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Why Do Many Chassidim Wear Shtreimels (Fur Hats)?

Why Do Many Chassidim Wear Shtreimels (Fur Hats)?

And why doesn’t Chabad wear them?

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A group of spodik-wearing Gur chassidim (Photo: Ouria Tadmor/flash90).
A group of spodik-wearing Gur chassidim (Photo: Ouria Tadmor/flash90).

To the uninitiated, it appears that many chassidim wear round fur hats called shtreimels on Shabbat and holidays, but I must point out that, in truth, there are different hats, with different names. One can often discern which chassidic group one belongs to based on the type of hat and other nuances in garb.

To overgeneralize, there are shtreimels and spodiks. Shtreimels are shorter, wider and somewhat donut-shaped, and are generally worn by chassidic groups that originated in Hungary and Galicia (although some Polish groups do so as well). Spodiks, on the other hand, are narrower, taller and overall more cylindrical. They are made from black fur and are generally worn by chassidic groups originating in Poland. (In recent years, the shtreimels have become taller and more angular, looking more cylindrical and less donut-like.) Additionally, there are less common hats like the kolpik, which looks like a spodik but is made from brown fur.

For simplicity’s sake, we will just refer to them all as the shtreimel.

Origin of the Shtreimel

It isn’t entirely clear when exactly the custom of wearing a shtreimel started. One popular legend points to around the 18th century in Poland, when the government wished to humiliate the Jews and forced them to wear an animal tail as a public display of shame. However, many rabbis, including many students of the Baal Shem Tov, decided to not only embrace the decree but turn it around by making a regal headgear out of the animal tails, which they then wore with great pride.

The second Rebbe of Shtefanesht (1862-1933) wearing a shtreimel. Note the cone-shaped center, unique to the rebbes of the Ruzhin tradition.
The second Rebbe of Shtefanesht (1862-1933) wearing a shtreimel. Note the cone-shaped center, unique to the rebbes of the Ruzhin tradition.

In truth, however, the shtreimel was mentioned in 17th-century Jewish texts, before the times of the Baal Shem Tov.1

There are many reasons given for specifically wearing a shtreimel on Shabbat. Here are just a few:

A Crown Like Tefillin

The Talmud explains that the verse “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the L‑rd is called upon you, and they will fear you”2 is a reference to the tefillin worn on the head.3 On Shabbat, when we don’t wear tefillin, some wear the regal-looking shtreimel, in line with the above verse.

[An interesting tidbit is brought in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, who was a student of the Baal Shem Tov, that the word Shabbat is an acronym for Shtreimel Bimkom Tefillin—“the shtreimel is in place of tefillin.”4

Others point out that the word שטראמל (with an alef) has the same numerical value as the word תפילין.5 (Of course, the intention was never that a shtreimel, which is merely a custom, could literally take the place of tefillin, which is a biblical commandment. Rather that the shtreimel on Shabbat also serves the purpose of differentiating between the Jewish people and the nations of the world.)]

A Unique Shabbat Crown

According to Jewish law, one should have special garments to honor the Shabbat. Wearing a special, regal hat represents the “Shabbat crown,” which also corresponds to the “crown of Torah” since the Torah was given on Shabbat.6

Uplifting the Mundane

Another explanation given in the name of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz is that part of our mission in this world is to refine and uplift the mundane and physical. However, there are some objects that, in the normal course of a regular weekday, we are unable to uplift. This is represented by the tail, the lowest part of an unkosher animal. However, on the holy day of Shabbat, when the world is on a higher spiritual plane, we are able to uplift even these objects. Hence, the shtreimel is made of animal tails.7

The Question You Want to Ask Next

Most of the time when this question is asked, it is accompanied by another question: Why don’t Chabad chassidim wear shtreimels?”

