Fringe, Fringes

FRINGE, FRINGES (צִיצִת, H7492; κράσπεδον, G3192). In the time of Christ every Jew was constantly reminded of his duties toward God by three mementos: (1) The tephillin, or phylacteries, which every male Jew was required to wear at morning prayer, and which consisted of little parchment cases with enclosed Scripture portion; (2) the mezuzah, a small oblong box containing Scripture verses which was fixed to house and room doors; (3) the tassels (KJV “fringes”) at the four corners of the upper garment of male Jews.

The Israelites were commanded (Num 15:37, 38) “to make tassels (KJV ‘fringes’) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue.” A similar ordinance is found in Deuteronomy 22:12, “You shall make yourself tassels (KJV ‘fringes’) on the four corners of your cloak with which you cover yourself.” The purpose of the tassels was to remind the Israelites of the commandments of the Lord, and not to depart from His will.

There has been much speculation about the precise meaning of the injunction about the cord of blue upon each tassel, but it is usually taken to mean that in some way the tassel was to be attached to the garment by this cord of blue.

There are a number of references to these tassels in the NT. The woman who had an issue of blood had faith that she would be healed by merely touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment (Matt 9:20), and many brought their sick that they might do likewise (Matt 14:36). Matthew (23:5) records Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees who made their tassels long in order that they might be highly regarded by men.

Monuments from Egypt and the Near E show that many types of tassels were worn by non-Jews in ancient times, though not for the same purpose.

Jews gradually ceased to wear these tassels outwardly, as prescribed in the law, chiefly to avoid exposure to heathen and Christian persecution. They therefore devised a kind of undergarment (or vest) covering the chest and back, with four corners where tassels were attached. Modern orthodox Jews still wear it, or a prayer shawl which likewise has tassels attached to the corners. However the “blue thread” is no longer regarded as necessary.

Bibliography TNDT, IV, 904.