Religion Magazine

Synthetic Shtreimels, for Different Reasons

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
R' Shmuel Pappenheim has no problem bucking trends of the community he is part of. His latest is an announcement that people who wear shtreimels should stop using shtreimels made from hair from animals and instead should switch to synthetic materials.
It is not really a radical statement, and it has been suggested before by others, but within the hassidic community there has always been opposition to the idea - to the point that when the Knesset wanted to pass a law banning the use of furs, the haredi parties opposed it due to the problem that would cause for people who wear shtreimels.
Pappenheim said this at a meeting of interested parties regarding the topic of "animal rights in Judaism". He said that wearing the classic shtreimel causing a tremendous chillul hashem, and at a time when the entire world is making noise about mistreatment of animals, tzaar baalei chaim, we should stop this minhag which involves mistreating animals. According to Pappenheim it is both an aveira and a chillul hashem, and replacing it with synthetic materials is not canceling a mitzva in any way.
Synthetic Shtreimels, for different reasons
It happens to be that I agree with Pappenheim, but for different reasons.
I disagree with Pappenheim that this is a tzaar baalei chaim issue. When the process is done for no reason at all, no benefit to humans, then it is tzaar baalei chaim. When there is a benefit to the process, it does not have the status of tzaar baalei chaim.
That being said, it still looks bad in the eyes of animal rights activists and people who are concerned with those things. I think the process of how the furs are taken from the animals should be changed to be less cruel. It is not in our hands to do so, but we should work with the factories to improve the process, considering our community is a significant consumer of this product.
And if we are not really that significant of a consumer, as the shtreimel market is relatively small and other communities are much greater consumers (e.g. fur coats or whatever else fur is used for), then we needn't be concerned as the shtreimels dont cause the problem, it is those larger markets that are more of the issue. True, we should be an ohr l'goyim, but I dont think that obligates us to this move in any way, especially if we are an insignificant part of the market that is easily ignored.
However, I do agree with Pappenheim that the haredi/hassidic community should switch to synthetic materials, but not because of tzaar baalei chaim. I think they should switch because of the high cost. A shtreimel can cost thousands of dollars, and even a simple shtreimel can cost a couple thousand shekels.
At a time when the community is tight on funds, people don't have money, the government is cutting the funding to haredim in all sorts of directions, I think it is prudent for people to spend far less money whenever possible. If they can pay a third of the price (according to Pappenheim) on a synthetic shtreimel, they should. Sure, some people have money and they can/will buy whatever they want, but I think most people should follow a standard of paying less for the shtreimel, and synthetic gives them that option.
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