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The "Shtreimel" is what all married Hasidic men wear on Shabbas. Made out of genuine fur, it is the the most expensive Hasidic item around, ranging in price from $2000 to $4500. It is usually the bride's father who purchases the Shtreimel for the groom upon his wedding.

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A shtreimel is a fur hat worn by many married Hasidic Orthodox Jewish men on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and during other festive occasions. Ukrainian and Lithuanian Hasidim generally do not wear a shtreimel. The Gerrer Hasidim from Poland wear a spodik instead of a shtreimel.

Made out of genuine fur, typically from a sable, it is the most expensive article of Hasidic clothing, ranging in price from $1800 to $5400. It is usually the bride's father who purchases the Shtreimel for the groom upon his wedding.




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Shivchei Habaal Shem Tov contains a great deal of material about the customs that R. Israel Baal Shem Tov and his students introduced, as well as about their new way and behavior. From this work, one can construct a portrait of the way of life of R. Israel Baal Shem Tov and his students. As is known, Hasidim wear a shtreimel on the Sabbath. In Galicia and Hungary, the shtreimel was made up of thirteen strips [shpitzn]. In Poland it was a tall spodek. [In Galicia the rebbes would wear a spodek only on a holiday, for Hanukkah candle-lighting and for the rosh chodesh meal.] In Cracow, those related to the rebbe wore a sable kolpak [kolpik night cap]. [Before I was married and while still in the rebbe court, I myself wore such a cap.] In Congress-Poland, Hasidim wore tall shtreimels, or velvet or silk caps.

When did rebbes and Hasidim begin to wear shtreimels on the Sabbath?

According to Rabbi Aaron Wertheim (Halachos V'halichos B'chasidus, p. 196), Rabbi Pinchas Koritzer taught that the acronym of "Shabbos" is "Shtreimel Bimkom Tefillin"--"the shtreimel takes the place of tefillin." The only source that Rabbi Wertheim provides is an old Hasid from whom he heard it. [I am familiar with this saying as well, but attributed to a later rebbe.]

If we were to accept that this was taught by Rabbi Pinchas Koritzer, then we would have to say that he wore a shtreimel on the Sabbath. However, this source is not reliable.

According to a story in Rabbi Shai Zevin's Sipurei Hasidim (I p. 20 #223), those in the company of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi--the founder of Habad Hasidism--wore shtreimels.

R. Levin tells the following story:

There was a custom in Rabbi Shneur Zalman's minyan that whoever was called up to the Torah had to put on a shtreimel. If he didn't have his own shtreimel, he would borrow one from the shamash, who had one specifically for that purpose.

Once, somebody needed the shtreimel, but the shamash had misplaced it.

And so he lent the man R. Shneur Zalman's shtreimel. After the prayers were over, when R. Shneur Zalman put on his shtreimel, he sensed that one of the Hasidim had worn it. When he summoned the shammash and asked him if anyone had put on his shtreimel, the shamash told him what had occurred. Rabbi Shneur Zalman called for the hat maker, and instructed him to rip open all the seams of the shtreimel and to remake it. After the hat maker put the shtreimel back together, he placed it into the oven to dry, as was the custom. But he forgot to take it out, and it was burnt. He came to R. Shneur Zalman to tell him what had happened. But before he could do so, R. Shneur Zalman asked him, "What happened? Was the shtreimel burnt?"

"Yes," said the hat maker.

"It doesn't matter," said the rebbe. "Go home in good health." And the rebbe ordered a new shtreimel.

R. Zevin, who came from a line of Habad Hasidim, no doubt heard this story from Habad Hasidim. [R. Zevin does not provide sources for his stories.]

If this is indeed a Habad tradition, then we see that R. Shneur Zalman and a few Hasidim wore shtreimlech. According to this story, the rebbe even wore a shtreimel during the week.

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One of the methods of sanctifying the Sabbath day and making it special, unique and different from the other days of the week is the concept of bigdei Shabat - Sabbath clothing. Jews traditionally wore special garments in honor of the Sabbath. The origin of this custom is quite ancient, with Rashi and Midrash ascribing it back to the time of the Judges and to the encounter of Ruth with Boaz. The Bible records that Ruth dressed carefully and uniquely for the occasion and the rabbis interpreted that to mean that she wore her special Sabbath clothing. Throughout the ages, the form, color and style of the special Sabbath clothing may have changed but the basic concept of honoring the Sabbath with special Sabbath clothing has remained constant. Even amongst the poorest of Jewish families, some special clothing for Sabbath wear was always present.

Currently, in our more affluent times, Sabbath clothing has taken on a new and relatively more luxurious dimension. In Chasidic circles, satin and brocaded long coats (mostly black in color), together with expensive fur hats (shtreimel) are de rigeur for male Sabbath clothing. The fur hats are copies of the types of headgear worn in the eighteenth century by Polish and Russian nobility and royalty. Some decades ago, when there still was a Soviet Union, there was an exhibit in New York entitled "Treasures From the Kremlin." Among the items displayed there was the shtreimel of Peter the Great. It is identical to the shtreimel worn by many if not most Chasidic Jews on Sabbath and holidays today. The major and to my eyes the only difference is that Peter the Great had a gold cross on top of his shtreimel! Non-Chasidic male Jews wear dress suits, or Prince Albert frocks for their Sabbath dress. Here is Israel, the custom of the Ashkenazic Jerusalem men is to wear silver or white robes on the Sabbath, while the Sephardic Jews wear white garments according to the tradition of the great sixteenth-century mentor of kabalah, Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (Ari). Modern day male Israelis, who because of our desert climate eschew wearing jackets, robes and/or ties, wear white shirts in honor of the Sabbath. Whatever the garb, the unifying factor is that millions of Jews wear some special type of clothing in order to mark the day of the holy Sabbath.

Women have much greater variety in their choice of Sabbath garments. Again, the unifying factor is that the garments worn are of best quality and fit the category of being "dressed up." Children also are provided with special Sabbath garments. I remember fondly and with great nostalgia how our children when they were yet young and small would speak about their new shoes as being Sabbath shoes. The moment of wearing new clothing for the first time was also usually reserved for the Sabbath day or for holidays. The tradition of special clothing for holidays was even stronger than the one for Sabbath clothing. Sabbath clothing was worn for all special family occasions as well, as well for important communal events. It was a sign of respect for the event to wear one's Sabbath clothing. In 1882, the great Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, the head of the nineteenth-century yeshiva of Volozhin, and an ardent lover of the Land of Israel, wore his Sabbath garments in honor of receiving a bottle of wine from Baron Rothschild's Carmel Wineries in Rishon Leziyon delivered to his home! Many Jews wore their Sabbath clothing on the day that they were privileged to reach the shores of the Land of Israel. Thus, Sabbath clothing to Jews became more than just cloth, leather and fur. Sabbath clothing became the external symbol of the internal holiness of time, space and the soul of the Jewish people throughout the ages.



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