When I first sat down to write this post, I didn’t realize that some Christians even wore prayer shawls. My research has revealed otherwise, so let’s take a look.
What is a Christian prayer shawl? A Christian prayer shawl is a shawl traditionally worn by Jewish men in the Bible while attending synagogue. The Bible does not specifically instruct them to wear the shawl but it does require them to wear the tassels as a reminder to keep the law. Some modern Jews continue this practice today.
In this post, we will explore the origins of the prayer shawl, how it is applied in a modern context, and if this is something Christians should be doing as well.
I enjoyed getting to research this unique topic and I hope it is helpful to you as well.
Origins of Prayer Shawls
Prayer shawls are an Old Testament biblical practice held by Jewish men for hundreds of years. Traditionally, they would wear them over their heads when they would go to pray at the synagogue and for other major holidays.
The Bible doesn’t specifically require the use of a prayer shawl, however, it does require that they wear specific tassels which they chose to make into the prayer shawl.
The Hebrew word for this prayer shawl is “tallit”, and the fringes are called “tzitzit.” Tzitzit represents the number 600. Each tassel had eight strands and five knots.
When you add them all together you get 613. There are 613 laws in the Torah which these are said to represent. Each is to be a reminder to keep the law according to the book of Numbers.
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.
And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.
So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”Numbers 15:37-41 ESV
And he also mentions this requirement in the book of Deuteronomy.
You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.Deuteronomy 22:12 ESV
Originally these shawls were made of wool or silk and would cover most of the body, however, today most Jewish men simply wear a scarf around their neck, although some orthodox Jews continue to cover their head.
Christianity & Prayer Shawls
In recent years, there has been a move amongst Jewish communities to start wearing them again, however, it did not stop there.
There is a group of Christians who began to wear these prayer shawls themselves. They claim that because Jesus wore one that they should also wear one in accordance with Jewish Law.
In doing this, they walk a very fine line between honoring an old tradition and selling yourself into slavery to the Law.
Freedom from the Law
This idea of freedom from the law was hotly debated in the early church. As more and more Gentiles came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, questions began to come up.
Do these Gentiles need to practice Jewish law to be saved?
Paul’s letter to the Galatians, one of my favorite letters, addressed this problem directly. At the time, there was a group called the Judaizers, Jewish Christians who believed that all Christians needed to maintain the Jewish law.
In this case, they were dealing primarily with the practice of circumcision. Judaizers wanted Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be part of the body of Christ.
Paul vehemently opposed this ideology.
First, he reminds his Jewish brothers and sisters that none will be justified by the law but only by faith in Christ.
There is no one who can fulfill the whole law (except Jesus) and therefore all are condemned.
When we are justified by faith, we become spiritually alive, it is Christ in us. We don’t need to live by the law but by faith in Jesus who gave himself for our sins.
If the law could save, Christ died for nothing. But we can’t be saved by the law so Christ came to rescue us from our sin.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.Galatians 2:15-16; 19-21 ESV
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
The law has left us condemned, we are under a curse. But Christ redeemed us and by faith we can become spiritual descendants of Abraham, just as God promised, by believing in faith just like he did.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.Galatians 3:10-14 ESV
As a result, don’t give up on the life of faith that Christ has offered you, only to return to condemnation under the law. A life with Christ is full of freedom.
Paul implores them not to get caught up in things that have no bearing on their life of faith and to embrace the gift of Christ.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1 ESV
The entire book of Galatians gives great insight into this problem that possessed the early church. The problem was finally solved in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council when they recognized that faith did not and could not come by the law.
Therefore, they would not force Jewish laws and practices on new Gentile believers.
Should Christians Use Prayer Shawls?
Ultimately, it is not wrong to use a prayer shawl. However, you need to take some time to evaluate your heart beforehand.
Prayer shawls are not required by the Christian faith and are not a matter of salvation.
It’s not a sin to wear a prayer shawl. Nor is it implied.
Christians are not held accountable for the whole Jewish law since Christ came and instituted his covenant of grace.
Wearing one does not make you better or worse than the next Christian and you need to be careful not to cause another brother or sister to stumble in this area.
This is an individual decision that you have made to wear the prayer shawl and you should not try and force that same decision on other believers.
There is nothing wrong with wearing a prayer shawl. However, do not let yourself be deceived into relying on Jewish law.
It was not a sin for Gentiles to remain uncircumcised, and neither is it a sin for you to go to church without a prayer shawl.