If you’ve never thought of prayer fringes serving a practical purpose, one particularly lewd Talmudic episode may change your mind.
In this story, a tzitzit-donning man undertakes a faraway and expensive journey to procure the services of a well-known courtesan. But upon reaching her boudoir he is prevented from carrying out his desires when his fringes literally come to life and prevent the encounter.
The episode could be read as a metaphor for sexual dysfunction, but the man explains that the Fantasia-esque, enlivened tzitzit are instead “witnesses” to his transgressions.
Moved by the miraculous event, the workingwoman quits
“the life,” embarks on a spiritual journey, converts to Judaism, and ultimately marries her former John. Thus, the narrative relates, it becomes a mitzvah when the former prostitute disrobes before her former client, rather than a transgression.
There are many ways to read the story. It’s both an illustration of how even observant Jews can compartmentalize ethics, and an example of how illicit behavior can lead to ethical transformation.
It might also point to the Talmud as an unlikely source of inspiration for Walt Disney’s dancing broomsticks.