So much of Jewish life revolves around the Jewish community.

Wherever Jews happen to live, whatever language they happen to speak, whatever Jewish traditions, customs and laws they happen to keep (or not…) being part of a community will often figure as a very major part of Jewish life.

No two communities are the same, each is a unique blend of the history, personalities, beliefs and customs that have molded it over the generations. While so many of the different community customs have been lost over the years, many Jews are still striving to maintain their cultural heritage, and to apply to Jewish life in the modern world, in the face of a growing number of issues, challenges and changes.

In this category, we’ll take a look at a bunch of topics including:

  • Jewish Communal Events – what’s really shaping modern Jewish life
  • Jewish News – the information that we really need to know about living as a Jew today
  • The importance of Jewish communal life
  • History of Jewish community – in all sorts of different places around the globe
  • Day-to-day relationships – both intramural and extramural, with other peoples and faiths
  • Modern values in kehillas – and how they are changing, sometimes unrecognisably, from traditional Torah values
  • Jewish community issues and challenges – both within Israel, and abroad
  • Community leaders, rabbis, and personalities.

One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of a King and his 9 advisors, and how they all get lost and separated from each other as a result of a raging storm-wind.

In the story, each of the 10 lost members of the King’s court becomes the King (or Queen) of a different, misguided faction, until they are reunited. One misguided faction decides that sex is the main point of life; another, that fine food is the goal; yet another, that wisdom is the key thing to pursue.

And then there’s the inhabitants of the Land of Money, who are so obsessed with money that they literally worship the wealthiest members of their land as ‘stars’ and ‘gods’, while treating the poorer inhabitants as lowly animals. In the Land of Money, how much bling you’re flashing around, how many zeros you have in the bank, that’s the only thing that counts, and that’s the only measure of success.

Most of the story revolves around the Master of Prayer’s attempts to rescue the inhabitants of the Land of Money from their delusions, and to reunite the King’s lost advisors – both of which he ultimately accomplishes.

In the story, Rebbe Nachman explains that the lust for money is the hardest one to overcome.

Elsewhere, he brings that Pesach is the festival that comes to rectify the lust for money. Which is where things now start to dove-tail in a pretty neat way, because we all know that Pesach is always just SO expensive.

Even if you live in Israel, and you’re not going crazy trying to find Kosher for Passover plasticware in triple-sealed bags, Pesach still costs money. The matzahs aren’t cheap; the wine isn’t cheap; you need a seder plate, different pots, different plates – it’s all money. And never mind if you’re staying in a hotel in Israel for the holiday. And never mind double if you’re trying to celebrate it in Chut L’Aretz.

Why is this?

One reason could well be that all the expense of Pesach is coming to rectify the lust for wealth, that has so many people in its grip these days.

So it was fitting that I learned the following things last week: I learned that someone who owns a company with a huge £25 million annual turnover (and £6 million gross annual profit) gives an enormous £1,000 to charity a year. (Let me translate this into shekels, for any non-Brits reading this: £6 million = 36 million shekels. £1k = 6,000 shekels)

To put it another way, they’re giving 1/6000 of their annual income to charity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of these people, when they get up to Heaven and God starts asking them about their business dealings (which is always the first question, as God also knows how to schmooze)? First, it’ll be that puffed-up, super-successful ‘I’m a billionaire’ answer; then, God will hit them with the ‘and how much did you give to charity, from all your millions of pounds?’

And that’s when it’ll hit them: nowhere near enough.

What an embarrassment!

This week, I also met a bunch of people from the UK, some of whom asked me the standard opening gambit question of:

‘Am I working now?’

I said no – proudly – and explained that I’m writing books about holistic health instead.

They immediately changed the subject to something more interesting and meaningful, i.e. the luxury flat they’re currently building, as home number three.

I waited to see if I was going to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that used to happen when I’d walk into some of the ‘superior’ and ‘financially successful’ minefields laid out all over the place in London. But you know what? It didn’t come! After waiting a few minutes for any delayed reaction, I realized that I’d finally got out of the Land of Money, and that I didn’t give a stuff that I’d failed the finances test.