Let me first explain by saying that at the onset of chassidic history, the garb was much more fluid than it is now. Our generation is probably the first in which virtually every married male member of most chassidic communities wears shtreimels. In the past, the poverty that was prevalent in much of Eastern Europe would have precluded this from ever having happened.

In addition, the shtreimel was significantly less popular among the chassidim in certain parts of Ukraine and Russia, both Chabad and non-Chabad.

Although the Chabad rebbes (and their sons, as well as certain elite chassidim) generally wore a shtreimel, this was far from universal. Before Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch (the Rebbe Rashab) got married, his father Rabbi Shmuel (the Rebbe Maharash) instructed him to only wear a shtreimel while he was in the town of Lubavitch. The Rebbe Rashab followed his father’s instructions and would not wear his shtreimel when he was out of town for Shabbat. The last years of his life, when he had to leave the town of Lubavitch and he resided in Rostov, he did not wear a shtreimel.

The Previous Rebbe wearing his shtreimel (or more accurately, a kolpik).
The Previous Rebbe wearing his shtreimel (or more accurately, a kolpik).

His son, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, initially didn’t wear a shtreimel. The first time he wore one was at the wedding of his daughter Chaya Mushka to the future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Afterward, he started to wear a shtreimel on Shabbat and holidays.

The Rebbe himself didn’t wear a shtreimel. The story is told that when the Rebbe and his wife arrived in America, the Previous Rebbe, who, because of ill health, was unable to greet his daughter and son-in-law personally, sent four of his most eminent chassidim to greet the Rebbe. The Previous Rebbe described his son-in-law as “one who recites Tikkun Chatzot; knows by heart the entire Babylonian Talmud with the commentaries of the Ran, the Rosh and the Rif; he knows by heart the Jerusalem Talmud, Maimonides' Mishneh Torah and Likkutei Torah with its commentaries . . .” But despite all this, he humbly “goes with a hat that has its brim down. Go and greet him!"

But why? We can only speculate, but this exact question was once posed to the Rebbe by a very prominent rabbi from Israel, who sat on the rabbinical court in Jerusalem. The visitor remarked to the Rebbe that if he would wear a shtreimel, he would gain another 50,000 chassidim. The Rebbe replied, “Where would these chassidim come from? From other chassidic groups, or from Hashomer Hatzair (a very left-wing, secular kibbutz/group in Israel)?”

This brings us to what is perhaps the main reason why Chabad doesn’t wear a shtreimel.

Different Ways of Creating Warmth

Wearing a modern shtreimel at a wedding in New York.
Wearing a modern shtreimel at a wedding in New York.

It was right after World War II, and the grand rabbi of what was to become a large chassidic group arrived in America. Noticing that many of his chassidim didn’t wear a shtreimel, he taught that although in Europe a shtreimel may not have been so critical, since it was worn more as a sign of “honor and respect,” in America it was more important to wear a shtreimel and other trappings of chassidic garb, as he saw them as a means of preserving the warmth, customs, and way of life of the chassidic community. And more importantly, it was a way of insulating the community and holding back the tides of assimilation.8

In the teachings of Chabad, however, the emphasis was not so much on how one looked on the outside, nor on creating an insular community by dressing differently. Rather, the emphasis was on creating the internal strength and warmth to withstand assimilation, through studying and internalizing the teachings of Chassidism.

It is this internal warmth which gives Chabad emissaries throughout the world the strength and warmth to go out to remote communities where there is no Judaism. Not only do they have no fear of being assimilated, but on the contrary, they serve as a beacon of light, bringing the warmth of Judaism to the remotest of regions. In the end, while garments have importance, it is our actions and convictions that truly define us.

Editor's Note: After publishing this article, many readers have raised the issue of tzaar baalei chayim, causing pain to animals. To be clear, the furs are all from animals that are dead, thus not at all pained by the process. For those who are disturbed regarding the topic of the general use of fur in our society, that is worthy of a wider discussion, but is far beyond the scope of this article, which deals with the reasons for a specific piece of clothing.

