Monday, December 19, 2011

What did Avraham Avinu wear?

A Shtreimel and Bekishe, of course!. That's the standard answer you'll get for this question. But here's an answer that might - or might not - surprise you.
Translation: Said the Holy Genius of Sanz, may his merits protect us (this is brought in Chemdah Genuzah), that we have in receiving, that our patriarch Abraham, peace on him, went with (-wore) a Shreimel and a Kaftan, with shoes-and-socks and a Chalat. (Sorry, still no Wikipedia page for the shoes-and-socks one, although you can see a subtle reference to it here. Shoes and socks refers to white stockings and step-in-shoes, traditionally worn by some Chassidim on Shabbos. )
Note the white stockings. This is referred to as "Shich in Zoken" or "Veisse Zoken"
Continuation of translation: See there [in Chemda Genuzah] that the Seer of Lublin, may his merits protect us, met one Friday a person dressed in the aforementioned attire, and he said to him "Hello", and that person replied "Gut Shabbos", and the Seer saw, that that person is not from this world, [so] he asked him "who are you?", and he answered him "I'm the one to whom God said 'Go thee out of thy country'". See there [in Chemdah Genuzah the whole story] at length. But it is appropriate to note herewith, what it says in the book "From Their Mouth and From Their Writings" in the name of Rabbi Yankele of Pshevorsk, may the memory of the righteous be for blessing, on the aforementioned story, that it seems to him that if the Chasam Sofer would've seen the patriarch Abraham, he would've seen him with a Pressburg hat (I have no idea what this is referring to, do you?), because every sadiq sees the patriarch Abraham according to his level, see there. And this is wonderful. End of translation.

By way of analogy, if Rabbi Eliezer Silber would've seen Avraham Avinu, he would've seen him with a top hat and a frock.


  1. That's really interesting.

    As for what he is referring to, there are several possibilities:

    1) Nothing. It's just an expression, but the point is, not a shtreimel.
    2) He literally meant the hats which the traditional Jews in Pressburg wore. I've seen depictions of R. Daniel Prossnitz, who was on the Chasam Sofer's Beis Din, and he wore a Tricorne hat (think: George Washington). By contrast, the moderners wore a "zylinder", something like a top hat. See this post, where I quote someone as remembering that in Prague in the first decades of the 19th century, the "modern" students wore cylinder hats, while the more traditional ones wore tricorne hats.
    3) He literally meant the hats which the traditional Jews in Pressburg wore in his own time, that is, decades after the Chasam Sofer died.

    All in all, a pretty perceptive comment.

  2. thanks. In another version, R. Yankele of Pshevorsk said he would've seen him in a "Kneitch". As far as I know, the Chasam Sofer didn't wear a kneitch. (Is this what you meant with 3?)

  3. That's pretty funny. Actually, the Chasam Sofer himself wore a fur, shtreimel (or spodik)-like hat, which had been popular with rabbis in the 18th century. I guess by "kneitch" he meant "non-Chassidic hat" unless he meant it literally. If so, then no, neither the Chasam Sofer nor anyone else in Pressburg wore a hat which can best be described as having not yet existed.

    What I meant by #3 is that rather than him meaning Tricorne hats like R. Daniel Prossnitz, or Shtreimel-like hats like the Chasam Sofer (which would defeat the whole purpose of what he said) he probably had in mind whatever hats the "yereim" in Pressburg were wearing in his *own* time, in his youth. I didn't opine what sort of hats those were, but in all likelihood they are the close ancestors of bieber hats and the like.

  4. When the Arugas haboshem Rav Moshe Grunwald went to see the Belzer rav for the 1st time in Galicia he wore a Top hat(cylinder hat , high hat) which was the standard hat for Pressburger yeshiva bachurim in the mid and late 19th century.
    I suspect baalebatim in Oberland wore this too on Shabbes.
    The Rabbonim may have worn some form of modified shtreimel or the wide brimmed hat special to Hungarian Ashkenazic rabbonim. the Debreciner rav ZT"l wore that hat.
    In the various portraits of the Chasam Sofer and the Ktav Sofer we have (the ones of the Chasam Sofer are by his shamash Reb Ber Fraenk) we do NOT see him wearing a shtreimel.He is wearing a fur hat but it is not a shtreimel.
    Finally the late rav Shimon Schwab wrote that for Franfurt (and I suppose orthodox Jews througout germany) the top hat was their shtreimel, because to them it had the same significance. There are photos of Frankfurt Yidden walking to shul in their top hats.Among 20th century rabbonim we have photos wearing top hats are Rav Silver, rav konwitz of Newark, the rashag son in law of the Rayaatz of lubavitch, reb Moshe Mordechai of Slobodka, the Dvar Avrohom of Kovna and the ramaz of NYC among others.
    So the top hat was hardly a modern fashion statement.
    If we are a people of logic , then our patriarchs probably dressed like the Baba Sali with a hooded gilbayah to keep out the sun and winds and a ling robe with sandals.

  5. I didnt say he wore a shtreimel, I said he wore a fur, shtreimel or spodik like hat. It's a reasonable analogy; and if you think it isn't, fair enough.

    As for the romantic notion that the top hat was the shtreimel of Frankfurt, that would work better if the top hat wasn't also *the* formal dress hat in Europe at the time. Maybe it was the shtreimel in the late 1960s when it was already passe, but certainly not in the 1920s or earlier.

  6. there is a story (chanukkah connection) that the berditchever's chassidim commissioned a menorah, with each lamp representing avot / ushpizin / appropriate forefathers. the silversmith asked r levi yitzchak how should i dress avraham avinu? with a shtreimel and kapote, of course? but we know he didnt wear one? when mashiach comes, he will wear one.

    as you mention, sfardim, others disagree.

    dont tell this story to lubavitchers -- they will start making menorot of the rebbe z"l, only. with a regular hat.

  7. To this day, in the seventeenth century building of the magnificent Spanish-Portugese Synagogue of Amsterdam, there is a side room exclusively for individual lockers containing each member's equivalent of a shtreimel: a black bowler hat (just like the one depicted in the famous Magritte painting).
    To estimate how Avraham would appear to say Yehudah ben Yaakov Avinu, one would have to seek Chaldean or pre-Hittite sculptural reliefs or early Egyptian images of their conquered Mesopotamean foes.