“What are those strings hanging out of your pants?” May seem an awkward, and perhaps inappropriate, question to be asked, though for more than a few religious Jewish men it has become as common as being asked what the little hat they wear is. Those strings are the fringes of a garment called a tallit. The tallit is the response to the bible’s commandment to tie fringes to the corners of one’s garments (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). The Tallit comes in two forms. One, the tallit katan – or small tallit, is worn all day, usually underneath one’s shirt and takes the form of a rectangular piece of cloth with an opening cut in the center for the head and four fringes of knotted and twined strings tied to each of the garment’s corners.
The other, the tallit gadol – or large tallit, is a prayer shawl worn by Jewish men during morning prayer services, certain holidays, and other religious events.
It has the same twined and knotted fringes as the tallit katan but they are found on the corners of a significantly larger cloth, generally of wool. Additionally the tallit gadol is worn draped over the shoulders (and sometimes head) without a hole in it as with the tallit katan.