Footnotes
1.
See Kovetz Zera Yaakov 17, p. 273.
3.
Talmud, Berachot 6a.
4.
Halachot V'Halichot B'Chassidut, p. 196.
5.
See Kovetz Zera Yaakov 17, p. 273.
6.
Pri Tzadik, vol. 2, Shushan Purim 1.
7.
See Kovetz Zera Yaakov 17, p. 274.
8.
See Ginat Veradim (Talmidei Satamar), p. 265, 280.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Michoel ben Moshe ha Cain via chabadofchesterfield.com August 27, 2017

Thank you for putting up this site....add soon Hag Sa Ma ach Reply

Aharon Edgware September 7, 2017

Unfortunately this thread has gone from a very interesting and thought provoking historical/cultural and historic Chassidic topic to an open forum on cruelty to animals and unless we stick to the topic it will turn to the mundane meat/experiment/medical/fur adornment issues. People like myself will respond that we need animal products because my life depends on them. Some will take an entrenched anti-animal product stance. Such a shame as I found it so very interesting and well researched. Reply

R Leah Haifa September 4, 2017

Sorry, but I don't quite understand the comment:: To be clear, the furs are all from animals that are dead, thus not at all pained by the process/

Of course the animals (hopefully) are dead when they are skinned for their fur
(although, tragically, you can't always be sure, as some countries skin animals alive). But isn't that rather like saying there's no point in being a vegetarian, because when you eat the animals they are dead anyway?

The creatures whose skin and fur are used for human beings' adornment wouldn't be dead if they weren't hunted, trapped or farmed for their body parts. Reply

Aharon UK November 30, 2017
in response to R Leah:

Then one would have to follow a vegan lifestyle and not wear leather shoes, allow insulin or a number of heart procedures and ditch the Borsalinos and Stetsons as well. I could go on but this is what I feared. Reply

Hugh David Pattison Bala September 4, 2017

looks nice and warm, you would need it in Russia, Dr Shivago stuff. Reply

Aharon Edgware UK September 4, 2017

Lets dispel a few unfounded rumours.
1) Shtreimels can cost as little as GBP 600 and are made of sable and mink tails.
2) They are not a 17th Century european custom but were common in Asia over 1000 years before that.
3) Hats including Borsalino, Stetson trilbys etc. are made from rabbit and beaver fur felt..
4) They are specifically Jewish in these days and worn L'Kavod Shabbos and Yom Tov.
5) They do not keep you warm in the winter.
6) As a minhag they are on of the best established and oldest.
7) The Rebbes of Lubavitch in the past all wore them except for the present Rebbe.
This has been a fascinating thread. Kol Ha'Kovod and a Gut Yohr to all. Reply

Yishai Sloan September 3, 2017

regardless, this has nothing to do with judaism and everything to do with custom and culture of eastern Europe... Reply

Hugh David Pattison Bala September 1, 2017

I thought it was a Russian hat Reply

JCS London August 31, 2017

BS"D

An extremely detailed and interesting article, thank you for this

It is interesting to note that you forbear to name the types of animal killed and made use of for these purposes

I am sure these animals would have preferred to continue to uplift their own tails, mundane and physical though they be.

It is also preferred that true definitive spirituality ultimately be attained through Bereishit 1:29, which will be the true warmth of Judaism and its consummation Reply

Thea Goodman San Antonio,TX USA August 31, 2017

Heat Stroke You would get a heat stroke wearing that fur hat in the part of Texas where I live. I can only imagine what it would be like in Israel. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles August 31, 2017

The hats are a nice custom in cold weather climates but rather unhealthy in desert areas or Mediterranean climates.I would prefer to see a change from black to white clothing because it is more spiritual,Jews have always changed in the past.After all our ancient manner resembled how Arabs dress today.Just the wearing of all black is a turn off to many who are in need of godliness. Reply

