Havdalah, a Hassid and his Rebbe in shtreimel
Havdalah, a Hassid and his Rebbe in shtreimelIsrael News Photo: (file)

After a stormy session on Wednesday, the Knesset Education Committee approved the first reading of a bill that would prohibit the import, sale and trade of the fur of cats and dogs. The draft legislation was pared down so as not to include a wider ban on the kinds of pelts used in the traditional fur hats (shtreimel) worn by Hassidic Jews on joyous occasions.

A vocal dispute broke out during the committee meeting between Knesset Member Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), who initiated the bill, and MK Menachem Eliezer Mozes (United Torah Judaism) over the extent of the ban. Tirosh, with the backing of animal welfare groups, sought to ban the import of rabbit fur, all fur imports from the Far East, including China, and personal use of furs due to concerns over cruelty to animals raised for their pelts.

MK Mozes pointed out to the Knesset committee that certain Hassidic sects use rabbit-fur shtreimels and that they would not compromise on their traditional dress. "I do not oppose the legislation across the board," MK Mozes said. "All I am asking is that it include reservations and explicit provisions that will permit the Hareidi-religious population that I represent to continue wearing their traditional clothing. We will not alter our traditional dress due to one law or another that forbids it."

"The Torah forbids cruelty to animals," representatives of animal rights groups attending the Knesset committee meeting shouted. "Any use of fur should be banned."

MK Mozes conceded that the Torah forbids cruelty to animals, "and for hundreds of years Judaism has given its legal opinion as to how to avoid cruelty to animals. However, it was the sages who determined the guidelines as to when the prohibition applies and when not."

The chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Zevulum Orlev (Jewish Home), commented: "As someone who is observant of Torah and its commandments, and as one who is concerned about the environment and the protection of animals, I twice daily mention in my prayers, 'And I provided grass in your field for your animals, and you will eat and be satisfied.' The Torah also holds that it is appropriate to first provide for animals and only then for human beings. Nevertheless, among certain groups - Hareidi - there are traditions that their dress include items made of fur and I do not intend to interfere with the traditions of their forefathers. Those furs are not from cats and dogs, and therefore we will, at this stage, only outlaw the use of fur from cats and dogs."

Also opposed to a widespread fur ban, albeit for economic reasons, was the Agriculture Ministry.

The bill in its current limited formulation passed unanimously, while the committee reserved the right to amend its provisions in the second and third readings.