Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Dressing for the Bitter Cold, but Still Observing the Sabbath 

Hasidim have hoodies too — though theirs are intended for winter Sabbaths.

Many New Yorkers have wondered how Hasidic fashion changes with the seasons, given their seemingly year-round custom of having men wear three-piece dark suits and women calf-length skirts, long-sleeved blouses and thick stockings. Some observers have figured out that except for lighter fabrics Hasidic summer wear is not all that different from, say spring or fall attire. The heat, Hasidim will tell you, doesn’t seem to bother them as it does most New Yorkers. They cool themselves with the satisfaction of obeying the letter of God’s law.

Winter, it turns out, has some genuine nuances, too. One distinctive feature is the hoodie, as Alexander Rapaport, a Hasid who directs a food pantry, wryly calls the hooded plastic raincoats Hasidim wear on top of their overcoats on the Sabbath in snow, sleet or rain.

The hood attached to the raincoat’s collar is large enough to cover the round fur shtreimel that married Hasidic men traditionally wear on the Sabbath. They can cover the black hats they wear on ordinary days with a transparent plastic sheath or even a shopping bag, but on the Sabbath that covering is forbidden because many Hasidim believe donning an accessory that is not part of standard garb constitutes carrying, a type of work not permitted on the Sabbath. But a hood attached to a raincoat gets around the prohibition and has the added benefit of safeguarding a man’s shtreimel, which can cost over $1,000.

Six days a week in winter, a long overcoat coat is standard for men — always black — and so are three-piece suits underneath. The hats too are the same black, high-crowned, wide-brimmed homburgs worn year-round. Some Hasidim, however, prefer tall fur astrakhans — called kuchmas — in winter. Footwear is standard too, always black, though the men in some Hasidic sects may wear high boots as their ancestors did in Europe. Women wear long coats and various styles of hats that emphasize modesty.

What is different is what Hasidim wear in winter on the Sabbath, the day for which food, clothing, furnishings and customs all have special and sometimes elegant variations. To lend the day its distinction, Hasidic men wear a satiny coat known as a reshvulka, made of genuine silk for the few who can afford it but glossy polyester for the majority who cannot.

The cheaper version is usually made in China and comes with a zip-out lining made of either artificial down or artificial fur and costs about $200, said Samuel Dresdner, a salesman at GB Clothing in Brooklyn. The store dispatches supervisors to China to make sure the clothing is manufactured according to Hasidic traditions and Jewish laws, which for one thing forbids mixing wool and linen.

What makes the reshvulka particularly Sabbath-like is that it has no pockets — pockets could imply carrying — and the buttons are hidden by a seam, a custom that some Hasidim say harks back to centuries ago when coats worn in Eastern Europe were robelike.

“It’s the Hasidic way,” Mr. Dresdner said as he showed off an elegant reshvulka.

The grand rabbis and other Hasidic dignitaries may wear a reshvulka all week in winter often adorned with wide fur collars known as “pelts” as signs of their status. In January, Hasidic newspapers and blogs had photographs of the Grand Rabbi of Viznitz, Menachem Mendel Hager, whose seat is in Israel, receiving visits in Williamsburg from the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, Isaac Horowitz, and from one of the two Grand Rabbis of the Satmar sect, Zalman Teitelbaum. All three leaders wore pelt collars so wide they looked like stoles.

When it’s biting cold, a Hasidic man will also wear ear muffs over his ears or a band known as an ear warmer — both come only in black. The gloves are also black. But a Hasid will not wear gloves on the Sabbath, according to Jacob Feder, manager of Crown Dry Goods in Brooklyn, because that constitutes carrying. So coats are styled with extra-long sleeves, which allow a man to draw in his hands against an icy wind.

The rules for women do not seem to have as many nuances because they can wear a good coat of any kind on the Sabbath as long as it comes in muted colors and covers their arms and much of their legs. However, married women will wear plastic see-through bonnets to guard their wigs against snow or rain and so forestall an expensive appointment with a stylist.

Wearing a bonnet, explained several customers at Silksation Plus, a women’s clothing store, is not seen as a violation of the prohibition against carrying on the Sabbath because a wig is considered virtually part of the body — if it gets wet the skull gets wet — and so a bonnet is entirely permissible, unlike the man’s plastic covering for the head.


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