Aharon Edgware September 4, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

White Kapotes? Really? Its an interesting idea but we are warned by Halacha not to follow the customs of dress of non-Jews. Reply

Yishai Sloan NYC September 4, 2017
in response to Aharon:

customs of dress that would violate halacha. If you examine the situation, the fact that "Jewish garb" doesn't look anything like traditional middle eastern wear is exactly because the diaspora has been assimilating the customs of dress of the non-Jews - hence the shtreimel. It would be more peaceful on this planet if everyone was more concerned. with their spiritual health that attempting to look different from "them". Reply

SHARYN GAIL LEWIS Dominican Republic August 31, 2017

Really enjoyed this educational read which enhanced my knowledge and understanding. Thank you so much! :) Reply

Mark Solomon New York August 31, 2017

I had hoped to find here a discussion of tza’ar ba’alei chayim. Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Edah Haredit had publicly called on hasidim to stop wearing natural fur shtreimels and should instead switch to shtreimels made of synthetic fur. He also stated that because animal welfare issues now have wide public support, continuing to wear a natural fur shtreimel is a chillul HaShem. See The Jewish Press: Haredi Leader: Wearing a Shtreimel Is Chilul Hashem, by Yori Yanover, 16 Elul 5773, August 22, 2013.

A secondary issue I thought I would find more directly addressed, is the extravagant cost of $4,000 to $5,000 for a shtreimel (although the synthetic ones are "only" about $1,000.00). Is this expenditure for a single hat truly appropriate for a Chassid? Reply

Aharon Edgware UK September 1, 2017
in response to Mark Solomon:

The reality is that if you want to be spend $4000 on a shtreimel then you can (I'm sure) but in the UK and USA the importation of sable shtreimels from China has reduced their price to around £600-700 which is less than a synthetic one as quoted above. That is less than a good, beaver felt Borsalino and how much do some Chasidim pay for real, silk gartelach.
The fur issue is too big for me here but I love fur.
The real cost of things rather reminds me of a famous fisherman's tale that "At 120 I hope my wife does not sell my tackle for what I told her I paid for it.! And yes, I own several shtreimlach. Reply

R Leah Haifa September 3, 2017
in response to Mark Solomon:

Well said, Mark, and all the others who care about the well being of vulnerable animals. If you were in London in the 90s, I think we've met, by the way. R(ona) Leah Reply

R Leah Israel August 31, 2017

Has not the time come to stop wearing fur altogether? Fur belongs to a living animal and cannot be obtained without causing pain. Either the poor creature is caught in a trap - anyone who has ever had the misfortune to have had a car door slammed on their hand has some idea of how agonising this must be - or the fur is produced in 'farms'. Animals spend their lives in small cages, often in terrible conditions, and are then slaughtered. Many people around the world have stopped wearing fur. Israel doesn't allow fur imports. Maybe it's time to change. Reply

S Katz Menlo Park, CA via chabadmidpen.com September 1, 2017
in response to R Leah:

I totally agree with you. Reply

R Leah Haifa September 3, 2017
in response to S Katz:

Thanks, it was heartening to see so many people expressing care for animals in their responses here! Reply

Robert Berkovits Annapolis Maryland August 31, 2017

Fur Shtreimel protects from Russian winter cold Possibly it may have protected the wearer from the cold. It may have been protection against concussions when the Tszar's soldiers tried to hit the Jews over their heads with rifle butts.
In 1991a girl friend from Great Neck wore one in the winter cold.
Thou shall not covet a more expensive fur head piece. Reply

Cyril Atkins Jerusalem August 31, 2017

I understood that a hat with a brim more than a tefach was as if one wore a tent on Shabbes. While a streimel is fur and not solid and is therefore not a tent. Reply

YY Israel August 31, 2017
in response to Cyril Atkins:

