The Tribe’s favorite four-cornered garment is back in the public eye — this time in a documentary for HBO by rapper J. Cole. The fringed tallit prayer shawl can be seen in the movie around the shoulders of a preacher at the Eastside Christian Community Pentecostal Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Cole co-directed the documentary, “4 Your Eyez Only,” which the HBO website describes as “giv[ing[ voice to those struggling in the American South, capturing their stories through interviews and music.”
It’s not as if Cole is a huge fan of Jewish culture, however. His 2010 song “Villematic” includes such anti-Jewish tropes in his lyrics as, “Talk is cheap, its like y’all grew up in a Jewish home! Pardon the stereotype…”
This documentary wasn’t the shawl’s first sartorial showing. Last September, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was presented with one by Bishop Wayne Jackson during a visit to a Detroit Pentecostal church — a gesture that was seen as peculiar, or even offensive.
Jackson told The Times of Israel at the time that “This was nothing to be offensive. I love Israel. I support Israel. I love the people of God. The prayer shawl was meant to do nothing but to show the power of the holy spirit.”
Jackson said the custom of wearing a tallit was not unique to his church by any means.
“Many of our Hebrew brothers and sisters may not know this, but this is all over the United States,” he said.
But while some have called the crossover tradition “cultural appropriation,” when used for prayer in a church it is at least in the same ballpark of religious ritual as its intended use.
This is more than can be said for budget clothiers Old Navy and H&M, who both sold tallit lookalikes in the recent past.
Following a public outcry, H&M pulled a strikingly familiar striped scarf from Israeli stores last January after claims that it was disrespectful, though it does continue to sell that and a tallit-style poncho on its website.
Also last year, a participant in New York Fashion Week was photographed wearing the genuine article — and not a tallit facsimile — on the street outside the event.
While some would like to see traditional tassels relegated to the safety of the synagogue, others may not see it as so black-and-white. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.