AN INTRODUCTION TO THE KEEPAH AND TALID
by Rich Murphy


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Jewish men wear a keepah and a talid during worship.  Some of the more orthodox groups will wear these items at other times, during the normal course of their day.  These articles of clothing have a purpose in reminding the Jewish people of their God, and His part in their lives.

THE KEEPAH

The Jewish head covering is called a keepah.  You might also have heard it referred to as a yamakuk.  Keepah is the Hebrew term, while yamakuk is the Yiddish term for the same item.  This is a small round cap, sometimes thought of as a skull cap, that sits on the top back of the head.  Keepahs can take on several styles, either plain, or with design work of Jewish symbols embroidered into them.

Although the keepah isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible, it is traditional for Jewish men to wear one.  The origin of the keepah goes back to the high priest's garments.  As part of his robes, God established for him to wear a turban (Exodus 28:36-38).  Upon the front of the turban, there was a gold plate, with the names of the tribes of Israel engraved upon it.  It was reasoned that since the high priest wore a head covering before the Lord, it would be good for all the men of Israel to wear a head covering.

Symbolically, the keepah reminds us that God is our covering.  "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).  Wearing the keepah is a constant reminder of our relationship with our heavenly Father.

THE TALID

The talid is the Jewish prayer cloth.  It's origins date back to the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.  God gave the nation of Israel some specific requirements for their dress, in order to remind them of Him.

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: (39) And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: (40) That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God."

Numbers 15:38-40

"Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself."

Deuteronomy 22:12

Let's take a moment to look at the design of the talid, and see the significance of each of its parts:

  • The talid itself is white.  White in the Old Testament always purity and perfection.  Yeshuah (Jesus) was the only truly perfect and pure man.

  • The talid has a border of blue.  In the Old Testament, blue always symbolised Yeshuah Hamashia (Jesus the Messiah).  For several centuries, the Jewish people wore tallids with a black band, instead of blue.  This was because they had lost the art of making this blue dye, which is made from a shellfish only found in the Mediteranian sea.  Recently, the art of making this dye has been rediscovered, and is now being used again.

  • The fringe along the ends is a reminder of the 630 injunctions contained within the Torah (the law, or the books of Moses).  Although there are not 630 individual strands on the talid, the fact that there are many is enough to remind us of the multiplicity of God's commandments.

  • The longer fringes at the corners are called tzee-tzee.  These are tied with an intricate series of knots which spell out the unpronounceable name of God.  Technically, we don't actually know how God's name is pronounced, as this has been lost  through the changes in language over time.  Whether it is Yahweh, or Jehovah is subject to the individual's interpretation.  Interestingly enough, Jewish people never say, or write God's name.  To avoid writing it, they will write G_d instead.

Since the word talid is a Hebrew word, it doesn't exist in any other language.  You will find it translated as tabernacle, mantle, overgarment, or napkin in the Bible.  Therefore, it is possible to misunderstand the usage of the talid within scripture.  Let's look at some of the places within scripture that the talid is found.

While the Israelites were traveling in the wilderness, God had them construct a tabernacle.  This was placed in the center of the camp, with the tents (tabernacles) of the tribes arrayed around it, all facing toward the tabernacle of the Lord.  Every morning, all the men in the camp would rise, and face the tabernacle , moving their talid from off their shoulders, and onto their heads, for morning prayer.  

One of the translations of the word talid is tabernacle.  In actuality, the tabernacle of the Lord was a representation of the men facing it.  The tabernacle was a place for God's presence to reside, and so are we.  When we accept Yeshua as our Messiah , we become the true tabernacle of the Lord.

Even today, when Jewish men pray, they cover their heads with their talid.  When done properly, this covers the face, concealing the individual, and making it impossible for him to be distracted by seeing anything.  This "prayer closet" becomes the private meeting place with the Lord.

The prophet Elijah was said to be dressed in camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist.  This camel's hair "mantle" was his talid.  It was unusual in that goat's hair was the sign of a prophet, not camel's hair.

Elijah used his talid to signify God was calling Elisha to be Elijah's disciple.  In 1 Kings 19:19, Elijah "found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him."  Elisha responded by slaying a yoke of the oxen he was working with as an offering unto the Lord, and leaving all to follow Elijah.

At the end of Elijah's ministry upon the earth, he and Elisha were traveling together.  Several times, prophets came to Elisha, telling him that his master was to be taken from him that day.  Each time, he told them to keep their peace, knowing what God's will was.  Finally, they arrived at the Jordan river.

"And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.  (9) And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. (10) And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. (11) And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (12) And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. (13) He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; (14) And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. (15) And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him."

2 Kings 2:9-15

The passing of Elijah's camel's hair talid to Elisha symbolised a transfer of his position, authority, and anointing.  Notice how the sons of the prophets reacted to Elisha.  They instantly understood that Elisha was the replacement of Elijah, and treated him as such.

At the end of Elisha's life, there was nobody found worthy of the camel's hair talid.  So, a small table was placed in the temple, with the talid upon it, waiting for the day that someone would come along to take the place of Elijah.  Unfortunately, several hundred years later, the temple was destroyed, and the camel's hair talid along with it.

But, God didn't let it end with that.  In Matthew 3:4 we find that "John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins..."  John the Baptist also wore a camel's hair talid.  This was a sure sign to the Jewish people that he had come in the anointing of Elijah.  Jesus referred to this when He said "Elias is come already, and they knew him not..." (Matthew 17:12).  God had provided a sure sign for the Jewish people, and like many of the prophecies told about Jesus, they missed it.

When they buried Jesus it says that there was a napkin, separate from the linen the rest of His body was wrapped in, that was placed around His head (John 20:7).  This was His talid.  It was normal custom in that day to wrap the head of a man with his talid for burial.

People brought napkins to Peter to be prayed over.  These napkins were then placed upon the sick, so that they might be healed.  This was the person's talid.  There were many times, not only here that a talid was used for praying for healing.  Going back to Elisha for a minute, we find an instance where the son of a woman who provided for him had died.

"And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm."

2 Kings 4:34

There's only one problem with this picture, according to Numbers 19:11 "He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days."  As a prophet of God, Elisha couldn't touch a dead body.  Yet, if he couldn't touch the body of the dead boy, how could he lay upon the child.

The answer lies in the talid.  When praying for someone who is unclean by any means, whether death, sickness, or whatever, it was normal practice to place the talid of the minister on the person they were praying with.  Not only did the talid protect them from becoming unclean themselves, but it also placed their anointing upon the person needing healing.

According to Acts 18:35, Paul was a tent maker.  On the surface, this seems like a normal occupation, and is therefore skipped over.  In fact, we even refer to someone who uses a secular job to support their ministry as being a "tent maker."

However, the Jewish people didn't live in tents in the time of the book of acts, they lived in houses.  In fact, they hadn't lived in tents for many centuries.  

In ancient Greek, the words tent and tabernacle are the same word.  Paul was a tabernacle maker.  The tabernacles that the Jewish people used were tallids.  So, Paul was a talid maker.  As a Pharisee, this was a very honorable profession, and one that would bring him instant acceptance as he traveled on his missionary journeys.

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