This is only if the wide-brimmed hat is worn with the intent if protecting one from the sun or rain and so forth (in other words, if the long bring has a purpose in and of itself).
But when one wears the hat for the purpose of looks, tradition, or the like (as is the case with Chassidim) there is no problem of "ma'ahil" -of making a tent. Reply

Anonymous Athens, Greece August 31, 2017

Is this fur from a kosher animal, like a lamb or goat? Reply

Shira Oregon August 31, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Typically they are made of genuine fur from the tails of Canadian or Russian sable, stone marten, baum marten, or American gray fox, the shtreimel is the most costly piece of Hasidic clothing, costing anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000. not Kosher animals but hunted or farmed animals.
The animals are killed only for Fur and the meat is wasted... We are commanded to be good Stewards of the Earth and not waste. If we kill an animal it would be best to be able to use all of it's resources..
Sheep, wonderful Vit D and Lanolin for the skin, wool, meat and organs...Very little wasted..
It is possible to buy a shtreimel made of synthetic fur, which has become very common in Israel, if one must dress as if they never left Europe. Reply

Aharon Edgware UK September 1, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

No they are typically made from members of the weasel family....mink, ermine, sable etc. and spodeks were made of bear fur. Reply

Anonymous Athens, Greece September 4, 2017
in response to Shira:

Thank you for your reply Shira. I agree with your comments a hundred percent.
Killing animals for their fur is not only cruel but we also become contaminated through their carcasses. Reply

Shira usa August 31, 2017

I am trying to wrap my mind around an unkosher animal's fur on the head of the pios?
This is for me why I declined a Mink Coat or Mink Hat...which many ladies would love to have...
I know we are commanded not to eat them sable, mink, etc but wearing their dead carcas, does not seem in my mind to be honoring to HaShem.. A wool Fedorah makes so much more sense...
Am I missing something other than tradition why this is permissable and desireable? It is hot in Israel unlike Poland and Russia etc where you could freeze to death without proper head covering, but it does not fit in with the climate in Israel and personally it says to me, they don't choose to be relevant to Living in a temperate climate.. We are so divided by clothing, hairstyles, practices it is sad... I agree conservative color would be lovely.. Nobody told us to mourn our whole lives, we should live in the anticipated Joy that Moschiach will restore our Temple.We are the people of white, purple, blue, crimson, not Black! Reply

YY August 31, 2017
in response to Shira:

Eating = the animal becomes part of you, ingrained within your blood etc.
Clothing = remains separate from you.
There is no problem halachically benefitting from nonkosher animals.
Therefore, to site just one example, there is no problem using stints coming from a pig in order to hold open the arteries of the heart and so on... Reply

HOWARD Palmer Edgware September 1, 2017
in response to Shira:

Top of the range Borsalino trilby hats are made from Beaver and Rabbit felt. Reply

Anonymous Athens, Greece September 4, 2017
in response to YY:

In response to YY
Doesn't the Torah forbid us to eat the pig's flesh and even to touch a pig's carcass? If so, then I don't see how it can be used to open the heart's arteries, etc. Reply

David Pinto Montreal August 30, 2017

How about mentioning the fact that shtreimels are extremely expensive --I believe that the top price is as much as $5,000. Reply

batya lost in bavel August 30, 2017


The style of its day, still worn in Russia,and very sharp.I really would like to change around the mens wear to just give it a ping<
Then again king Dovid style was another style of his days..
Colors would be nice. Reply

Aharon Edgware UK August 30, 2017

I was always told that the Rebbe said that he would have worn the Freidiker Rebbe's streimel (Actually a unique style of kolpik made of sable as referred to in Hayom Yom) but could not find it after the Rebbe's petirah. Is this true? Reply

YY August 31, 2017
in response to Aharon:

That's a broken telephone version... What I heard going around is that the older son in law, the Rashag, inherited it himself and therefore the Rebbe didn't receive and mimeileh didn't wear it.

The kolpik certainly exists today, there are pictures of it you can find online.
But I do believe the reasons cited here are more accurate... Reply

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