ציצת טליסמן

I first wrote about my practice of wearing tzitzit via a talit katan every day here. That was in November of 2006. It’s been over a year and a half since that post. I think it’s about time to do a little review of my practice of wearing tzitzit.

As noted in the first post about tzitzit, I (famously, in some circles) view the practice of wearing tzitzit all day as essentially wearing what one might call Anti-Asshole Fringes. That is not to say that they keep assholes away, but that they keep me from being an asshole. To be honest, I’m not sure that they’re doing the job any more. I think that tossing them on under my t-shirt every morning may have become so rote and habitual, that whatever they may have done for me at one time is gone.

To be even more honest, I’m not sure that they ever truly altered my behavior. I’ll explain.

I was having a chat with a faculty member here at Kutz earlier this week. She mentioned to me that one of her children, whom I think is no older than ten or eleven (probably younger than that, even) announced to her while they were on a family trip to Israel several months ago that he wanted to buy a talit katan and wear around every day. Being a good Reform Jew, she encouraged him to experiment with his personal ritual practices and bought him a talit katan.

All over Israel, for the rest of the vacation, he wore these fringes. When they came home, he continued wearing them. For months, he wore them to school every day. Apparently, there was some sort of bullying going at school druing this period. Get this: When the bullying ended, he stopped wearing the tzitzit. He didn’t stop wearing them because he was being bullied, as one might expect Rather, he stopped wearing them because the bullying came to an end.

His mother’s assessment of this situation was that perhaps the tzitzit had provided him with some sort of grounding, some sort of security blanket, if you will, to hold on to during a rough patch in life. This got me thinking about some of the more anthroplogical assessments of the reasons for tzitzit, as well as t’filin and m’zuzot. Some say, and I buy into this to some extent, that these rituals were originally essentially good luck charms or talismans that protected one’s body, or one’s home from phyisical and spirtual harm from outside evil forces. This child was, according to his mother’s judgement of the situation, using the tzitzit to this end.

This really got me thinking about my real original reasons for wearing tzitzit nearly two years ago.

I was in high school. I was in Israel. I was in the first real romantic elationship I’d ever been in. I was thinking for the first time very seriously about some of the things that plague me to this day. I was thinking about ritual and prayer and the future and end of the world and God and Israel and capital-L Love and I was about to go to Poland and see all of this Shaoh shit and I was just really mixed and feeling and thinking eight million things at once. Whew.

So, in retrospect, did I really feel a sudden need to better my own behavior towards other people through the wearing of goofy fringes under my t-shirt? Or was I reaching out for some sort of bodily protection from the confliction and confusion I was going through at the time?

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3 responses to “ציצת טליסמן

  1. David, you once posted on iWorship about prayer–the liturgy–being the apostrophe of our conversation with the ineffable. I thought of that as I read this article from Rabbi David Hartman:
    http://www.hartman.org.il/Focus_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=33

    In it, Rabbi Hartman contrasts the views of Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Abraham Joshua Heschel regarding God and prayer. Heschel, as you know, dares us to feel radical amazement in prayer; from that will come the will to follow mitzvot.

    Leibowitz (and I admit I had never heard of him before) takes a hard-core Maimomidean view of God, that we “have no access to the divine.” In Rabbi Hartman’s words:
    “A Jew’s belief in God, Leibowitz contends, is by the way he or she gets up in the morning and by the way they choose to live their daily lives. And Leibowitz certainly practiced what he preached. You saw him every morning at 6:30, going to Yeshurun synagogue in Jerusalem to pray. Rain, shine, whatever it may be, Leibowitz was there, because being a Jew is about Jewish practice.

    This is why Leibowitz was totally opposed to offering a humanistic understanding of Judaism. Leibowitz’s leap of faith is to clear religious conduct from serving any human need. Any act of faith, especially prayer, manifests one’s commitment to wanting to serve God. Do you know who God is? Can you talk about this God? No, but I can tell you, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God and God of our fathers.” Ask me what do you mean by God? I repeat what I do in the morning.

    The metaphysics of God has for Leibowitz a single translation – that of the functional language of halakha.”

    Which is what reminded me of your apostrophe comment.

    Given the depth and maturity of your posts, I seriously doubt that you ever treated tzit-tzit like Dumbo’s feather, or like a talisman. Perhaps it has become rote, like praying keva without any kavanah. But I suspect for you, tzit-tzit are more like another punctuation mark or letter in your dialogue with the divine.

  2. Well said as always, Randi. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Annual Tzitzit check-up | The Reform Shuckle

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