Paper-Cut Tallit (Prayer Shawl)

Aveilut, Hanza, Introspection, Jewish, Prayer, Reality, Rosh Hashanah, Searching, Tallit, Teshuvah, The Seven Species of Israel, truth, Tzitzit, Yoke of Heaven, Yom Kippur

Tallit Kavannah
Papercut on Tyvek Paper 46″x55″
By Jonathan Lyon 1-6-2015

Tallit Kavannah incorporates the many themes and contexts to remember, which interconnect and depend on each other to create kavannah (mental preparation and intention) for davening (prayer/comuning with The Almighty). It is my attempt to take the entirety of the prayer preparation and embed it graphically into a tallit. That is what makes this piece unique and important to me.


The piece is full of tension. The largest and most prominent figures on the tallit are the 2 hamzas (hands for Divine Protection) which, when put on, fall across one’s shoulders in waves of multiple meanings: The sense of both HaShem’s loving protection and the Yoke of Heaven. Its lightness and detail suggest the inner lightness we must strive for while performing the Commandments, and the care we must take for each of their details.

The left hamza represents uncompromising reality (Din Emet), the major theme permeating Tisha Be Av. A suggestion of the Kotel (Western Wall) signifies our commitment to the value of Aveilus as a driving force in a search for change toward HaShem’s ultimate Truth – which is why the explorer in the balloon below the left hamza is looking from a new angle to see the universe in a new “light”, with a broader perspective. The Chilazon (snail) produces the resulting Techellet (blue) for the tzitzit which, in the sky, is actually an optical illusion. So is the rising and setting of the sun seen behind the shofar and waves: In reality, it is we who are spinning around the sun – not the reverse.

IMG_4029                                      IMG_4025

The right hamza  represents what can be achieved through the giving of our Reishit and Teshuvah (represented by the steps and ladder) – to eventually achieve a world where HaShem can live amongst us again within our own tum’ah (impurity).

The man below the hamza has turned away from his work to contemplate the meaning, direction, underlying drives, and man-made paradigms and the lack of havdallah (differentiation) that are at the source of the misdirections within his life.

IMG_4041       IMG_3899

There are other features too. In the middle, a date palm sprouts, its trunk made out of tzitzit knots – tzadik ketamar yifrach (A Tzadik like a palm will blossom..thy shall yield fruit even in old age vigorous and fresh…). I started this art form at 57, the fruit of a continued maturation, now enabling me to take in broader contexts. The dates hang like a scale. The leaves, similar to a butterfly represent metamorphosis and life as an heuristic process.

The grapes at the 4 corners make the obvious connection between the Arba Kanfos (4 corners) of both the field and our garments, putting the meaning of what we own into proper perspective.

4 styles of Tzitzit: The Rambam, the Ra’avad, the Gra, and the Radziner


Unlike a Tallit, the corners of this piece have not one but four styles of tzitzit knotting from 4 different interpretations of how to fulfill the tzitzit commandment (The Rambam, Ra’avad, Gra, and Radnizer). Hallachic disagreements and often great antagonism existed (and still exist!) between the groups and traditions represented by these tzitzit. So why put all four on one tallit?

The word for friend in Hebrew comes from the word “knot” (hibur). This represents the reality that all elements of Israel are bound (knotted) together and so is its fate – kol yisrael haveyrim. It is this vision that is meant to remind us that we must strive for excellence and harmoniousness in every relationship so that we may be privileged to realize keytz galuyoteynu (the end our exile) and realize the hope and dream that HaShem will gather us all from the four corners of the world (and Jewish world as well) and return us to Eretz Yisrael, which has claimed us for its own and is the only place that can provide for us the full existence we were meant to have.

The dove represents Peace. For without peace, all the other blessings of life slip through one’s fingers. However, on a deeper level the dove also represents, as it did for Noah, the nearing of a time in which a terrified person must open the doors of his teyva (Ark), which he entered for protection. He must gaze upon a frighteningly different world from the one he left behind – and then leave the teyva behind.
What then? There are no guarantees.

The wording in the strip at the top says  אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי: It rests on no one’s shoulders but mine.

image                image

Overall, we are left with the sense that – as Rav Matis Weinberg stresses – we must live life on multiple levels of Kedushah (holiness) simultaneously, and that excellence in relationship is the very stuff of Life: We must continuously strive for deeper excellence in Brit (Covenant) with one’s self, family, community, country, Klal Yisrael, and HaShem, and that we should recognize the Brit as a vision and force for forward movement. Finally, we realize that the more one makes oneself the target for all there is to achieve, the higher level of Kedushah one can achieve.

Many thanks to Adam Brelow and Eli Silins for their tying 3 of the tzitzit!

Posted by

My Profile: The Gemara says that all of our constructs and paradigms exist as a result of suppressing information. From chaos, the sum potential of all that is possible - physicists call it white noise; statisticians call it raw data - we must push away that which is unwanted. We are left to work with our visions and patterns of reality. The big question is, how well do those visions match up to what reality actually is in all its inter-related complexity and detail. On Yom Kippur, we come face to face with the reality that "The hidden things belong to HaShem our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, that we might fulfill all the words of this Torah." (Deuteronomy 29:28). God's ultimate and uncompromising reality must hold us accountable even for paradigms we are NOT aware of! Many refer to this as "The law of unintended consequences." This is why what I hold dear is not answers, but an endless path of growing awareness that attempts to come closer and closer to reality as it really is - not the "reality" that is just a projection of some inner solipsistic construction within my brain. The questions- not the answers - lead me on that path. I have become deeply committed to a life long journey of learning, growth, change, love, discernment, service, play, commitment, questioning, and valuing disagreement. At my core is the notion that without self-doubt and without valuing difference and differing opinions, one cannot develop a fulfilling and meaningful life. My art starts as a white sheet of whole paper, which represents chaos - all the possible pictures that one could create on it - onto which I impose order. Simultaneously destructive and defining, my paper-cutting adds meaning to the paper. Cutting pieces out is a creative process that graphically reveals before me my deeper paradigms so that I can scrutinize them - so that I can better understand the limits and characteristics of the space in which those paradigms work and gain insight as to where they are no longer valid. But it is not just a discovery of my internal landscapes. It is a process of becoming aware of myself within relationship and covenant. It is my simultaneous love and awe of and participation in the splendor of God's continued creation. It is my Avoda.

3 thoughts on “Paper-Cut Tallit (Prayer Shawl)”

  1. Pingback: My Jewish Opinion on Forgiveness and the Holocaust and how it Inspires My Art | Layer by Layer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s