.It's important to make note of the fact that historically official Christianity has taken basically two stances about Judaism and Jews.  The first is conversion either by seductive means or by force (  'Convert or die.'). The second is that for much of the last two thousand years official Christianity has put an awful lot of effort into saying that Judaism has been supplanted by Christianity and that judaism no longer has any validity.

Clearly, post Holocaust, the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations have softened their attitudes towards both Jews and Judaism. Many Christians are looking seriously at Christianity's Jewish origins and are exploring Jewish ritual. That sort of thoughtful exploration of Judaism by Christians is a pretty wonderful thing.

What is deeply disturbing to me, is Christians who use that exploration of Judaism as a vehicle to convert Jews to Christianity.   I know that many religious Christians see their desire to spread the ' Good Word' as their gift to the world. But as a Jew on the receiving end of those efforts, it feels like an assault on the essence of who I am.

I am struck again and again how those smiling bright eyed invitations so often disintegrate into something quite hostile and angry because I insist that being Jewish is who I am and suits me fine.

This tallit is like those street evangelists who begin their conversation sweetly but are delivering a hostile message.


  1. As a cradle to grave (?) Roman Catholic, I want to thank you for your blog. I have learned so much about your faith from your sewing blog.

    I have not intention of converting from Catholicism to Judaism, but I do learn a lot from you!
    Your sewing is amazing too!

  2. Thanks Sarah,
    Yes, it is very sad that in the interests of 'faith' people become vicious and vindictive as if it were up to them to change hearts. Even if it were, they don't seem to see that it is the wrong way to go about it.

    We have similar things going on with people who make a version/translation the reason they will or won't have anything to do with you.

  3. Mermie and Sandy-

    I'm of the 'let the many flowers bloom' school of thought when it come to religious belief and practice. How people worship or believe.....or even if they do at all, is entirely up to them. I am deeply Jewish. Clearly we all have a whole lot to learn from one another.

    My early childhood was in the glory days of ecumenism. It was a heady time with both clergy and laity listening to and learning from the practices and beliefs of others. Unfortunately, since the 1970's the fundamentalist strain of all world religions is on the ascent. This means that more and more often there is just one way to worship the divine and to live life. While this worldview might make it easier for people who are afraid to make difficult decisions, the people who prefer to see the world in black and white... that sort of rigid worldview makes the world a much less safe place to be.

    I keep hoping for a return to the thoughtful ecumenism of my youth.

  4. I am Catholic and enjoy reading your blog and learning more about Judaism and your traditions. I don't plan on converting nor proselytizing, just learning as I'm respectful of all faiths. My stepfather has been learning more about his Jewish ancestors, so I will be sharing your blog with him. :)

  5. Dear Sarah,
    Your Rabbi was kinder than I would have been.
    Your friend's co-workers intentions were not what I would call "good"... they were condesending and arrogant. I believe that she may not have not meant to be that, but knowing Ruth's faith and trying to twist it... NOT good. I was raised Catholic, changed to more broadly Christian beliefs in my mid-life, and now consider myself an agnostic. But never in any of my phases would I have thought this was okay.
    I think Ruth must be a very good person... she didn't want to hurt her co-worker by rejecting the "gift". Trying to remake it to be suitable was a valiant and caring thought. But I do agree with your Rabbi... the intent is deeply inside the fabric of the tiem andcannot be washed/altered away.

    Wow. I almost never get on soap boxes. Though I do have opinions I believe in the live and let live path, but this pushed some trigger in me. Maybe because it is itself not a live and let live gesture. It's a live and live my way gesture. Not cool.

  6. Ruth is a dear. I do honestly believe that Ruth's co-worker gave the gift with all good intentions given her worldview.

    It is interesting to see how angry this object made me...and also folks who read here. I did edit out one of the paragraphs in my Rabbi's reply. I thought that it wold read in an overly hostile way to the general public...

    In modern society we tend to think of objects as being inherently neutral. In the Bible there are swaths of laws devoted to objects that become imure through death. To modern readers those biblical laws can seem archaic and silly, but it seems clear from not just my own view but from others writing in that this hunk of sweater knit has become in some respects defiled,unfit. I left a message for Ruth, but she hasn't called me back.


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