Knesset Member Menachem Eliezer Moses, chairman of the Haredi-religious United Torah Judaism party, has found that an animal welfare bill supported by the government could make his shtreimel an endangered species. The shtreimel is a unique fur hat traditionally worn by members of Hassidic sects on special occasions.
The proposed legislation, which gained the cabinet's support, was brought to the attention of the broader coalition leadership forum on Monday. The amendment to the Animal Welfare Law would outlaw the import of products made from the fur of dogs, cats or rabbits. Specifically noted are furs imported from east Asia. The penalty for violation of the clause, which would be treated as a criminal offense, would be up to a year in jail.
MK Moses wants fur imported for use in making shtreimels be exempted from the general prohibition. "It is inconceivable," he said, "to support a bill that outlaws imports for such a clear and important religious need."
Moses, who is a Belzer Hassid and also a rabbi, explained to the coalition representatives the meaning and importance of the shtreimel to the sector his party represents.
The UTJ leader was at pains to explain that he does not oppose the proposed law entirely, "but I request that the law include an appropriate exception stating that import for religious purposes will not be infringed and will not be considered a violation of the law." With a call for the government ministers to amend the law, MK Moses added, "We are not in the Middle Ages, when Jews were forbidden to use explicitly Jewish symbols."
The shtreimel can be made from genuine or synthetic fur, with the latter actually more common among Israeli Hassidic Jews than those overseas. The Rebbe of the Gerrer Hassidic sect, in fact, issued an edict that his followers may only purchase spodiks (a style of shtreimel) made of fake fur and that cost less than $600.