Shtreimel Variations: The History of a Hat

Posted by Levi Cooper on September 12, 2018
Topics: Hasidut, Hasidic Lore Series

This article by Levi Cooper originally appeared in Segula magazine.

No Fur Thank You!

The Israeli legislature has been debating the legality of the local fur trade since 2009, when the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law (Amendment 8) was submitted to the Knesset.

Demand for fur is very limited in Israel’s hot climate, but had the law passed, the Jewish state would have set an example for the world by becoming the first country to ban fur trafficking. (Other jurisdictions have since adopted such legislation.) Politics killed the bill, however. Among other sticking points, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Knesset members objected that such a law would prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of Hasidic headwear: the shtreimel(plural: shtreimelekh), spodik, and kolpik.

Religious Markings

One mark of Hasidic communities is the distinctive garb worn by males. Over and above the various frocks, socks, and sashes, the fur headdress of the Hasidic faithful features across museum exhibitions, portraits, and art installations. The regal-looking headgear is worn by men on the Sabbath, festivals, and other significant occasions, such as weddings – regardless of the weather.

Hasidic fur hats come in different styles. Broadly speaking, Hasidic groups originating in Ukraine (where Hasidism began), Russia, Galicia, Hungary, or Romania don the short, wide, brown shtreimel, traditionally made from animal tails. These courts include the Boyan, Munkács, and Sanz Hasidim.

Groups that trace their roots to Congress Poland (annexed by Russia in the 18th century) wear the taller, narrower, and darker spodik, made from pieces of black fur (sometimes dyed that color) and therefore cheaper. Gur, Amshinov, and Aleksander Hasidim sport a spodik.

Less well-known is the kolpik – colored like a shtreimel but shaped like a spodik. The kolpik is worn by some Hasidic masters to mark the anniversary of a saintly ancestor’s death and other occasions. In certain Hasidic courts, the kolpik is also donned by the rebbe’s unmarried sons and grandsons.

These rules have their exceptions. There are non-Hasidim who wear a shtreimel: the Perushim, descendants of the disciples of Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, who arrived in the Holy Land (mainly Jerusalem) in the 18th century. And there are Hasidim who don’t: the Lubavitchers, whose felt fedoras resemble those of the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox. And spodik wearers call their hats shtreimelekh, confusing everyone.

Click here to read the full article in Segula Magazine. 

About Levi Cooper

Levi teaches Bible, Hasidut, Maimonides and Midrash at Pardes. Originally from Australia, Levi holds an LL.B., LL.M. and Ph.D. from the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University, and is a member of the Israel Bar Association. He is currently an adjunct professor in the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University and post-doctoral fellow in the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University. Click here to read more.

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