(Hebr. ⊡î⊡īt, pl. ⊡î⊡īîyyôt RSV “tassel”). Fringes were frequently worn in the ancient Near East, although this custom's origins and purpose, which was probably protective, are obscure. Numbers 15.38–41 (and, more tersely, Deut. 22.12) ordains that Israelite males are to wear fringes including a blue cord on the four corners of their outside garments as a perpetual reminder to fulfill divine commandments rather than one's own desires. Fringes may also have indicated covenantal affiliation, serving both to differentiate male from female and to distinguish between Israelite and gentile. For later Jewish tradition, wearing ritually correct fringes daily became an important signifier of male religious obligation, equivalent to affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost (Deut. 6.9; 11.20) and placing phylacteries on the head and arm during prayer (Exod. 13.9, 16; Deut. 6.8; 11.18).
Judith R. Baskin