I’ve seen so many people with so much more money than me, in so many different circumstances and places, this Pesach.

I used to feel a little jealous about the apparent ‘easy life’ they seemed to have, but now I’ve realized something profound that’s changed the whole picture: When you live in the Land of Money, you’re far away from God.

Until and unless that changes, it doesn’t matter how much cash you’ve stashed, how big your mansion is, or how impressive your annual turnover is, when it comes down to the things that really make life meaningful, happy and fulfilling, you’re still pulling a big, fat ZERO.

One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of how a great storm wind comes and throws the world into chaos, scattering the King’s ten advisors in the process.

The Master of Prayer is one of these advisors, and he takes it upon himself to go round the world reuniting the King with the other advisors, and rectifying all the countries who are now following ‘foolish’ beliefs about the meaning of life, as a result of the terrible storm they went through.

One group believes that the purpose of life is to eat; another that’s it to procreate; another chooses wisdom; another picks honor etc etc, but the most problematic land of all is the Land of Money.

You see, in all the other lands, there’s at least a moment, a second, when they’re satiated with their particular lust or desire, which gives the Master of Prayer an opportunity to come and talk to them about serving God, and the real meaning of life. But in the land of money, that simply never happens: they think about money ALL THE TIME, and it colors their every thought and every waking moment.

Worse, the people of the Land of Money literally kill themselves for money; and they also turn their richest citizens into ‘stars’ and ‘gods’ (Rebbe Nachman’s language…) who they worship incessantly.

By contrast, people without a lot of money are considered to be sub-human animals, and given no respect, rights or accorded even basic human dignity. As a result, the Master of Prayer is finding it next to impossible to rectify the inhabitants of the Land of Money, and to bring them back to God.

By this point, you may well be squirming a little in your seat, because guess what?

 In 2016, nearly all of us are living in the Land of Money!

And here’s how it’s affecting us:

  • It’s killing our marriages – because either or both parents are obsessed with parnassa, and never seem to be making enough to pay for all the ‘necessities’ of modern life, even when they both work full-time and bring home a packet. Then, all the blame and mutual recriminations start, which can poison relationships to their core very quickly.
  • It’s killing our kids – especially if the mum has a full-on ‘career’ that requires an awful lot of attention and time. The kids take a back seat to the boss, or the business, and they get ‘scheduled’ to death to enable mom to keep to her timetable. If their personal crises happens in a ‘scheduled’ moment – all well and good. When they don’t – it’s a huge problem for everyone, and the kid doesn’t always come first.
  • It’s killing our happiness – because people in the Land of Money never have enough, and they’re always worrying that they’ll be demoted to ‘animal’ status if they don’t keep earning a fortune (even when they have millions already in the bank…) To keep your humanity and dignity intact, remember this: money serves us, not the other way around. If I’m scared to spend money, it’s because I’m making that dollar bill more important than my own happiness and wellbeing.
  • It’s killing our souls – because when you’re thinking about money 24/7, you simply don’t have time to think about things like praying, or taking a time out to reflect on life, or to appreciate that GOD is giving us our parnassa, and we’re not achieving it by our own efforts.
  • It’s killing our bodies – because when people are stressed about money all the time, and working like dogs, and living above their means and borrowing huge amounts, and constantly worrying that they don’t have enough or won’t have enough, that puts so much pressure on the body that sooner or later, a whole bunch of nasty illnesses and diseases start to show up.

I could carry on, but you get the idea.

To sum up the problem, it’s like this:

When people live in the Land of Money, money is the first consideration, and beats out everything else.

Some common examples of this could include:

  • “I can’t make Aliyah, because I’m worrying about parnassa”
  • “I can’t quit my soul-destroying job, because I’m worrying about how to pay my huge mortgage if I do that”
  • “I can’t buy myself a new dress / new saucepan / new pair of shoes /[some other basic necessity], because I’m worrying about my money running out if I do that”
  • “I can’t give 10% of my income to charity, because I won’t have enough for myself then”
  • “I can’t stop running on the treadmill to make more money, because if I do that the money won’t just appear by itself.”

