Why we wear a tallit for prayer

Posted by Benjamin G. on 10th Jul 2022

I just came across a real gem: one of the reasons we wear a tallit during prayer. In his 1981 article titled “The Tassel and the Tallith,” Jacob Milgrom quotes Aimé Pallière:

The spectacle of that large number of men assembled, their shoulders covered by Taliths, suddenly disclosed to my eyes a far-off past. . . . On seeing the prayer-shawls uniformly worn by all the participants in the service, I felt that in a way they were all officiating. . . . In fact, in the synagogue service, all Jews are equal, all are priests, all may participate in the holy functions, even officiate in the name of the entire community, when they have the required training.

Pallière wrote the above in a travelogue originally published in French in 1928, and then two years later an English translation was published under the title, The Unknown Sanctuary: A Pilgrimage from Rome to Israel. In his observation we find a sort of 'democratic' ideal, which the Torah touches on in the famous clash between Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu. 

In his article, Milgrom argues at length that the mitzvah of wearing a four-cornered garment with tzitzit is a sign of nobility.