The tallit, (also pronounced tallis depending on dialect) or Jewish prayer shawl is a religious item worn during prayer by Jewish men in orthodox and traditional circles, and also by women in more liberal Jewish movements.
The tallit is such a cool, exotic-looking visual-shorthand for "Jews Doing Jewish Stuff" that it tends to get used indiscriminately in TV, film, comic books and other visual media, almost always incorrectly.
Many Orthodox Jewish men do wear an undershirt-like garment called the tallit katan (or "small tallit") at all times to fulfill the Biblical commandment to wear a "fringed garment." But a tallit katan is not a full-fledged tallit, and is not visible except for small fringes which dangle from the beltline.
In most mainstream Jewish denominations and sects, the full tallit is only worn during weekday morning prayers, during morning Sabbath and festival services in synagogue, and on a few other very specific occasions. Even in synagogue, the tallit is only rarely worn during afternoon or evening services, and it's virtually never worn for most other religious observances. In some ultra-Orthodox communities, traditionally a man does not even own a tallit before he is married. (There are some sects which encourage their members to wear the full tallit all day long, but this is a very uncommon practice.)
Contrary to many media portrayals — and with the marginal sects noted above possibly excepted — you'd never see a full tallit worn:
- At a funeral.
- At a wedding, except by the groom or, in some denominations, wrapped around the couple at one point in the ceremony.
- While lighting Chanukah candles.
- During a Passover Seder.
- While celebrating Israeli Independence Day or any other secular/cultural Jewish event.
- By a rabbi, just because he's a rabbi.
- By a cantor, just because he's a cantor.
- By an Orthodox Jew, just because he's an Orthodox Jew (marginal sects, again, excepted).
- In a 1970's Justice League Chanukah/Christmas story, a man is shown lighting his Chanukah menorah while wearing a tallit.
- A tallit is worn by a plane from the fictional "Air Israel" in Airplane!. This is of due to a policy of strict enforcement of Rule of Funny (said plane also wears a beard and payess).
- In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the Orthodox Jews in the hotel dining room at the beginning are wearing tallit while eating.
- Under the influence of drugs, James Franco briefly sports an improvised one in This Is the End.
- Blackadder: The Jumping Jews of Jerusalem.
- Community: Rabbi Chang, brother of hilariously psychopathic Spanish teacher Ben Chang, wears one for absolutely no good reason when visiting Greendale Community College.
- Parks and Recreation: The rabbi officiating at Jean-Ralphio's (fake) funeral dons one.
- Peaky Blinders: While Alfie Solomons does wear it correctly (with only the fringe visible), he wears it at times that are incorrect (the Passover seder in 2.05 amongst them).
- All of the male characters in Fiddler on the Roof wear tallis, or prayer shawls as they call them, because of their tradition.
- What they should wear, except when praying at certain times or, as noted, possibly by the groom at the wedding is tallit katan, the undershirt-like garment with only the fringes visible.
- Many stagings of Verdi's Nabucco, which depicts the exile of the Jews into slavery by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
- Justified in-story in Ragtime, in which Tateh wraps his shivering daughter in his large woolen tallit regardless of the religious propriety of doing so.
- Web animation This Land is Mine shows Jewish immigrants to the holy land wearing Tallit while fighting with Arabs over the land.
- Family Guy: Upon embracing Lois' freshly uncovered Jewish heritage, Peter naturally overdoes it and starts wearing a tallit, among other things.
- Happens a lot in the Rugrats Hanukkah Special, which is apparently a thing.
- The Simpsons: This happens on numerous occasions, usually in relation to Krusty. Rule of Funny even mandated the appearance of a tallit on a Transformer Captain Ersatz.
- Superman: The Animated Series: In the "Death of Dan Turpin" episode (an homage to Jack Kirby), the rabbi or cantor officiating at the funeral is wearing a tallit.
- In January 2016, Swedish clothing company H&M got in trouble over marketing a scarf that, in the eyes of some, looked enough like a tallit to be considered blasphemous. Read more here.