All of these statements have a ring of truth to them, don’t they? I know they do for me still, and I’ve been trying to leave the Land of Money for years’ already.

But there’s the problem: God is missing from this picture.

And when that happens, we start to build lives for ourselves based on the rules of the Land of Money, which states that our kids need expensive summer camps, and extra-curricular activities, and we need to be wearing labels, and to have everything matching, and that our homes need to be very big and spacious, and that every person over 17 needs their own car, and holidays are a necessity not a luxury, and that gourmet meals in fancy restaurants are what makes us happy, and guests must be offered a selection of expensive whiskeys and liquers to drink, and we must be working on plans to ‘get on’ and upscale our living arrangements, or our 401k plans, or our stockmarket holdings, or our property holdings and and and….

I’m exhausted just from typing that.

Here’s another problem that happens when you live in the Land of Money: You’ll literally sell your soul for cash.

Just ask all the bent politicians in Israel who take bribes for ‘peace’, or who (secretly…) sold Kever David to the Vatican for some big bucks, or who are happy to let Reform partition the Wailing Wall because they waved some dollars in their face.

When you live in the Land of Money, money talks, and God doesn’t. Or at least, not to you. Or at least, not in any way you care to listen to.

So how do we leave the Land of Money?

In the story of the Master of Prayer, it turns out the only way people can leave is via ‘the path to the sword’, i.e. very harsh judgments.

Those judgments could be severe health issues, severe marital problems, severe problems with kids going crazy or going off the derech, severe mental illness issues, or even (perhaps ironically), severe financial issues.

You want to know why so many of us are going through so much difficulty today, in every sense of the word?

This is why.

God is trying to get us out of the Land of Money once and for all, so we can stop obsessing about earning, and instead start yearning to get closer to God and to live a more spiritual life again.

It’s hard work, I know. But you know what’s even harder work? Getting stuck in a life, in a mindset, where money is the only thing that counts, no matter how miserable it makes you, how much it wrecks your peace of mind and relationships, or how much it kills your soul, your humanity, and your spiritual dimension.

Three weeks’ ago, I was doing some hitbodedut (personal prayer) when I suddenly started getting this crazy idea in my head that I had to get a book written about what’s really going on with the Erev Rav issue, RIGHT NOW!!!

Never mind that Pesach was in a month; never mind that I’ve already written 6 books and 2 courses (plus all my other blogging) in the last 6 months; never mind that I was approaching mental exhaustion, and was actually looking forward to dusting, instead of typing, for a change.

The more I tried to ignore that ‘suggestion’, the stronger it got – until I stuck up the white flag and said ‘Ok, God, if you’re sending me a vibe to write the book, I’ll do it already.’

Dear reader, I somehow managed to churn out 30,000 words in a week.

But the nagging didn’t let up. Now, I was getting the steer to ‘publish and print’, ASAP. WHAATTT? Do you have any idea how much time, effort and money is involved in getting these things ready for publication? Do you KNOW how many cheerios I probably have to track down underneath my couch right now? Do you get how tired I’m feeling.

But the same thing happened again: I couldn’t get any peace until I gave in, and got on with it.

That’s why I stuck all those ‘Erev Posts’ up like a crazy person, the last couple of weeks. I was getting a big push in my hitbodedut that it needed to be done, and it needed to be done ASAP.

I posted the last one up – and then the next day, I crashed through the floor. I felt SO awful, heavy, sick, like there was some sort of dark, heavy cloud pressing down on my head.

Usually when I feel like that, I KNOW a war is in the offing.

So I went to bed for pretty much three days solid, and only on Shabbat did the cloud start to lift somewhat. But I’m still feeling pretty shattered. It struck me that maybe, this is what the Egyptians felt, a little, in the plague of darkness, where they were so weighed-down and stuck that they couldn’t even raise a hand.

I feel like that a little at the moment – and most of my Pesach cleaning still needs to get done.

Clearly, posting all that stuff up was directly connected to me feeling so awful for three days. So then I started wondering: did I get the wrong end of the stick, somehow? Was it really my yetzer, just trying to get me to kill myself with herculean typing efforts two weeks before Pesach?

