a fur hat worn by many Jewish men, particularly (although not exclusively) members of Hasidic Judaism, on Shabbat and Jewish holidays and other festive occasions.
A shtreimel (Yiddish: שטרײַמל shtrayml, plural: שטרײַמלעך shtraymlekh or שטרײַמלען shtraymlen) is a fur hat worn by many Jewish men, particularly (although not exclusively) members of Hasidic Judaism, on Shabbat and Jewish holidays and other festive occasions. In Jerusalem, the shtreimel is also worn by Litvak Jews (non-Hasidim who belong to the original Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, also known as Perushim). The shtreimel is generally worn only after marriage, except in some Jewish Jerusalem communities, where boys wear it from the age of bar mitzvah.
There is much speculation surrounding the origin of the shtreimel. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, it is of Tatar origin.
Different theories hold that it is of Tatar, Turkish or Russian origin, but it is not possible to establish a clear chronology. Some legends say that the initial reason for adopting the shtreimel was that the Russian tsar of the time decreed that the Jews must dress like the Gentiles. The shtreimel is comparable in construction to fur hats historically worn by nobles or gentiles across Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. According to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, the shtreimel could come from a period in the 17th century when Oriental costumes were considered fashionable by the nobility of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Sarmatism).
Types of shtreimels
Portrait of David Moses Friedman of the Chortkov dynasty wearing the unique shtreimel of the Ruzhin dynasty
The most widely seen shtreimel is typically worn by the Hasidim of Galicia, Romania, and Hungary, and was worn by Lithuanian Jews up until the 20th century. It comprises a large circular piece of black velvet surrounded by fur. The shtreimel of Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the Tzemach Tzedek) was from white velvet. Hasidim originating from Congress Poland wear a high shtreimel (often called a spodik). The shtreimel of the Rebbes of the Ruzhin and Skolye dynasties is pointed upward.
While there is strong religious custom for Jewish males to cover their heads, from the standpoint of Jewish law there is no religious significance to the use of the shtreimel as the head covering. However, the wearing of two head coverings (the shtreimel is always worn over a yarmulke) is considered to add additional spiritual merit, plus the presence of beautiful craftsmanship adds beautification and honour to the custom. Such headgear is worn on special occasions (such as Shabbat), in the synagogue, or by office-holders such as rabbis.
According to Rabbi Aaron Wertheim, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1726–1791) stated that “[t]he acronym for Shabbos is: Shtreimel Bimkom Tefillin – the shtreimel takes the place of tefillin.” Since wearing special clothing on Shabbat is a form of sanctification, among the Hasidim of Galicia and Hungary the shtreimel is associated with the holiness of Shabbat, a crown such as that worn by royalty, which enhances and beautifies Shabbat.
Arnon asserts that the number of furs used in the manufacture of the shtreimel has some significance. Common numbers are 13, 18, and 26, corresponding respectively to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, the numerical value (gematria) of the word for life (Hebrew: חי), and the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton. Contemporary shtreimlach may include higher numbers of tails. At least one maker creates shtreimelach with 42 tails, symbolizing the 42-letter Divine Name.
Male Orthodox Jews can be highly conservative regarding headgear, and some traditional Jews still wear fedoras or homburgs.Although the traditional Jewish headgear is of Gentile origin and has specific historical and geographical roots, it continues being worn by traditional Jews even when non-Jews in the country of origin have long stopped wearing it.
The shtreimel is typically custom-made for the intended wearer, of fur from the tips of the tails typically of Canadian or Russian sable, beech marten, baum marten (European pine marten), or American gray fox. The shtreimel is almost always the most costly article of Hasidic clothing. It is possible to buy a shtreimel made of synthetic fur, which is more common in Israel. Usually the bride’s father purchases the shtreimel for the groom upon his wedding. Nowadays, it is customary in America to purchase two shtreimels: a cheaper version, called the regen shtreimel (“rain shtreimel”), is for occasions when the expensive one may get damaged. In Israel, due to the economic circumstances of most members of the Hasidic community in that country, the vast majority of shtreimel-wearers own only one shtreimel. The shtreimel manufacturers (shtreimel machers) keep their trade a closely guarded secret.
Occasions for wearing shtreimels
The shtreimel is only worn in conjunction with other articles of clothing that comprise “Shabbos wear”. It is never worn with weekday clothing.
While there are no official rules as to when the shtreimel is to be worn, it is usually worn on the following occasions:
Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Shemini Atzeret, Purim, Shushan Purim, Passover, Shavuot
(Chol HaMoed) of Pesach and Sukkot
the evenings following the end of the above-mentioned days
Isru Chag (the day after Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot)
at one’s own wedding, or those of family members or of members of one’s Rebbe’s family. In some communities, it is customary to wear the shtreimel at all weddings, if the groom does so as well; similarly at formal engagement parties (Vort)
during the seven days following one’s wedding, or of the wedding of a close family member (Sheva Brachot)
at a brit milah of direct family (only the father and grandfathers and in some communitys the sandek and mohel as well).
Pidyon ha-ben of son or granson
at Bar Mitzvah of one’s own son or granson in most, but not all, communities
Some Hasidic Rebbes wear a shtreimel on occasions when their Hasidim will not, such as when lighting the menorah or when conducting a tish on Tu BiShvat and Lag BaOmer, whereas other rebbes may wear a kolpik on those occasions, and still others simply wear their weekday hat.