American Mosaic: Shtreimel

American Mosaic: Shtreimel

Since it's founding, the United States has been both a "melting pot", and a "cultural mosaic". The American Mosaic series of posts attempt to capture the interweave of American society.

A shtreimel is a fur hat worn by many married Orthodox Jewish men during Shabbat, holidays and special occasions. It is usually made of genuine fur, commonly from the tail tips of sable, marten, or gray fox. It is a very expensive item of clothing with prices ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. In Brooklyn, and elsewhere, different Orthodox "Courts" wear slightly different styles of hats. Common variations of the shtreimel include the kolpik and the spodik. Although there is speculation surrounding the origin of the shtreimel, it is believed to be of Tatar origin.

I had read somewhere that "tradition for the sake of tradition is useless; tradition must serve a purpose". At first glance, traditions such as "Shabbos clothing" do not make sense. After all, wearing a shtreimel is only a 300 year old tradition, specific to a region in Eastern Europe, and followed by Orthodox Jews who believe that their religious practices extend in an unbroken chain back to Moses. While there is a strong custom in Jewish Law for men to cover their heads, there is nothing specific about using a shtreimel or any other specific type of head covering. On the other hand, many traditions that are picked up through the ages have high symbolic values. The shtreimel, once a symbol of persecution, has become a symbol of pride. It is constructed with a specific number of furs representing significant numbers in Judaism. More importantly, much like modern fashion is determined by and determines our community, religious traditions, serve the purpose of bonding religious communities and preserving cultures. If everyone in the world wore blue jeans and t-shirts, ate the same food, enjoyed the same activities, and believed in the same things, the world would be one bland place.

This nation was founded on principles opposing religious persecution. It distinguished itself from the Old World by establishing principles that attempted to avoid the plagues that haunted the Old World: Persecution, monarchism, feudalism, imperialism, monetary control by bankers... Those principles, although not perfectly implemented, paid off. Tolerance, cultural diversity, individual rights, opportunities in education and economy, all contributed to the American Century. But we are slowly beginning to resemble the Old World...

Song of the Day: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050 - Johann Sebastian Bach (1721)
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