As I was musing on this (and starting to feel even more disgusting and miserable) – a friend called me. She told me that she’d read the ‘Erev Rav’ posts, and that she felt they contained some amazing energy and light.

“I felt good, and filled-up all day after reading them,” she said. “The opposite of how I usually feel after I read stuff about the Erev Rav on other sites.”

That phone call did wonders for me.

It made me feel that even if the only person those posts helped was my friend, Dayenu – it was worth it.

In the meantime, I still have no idea what’s really going on, or why. But I do believe that everything that happens in the world, and in my life, and on my blog, is for a very profound reason.

God clearly wanted that stuff up and circulating around. He clearly wanted some sort of ‘counter-point’ to all the ‘evil star / evil Erev Rav / end of the world / America sinking beneath the waves’ false prophecies that are still going, relentlessly in other parts of the blogosphere.

Do I know why? No.

But Rav Arush teaches that whatever you get in your hitbodedut, you take it at face value (clearly, as long as it’s not telling you to do something against the Torah.) So I did. And where it’s all going to lead to? I have no idea.

  • You can buy my book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, on Amazon and on the Book Depository.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.

What’s the Jewish hat name, and other questions

It might surprise you to know that the most popular search time involving Jews (besides Israel) is: Jewish hat name. Every single month, around 5,000 people are wondering to themselves, “what do Jews wear on their head” and “what’s that hat, that Jewish wear?”

(It might surprise you to know this, too, but hardly anyone on the web is searching for ‘Jews’. Nearly everyone is searching for ‘Jewish’, which kinda explains why traffic from search engines has been so puny, the last four years.)

So, I decided to do a post devoted to answering the question of: “What’s the Jewish hat name”, and other related questions – all phrased the same way people are searching for them on Google, so that hopefully more people will find the answers to their questions about “what do Jews wear on their head?”

Q: What’s the Jewish hat name?

A: The Jewish hat name will vary depending on what country and what community you’re in. In the US, UK and other English speaking countries with a large population of chareidi or Chassidic Jews, the hat will be called a yarmulke, which often sounds as though it’s pronounced ‘yamaka’.

So, when people want to know: how do you spell yamaka? – the answer is, you don’t spell it how it sounds.

But there’s another Jewish hat name that’s very common too, and that’s the kippah. Most of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Israel will refer to their Jewish hat as a kippah, not a yarmulke.

Q: Kippah vs yamaka – what’s the difference?

A: While in theory, any beanie-type Jewish hat could be called either a kippah or a yamaka, in practice, there are certain types of Jewish hat that are only called by one term, or the other. For example, in Israel, there is a type of crocheted kippah that’s usually very colorful, and which can range in size from teeny-weeny, to ear-covering huge.

The smallest knitted kippah I ever saw was on the head of a teenager who was clearly making a point to his parents, and it was the size of a quarter. This type of knitted kippah is almost never called a yarmulke, as yarmulke is a term commonly used by Jews outside of Israel, and most Jews outside of Israel don’t wear a knitted kippah.

There’s many reasons for this, but a big one is that many Jews don’t feel so comfortable wearing a big, flamboyant, colorful kippah that’s going to instantly mark them out as Jews, in a world where violent anti-semitism is on the rise.

So usually, a Jew who is wearing a kippah in public outside of Israel will wear one that is black, and less immediately obvious. And the types of communities who are ‘religious’ enough to wear a kippah full-time tend to refer to it as a yarmulke.

Q: Why do Jews wear hats?

A: Jewish men cover their heads as sign of respect to God, and as a way of acknowledging God’s omnipresence in the world. Even a not-observant Jew will usually cover their head when they attend services at a synagogue, or for other Jewish life cycle events like a wedding, funeral or Passover Seder.

In Israel, many Jewish men who otherwise don’t wear a kippah or hat will cover their head in some way whenever they are reciting a bracha, or blessing, usually on food or drink. Often, you can see some very creative ways of Jews covering their heads in this way, with napkins, tablecloths, and even their own hands being pressed into service.

A more religiously observant Jew will cover their head 24/7, because they are more aware of God’s presence in the world, and are trying to respect it, and stay connected to it, throughout all their mundane actions throughout the day.

