Dec 182014
Sephardic Tallet

A silk tallet worn by a member of London’s Maida Vale congregation in the 1950s

The Spanish and Portuguese Jews of London comprise the oldest Jewish community in Great Britain. They have a number of beautiful and unique customs, some of which are apparently rooted in pre-expulsion Spain, but also influenced by the Italian and Spanish-Moroccan rites.

According to Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, during the course of their 350-year sojourn in the British Isles, they have continued to evolve, developing an British-Sephardic character of their own, “distinct from that of their ‘parent’ congregation in Amsterdam, or of their ‘sister’ congregations in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.”

Tallit Corner

A fabulous tallet corner designed by one of the progeny of the London kahal

Like many other Jewish communities, the Sephardic and Portuguese Jews of London referred to the prayer shawl as a “tallet” – not a “taleet.”

The tzitzit were tied with 10-5-6-5 windings, rather than the 7-8-11-13 configuration, which developed later. Another detail that distinguished their tallet from today’s typical prayer shawls was the absence of an atara, or neckband. (Notably, to this day the Chabad tallis does not have an atara.)The tallet was often made of silk, with blue striping, and had embellished, oversize corner patches, like the Yemenite tallith.

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