Friday, March 15, 2013

The Skinny on the Shtreimel - What's Up With Those Fur Hats?

Extensive, Inside Look At Shtreimel Manufacturer

I recently saw a great pictorial feature on a Meah Shearim shtreimel manufacturer. Definitely worth a look.

Since we are on the topic, let us discuss some other shtreimel related matters as well.

Litvaks and Shtreimels 

First, a few words about Litvaks and Shtreimels . At times one can hear people claim, that in the old days Litvaks wore streimels. After all, look at photos of Litvishe gedolim such as the Netziv, Aruch Hashulchan, and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, with fur hats. R. Yechiel Michel Epstein, the Aruch Hashulchan himself, in his great work, mentions shtreimels, for example in או"ח סימן תקנ"א, יא. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on shtreimels, where it claims that they were worn by Lithuanian Jews up to the twentieth century.

However, we should keep in mind, that 1) those hats were not the same as the typical Hasidic streimel, and 2) even if some Litvaks (though it may have been mostly a Rabbinic, and/or affluent phenomenon) wore such headgear, we do not see such a great stress on it, going to the level of an obligation to do so, as is found among many Hasidim.

One should note, that among the Perushim community in Eretz Yisrael, which are Litvish, some still wear streimels. Rav Elyashiv zt"l, as well as R. Menachem Porush, z"l, were prominent examples of such in recent times. But they may have been influenced by other groups in terms of the form, the type of streimel they wear.

I would venture to say that it is similar with the Chasam Sofer, of whom there is a famous image with a fur hat on his head. So does that mean that all the Yidden in Pressburg wore the same? I have my doubts about that. I think there is a similar image of the Vilna Gaon as well.

Shtreimel Inflation In Recent Years

Another shtreimel (or streimel) topic is the growth in their size in recent decades. If you look at photos pre and even post WWII, you will see Chasidim, including Rebbes, in pretty low/small/thin/flimsy shtreimlech. Here is a good photo from only around thirty years ago, in which the shtreimels are also noticeably smaller than typical ones nowadays (though perhaps already larger than the WWII era models). In recent years, however, the size/height of typical shtreimels has greatly increased, and it is not common to see the old, lower type worn anymore - especially on the heads of younger men. You can still see it occasionally on older men who haven't upgraded to the new, larger models. A number of years ago, someone showed me a great article in Emunah magazine, How Shtreimels Have Changed Over the Years, which talks about this change. Recommended reading, definitely!


Hatzoloh, Shomrim, Chaveirim

There are some fine organizations that came from the post WWII immigrant community, such as Hatzoloh, Chaveirim, Shomrim. And we have to give credit where credit is due for them.

Hatzoloh is like bikur cholim. But before one thinks that earlier generations, our elders, were deficient by not creating Hatzoloh before the 1960's, we should think for a moment. Could Hatzoloh have emerged then or in the pre-WWII period? Not as it is today, for sure. The technology was not there. Emergency medicine, equipment, was not developed to the extent that it became later.

And with regard to Shomrim, the radios, communication equipment that is so vital to their work, was not widely available, or reasonably priced, in the old days as well.

Ditto re Chaveirim. Did they have all the advanced booster kits, small and efficient diagnostic equipment, pre WWII? They didn't have the modern electronics we now take for granted then.

We salute all who work selflessly for the community, the ציבור, past and present.

וכל מי שעוסקים בצרכי ציבור באמונה, הקב"ה ישלם שכרם

Chesed Shel Emes in USA - Who Was First?

Similar to the case with bikur cholim, discussed in a previous post here about pioneers of bikur cholim in America, in recent years we have seen the emergence and growth of Chareidi/Hassidic organizations such as Chesed shel Emes and Misaskim, who deal with מיתי מצוה ר"ל. One is given the impression from some of the reports about their activities that they are the pioneers in providing burial for such cases in the USA. The reality is though, that that is very far from the truth. Over one hundred and twenty years ago the Hebrew Free Burial Association, חברה אגודת אחים חסד של אמת, was started in New York, and continues to this very day.

It is fine and well for new groups to get involved in such holy work. But at the same time, credit must be given to those who preceded them and they should not imagine or pretend that they were the first ones to perform a certain mitzvah.

P.S. Do I see a pattern here? Definitely. These types claim that they invented bikur cholim, chesed shel emes, shemiras Shabbos, limud Torah, gemachs...Maybe they strengthened them..but invented? No way.