Another less happy reason why a Jew will wear a hat, specifically, as opposed to a kippah or yarmulke, especially outside of Israel, is to try to ‘blend in’ a bit more, while still covering their heads. In recent years, the Chief Rabbi of France put out a message telling French Jews that it was preferable for them to cover their heads with a baseball cap, or some sort of other generic head gear, in public, to avoid being singled out by anti-Semites. That same message is being heard in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including Belgium and Germany.

In the UK, where I’m originally from, most Jews are usually relatively comfortable wearing an obviously Jewish kippah or yarmulke in areas with a high population of visible Jews, like Golders Green, Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. But when they go into areas with fewer Jews where a man in a little Jewish hat will stand out a mile, they will often also tend to plump for a baseball hat instead.

Q: What’s the Hasidic Jew hat called?

A: There are many different answers to this question. If you’re referring to a round, furry disk of hair that can sometimes rise up to a foot tall (!), this is called a shtreimel. This type of hat is typically worn by Hasidim on Jewish holidays, and the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, as a mark of respect.

Orthodox Jews typically wear their finest clothes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as shtreimels are usually very expensive to buy, they are kept for the special occasions.

Then, there’s the black fedora type hat that other observant Jews tend to wear, also throughout the week and also on Shabbat. Depending on which group of religious Jews you belong to, the style of the hat will vary. For example, Chabad Hasidim typically wear a type of black hat called a fedora with a more pinched look at the front, and a down-turned brim.

While people who belong to what’s called the more yeshivish crowd (after a yeshiva, the place where Jewish men learn Torah), will tend to wear a Borsalino style with the brim up.

Again, this changes depending on the community and country you’re looking at. One thing to note is that while you will see a lot of shtreimels even in Israel, you tend to see far fewer black hats, outside of certain enclaves. That could be because Jews in Israel feel much more comfortable wearing their little Jewish hats in public here, so they don’t need a different type of hat to cover up their kippahs or yamakas.

Q: Why do orthodox women wear wigs?

A: There is a commandment, or mitzvah, that once a Jewish women marries, she should cover her hair. There are a few different reasons given for this commandment. (Go HERE for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.)

The first reason is that hair is very attractive to other men, so when a Jewish woman covers her hair and keeps it only for her husband’s eyes, she is sending a very powerful message to other men that she is unavailable.

There are also kabbalistic reasons for covering hair, that have to do with bringing more spiritual bounty and blessings down into the Jewish home. The Jewish tradition is full of stories which clearly depict how the effort a married Jewish woman makes to cover her hair brings her all sorts of blessings in the home, including successful children and increased parnassah¸ or the ability to make a living.

Now, in terms of why do orthodox women wear wigs, specifically, we hit a big disagreement within the orthodox Jewish community itself.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z’tl, was a very big fan of orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with wigs, and that’s why you see so many Chabad ladies wearing wigs, even today.

On the other side of the debate are a number of big rabbis, including many Sephardic Rabbis, who have a very strong tradition that married women should only cover their hair with a hat or scarf, and not with wigs.

The issue is still being hotly debated, and each orthodox community has its own guidelines and mores. In practice, many orthodox women outside of Israel will choose to cover their hair with a wig over a hat or scarf simply to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

For example, when I was coming through Manchester airport a little while ago, because I was covering my hair with a hat, as opposed to a wig, I was called over by the security staff, and taken off to a little booth on the side where I was asked to take my hat off, so they could check it.

Man, my hair was a fright show… And that whole experience is not exactly fun, so many orthodox Jewish women in those types of situation will just prefer to wear a wig, and to blend in. Also at work, it’s often just easier to wear a wig, to avoid any awkward situations or potential discrimination.

In Israel, far, far fewer women wear wigs, and most of the married women who choose to cover their hair do so with headscarves, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Again, I could write a whole book on the topic of “Jewish head covering female”, but I hope this gives you the main idea.

  • If you have any other questions about Jewish hat names, or other aspects of Jewish life, please leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. You might also want to check out the Judaism 101 category, for other articles exploring basic Jewish concepts.